Art Howe was fired as manager of the struggling New York Mets on Wednesday, but decided to honor General Manager Jim Duquette's request to stay in the dugout for the rest of the year.

"The fact is, I'm not fired now. I'm leaving after the season," Howe said. "I'm not a quitter."

Howe's contract runs through the 2006 season and he is owed $4.7 million. But with the Mets at 63-82 -- following a 66-95 finish last year in his first season -- Duquette decided it was time for a change.

"I don't want to get into an evaluation of Art," he said. "It wasn't working."

The Mets began the year with a payroll more than $100 million, highest in the NL. But injuries took their toll, and they rapidly fell out of contention after the all-star break.

Howe told the team about the move before they took batting practice, and said the clubhouse was "very quiet." Critics often said Howe was too laid-back and too easy on his players -- in fact, outfielder Richard Hidalgo and pitcher Victor Zambrano walked into the meeting after it had started.

News broke this week that the Mets would not keep Howe, who guided Oakland to playoff appearances from 2000 to '02, after this season. He met with Duquette and Wilpon on Tuesday, and Duquette told Howe the plans but also asked him to stay through the final 17 games.

"I've never walked away from anything. I've never quit anything," he said.

Duquette said a search would begin Thursday for a replacement. He would not address any particular name, and there are sure to be many.

Former Mets stars Gary Carter, Lenny Dykstra and Wally Backman have been mentioned, as have current major league managers Lou Piniella and Buck Showalter, along with former Arizona manager Bob Brenly. Even former manager Bobby Valentine, who guided the Mets to the 2000 World Series, could wind up in the mix.

Howe and Duquette both said injuries had hurt the Mets. Stars Mike Piazza, Tom Glavine, Cliff Floyd and many others have been banged up.

The Mets were only one game out of the NL East lead when they won their first game after the all-star break. But after July 15, they went on a 16-38 skid.

"I've never walked away from anything," said Art Howe, with coach Matt Galante, left, after agreeing to manage the Mets for final 17 games.