Despite leading FIU to its first two bowl berths, Mario Cristobal was fired Wednesday. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Florida International has already scrubbed Mario Cristobal's biography from the school's athletic department website. Just a few short minutes after Cristobal's dismissal was announced, all links to his bio began redirecting to the Panthers' front page. That's probably a good idea, since the bio starts out like this:
Mario Cristobal will enter his sixth season as head coach of the FIU football program in 2012 and he has become widely-regarded in the coaching profession for the impressive success his tenure has brought to Florida International University.
Not only has Cristobal established a rock-solid foundation for the FIU program to strongly build upon, he was also the architect for one of the greatest turnarounds in college football and sustained periods of success in recent seasons.
Not solid enough for AD Pete Garcia, apparently, who has maybe the best formal job title on the planet: "Executive Director of Sports and Entertainment." After leading the Panthers to their first two bowl appearances in program history in 2010 and 2011, Cristobal entered 2012 at the head of a team favored by many (including yours truly) to win the Sun Belt. An unfortunate string of injuries hobbled FIU early and often, and the Panthers finished the 2012 season with just three wins, over Akron, Florida Atlantic and South Alabama. Still, do a quick spin through the social media sphere of your choice this afternoon and you'll see some heavy scorn and disbelief being flung in the direction of FIU's administration. Safe to say nobody expected this.
Garcia announced Cristobal's firing this morning in a terse statement: “Today we informed Coach (Mario) Cristobal that a change was being made in the direction of our football program. I want to thank Coach for all that he has done to develop the football program over the past six seasons. We will now turn our attention to attract the very best candidate to fill the position of head coach. We will begin a national search immediately.”
It's entirely thanks to Cristobal's program loyalty that Garcia didn't have to conduct this search last year. Cristobal's name came up in the Pitt search, and he turned down an offer to return to Rutgers after Greg Schiano left for the NFL. Here's Garcia again, talking to the Miami Herald this past summer:
“We don’t have the resources of the other state schools, Florida, Florida State. But I expect, at some point, to compete with them,” Garcia said. “I probably can’t do it with 10 cents on the dollar, but I can do it with 30 cents on the dollar. If we hire the right coaches with the support we have here, we can do it."
And here's another passage from Cristobal's bio:
There might have been no one else more suited and perfect for the head coaching post at FIU than Cristobal. His roots in the Magic City make him the perfect candidate to mine the talent-rich football state that Florida is. He was born and raised in Miami and played high school football less than four miles from the FIU campus at nearby Christopher Columbus High School.
So just about wherever he goes, Cristobal will be leaving his roots and his ties and his native state. That he will be snapped up by someone, somewhere, soon, is all but a certainty. All we're taking away from this is that FIU has effectively put up a billboard reading, "ONE GOOD COACH, AVAILABLE FOR GOOD HOME. POSSIBLY MALTREATED." And where do the Panthers go from here, exactly? To improve upon this?
Cristobal expects more than just effort on the field. He demands effort in the classroom, as well. After just one year on the job, not only did the Panthers record their highest grade point average in the history of the program, but they also saw 31-percent of the team achieve academic honors earning grade point averages between a 3.0 and 4.0. Those academic achievements have only continued to escalate.
Pete Thamel is reporting this morning that the guy who hired Isiah Thomas is expected to now pursue former North Carolina coach Butch Davis