MIAMI — Mario Cristobal took control of a winless team at Florida International and wound up leading the Panthers to consecutive bowl appearances.
One bad season later, Cristobal is looking for work.
The Panthers fired Cristobal on Wednesday, a somewhat surprising move that came nearly two weeks after FIU finished an injury-filled season with a 3-9 record. Cristobal was told by athletic director Pete Garcia of the decision in a morning meeting, one that caught both sixth-year coach and his team by surprise.
”Stunned. Sad,” Cristobal said. ”We did a lot of good things. We graduated kids. We sent kids to the NFL. We turned a lot of things around. We had one bad year.”
Garcia called the season ”a total collapse,” noting that FIU had 19 returning starters from a year ago and was expected to contend for a top-25 spot this season, its last before going to Conference USA. He also said the fact that FIU’s three wins this season came against teams that combined to win a total of six games was a factor.
”We will now turn our attention to attract the very best candidate to fill the position of head coach,” Garcia said.
Garcia has close ties to Butch Davis, the former Miami Hurricanes and Cleveland Browns coach who last was working on North Carolina’s sideline. Davis would figure to be a candidate at FIU, especially because Garcia has made splashy hires before — including Basketball Hall of Fame player Isiah Thomas, and then Richard Pitino, the son of Louisville coach Rick Pitino, after Thomas was fired earlier this year.
Cristobal was 27-47 at FIU and took the Panthers to their first two bowl games — and turning around a troubled program that had lost 23 consecutive games in one stretch — before the disappointing campaign in 2012. FIU won the 2010 Sun Belt title and the 2011 Little Caesars Bowl.
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