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3 posts from December 5, 2012

December 05, 2012

Mario speaks about The Blind Side

I knew Mario Cristobal flew into Atlanta last night. According to what former FIU commit Brett Sheehan, a Suwanee (Ga.) Collins Hill quarterback, Cristobal was in the Sheehan home last night.

Clearly,  he didn't know he was about 12 hours from "former FIU head football coach" Mario Cristobal.

"Very puzzling," he said Wednesday afternoon by phone, his low, halfting tone of voice screaming of his surprise.

He ran through the summary of FIU football when he arrived -- coming off 0-12, an APR among the worst in the country, about to get slammed with a 30-scholarship punishment and go on five years of probation.

"In four or five years, we quickly put FIU on the map nationally," Cristobal said. "We gave FIU an identity. We went to two bowl games, won a conference title, beat a BCS opponent. The importance of getting into Conference USA was emphasized and we helped do that. It's obviously puzzling and shocking after a year when we had so many critical injuries at key spots and close losses."

Cristobal said he's already getting calls about other jobs. "Obviously people recognize what we've done as a program, one of the better stories over the past couple of years."

He didn't want to say much more. But anybody who knows Cristobal, who looks at his career, realizes that what kept him at FIU was the kids he recruited and that he's 305. He didn't want to move his family from here. And I do know that even as this season spun out, he didn't regret the decisions he made last December (Pitt) or February (Rutgers). 

By the way, Carol City's Simeon Thomas, a 6-3 2013 commit that was part of what looked like an excellent haul of defensive back recruits, said on Twitter he didn't know if he was still coming to FIU.

More Cristobal firing stuff; Perez, Beaupre take Sun Belt pool honors

This afternoon, I asked Garcia what if, two or three years down the road, FIU remains at three-to-five wins a season after he makes what many see as a bold move in firing Cristobal. What does that mean for his job?

"I'm held accountable for everything in the athletic department," Garcia said. "My job is to make sure the entire athletic department is headed in the right direction. Right now, I didn't think the football program was headed in the right direction. It's my job to hire a coach that will make us competitive year in and year out and successful. Success is going to bowl games and having winning seasons. That's how our coaches are evaluated and how I'm evaluated."

If that's not the case, he said, "Then I've got to be held accountable."

Garcia hired Richard Pitino nine days after firing Isiah Thomas last spring, although Garcia insists he didn't know Pitino was available when he fired Thomas (see my posts from back then for commentary on that). But Garcia said he hasn't talked to anyone about the job yet, though his cell phone is being blown up, and the timetable is to have a coach in place by the time classes resume on Jan. 7. That leaves one month before signing day. He won't, he insists, speed up the process if it means settling for a candidate on which he's lukewarm.

Garcia has a pal named Butch Davis who needs a job and knows how to recruit in South Florida and to South Florida. And I'm not a fan of personnel or coaching moves to please a fan base, but there needs to be a juicing of excitement about the football program, both in paid attendance and booster bucks because it's the only thing close to a revenue sport FIU has. 

Now, as far as the money to pay a name coach...Cristobal worked relatively cheap for the job and the market, making a base salary of $453,183 (various bonuses pushed that over $500,000). According to Cristobal's contract, FIU now owes him $906,366 if he doesn't get a job next season. If he does, FIU owes him one year's base salary plus a pro-rated amount.

Texas A&M paid FIU $500,000 to get out of its commitment for a game next year and FIU's saving the $500,000 they won't pay A&M to come down. The Maryland game gets them another $500,000 or so.

On the field, FIU might lose Collins Hill (Ga.) quarterback Brett Sheehan, one of FIU's first 2013 verbal committments, who had a stellar year. Sheehan retweeted a Scout.com report that quotes him saying he's decommitting from FIU in the wake of Cristobal's firing. Sheehan's rated at two stars by Scout, Rivals and ESPN.com.

SWIMMING & DIVING

I'd planned to spend today writing about how Johanna Gustafsdottir went from being a fat (by swimming standards) burnout victim to an owner of half the FIU swimming record book who feels very much at home in Miami.

As it turns out, my only break in Cristobal coverage is to tell you that Sonia Perez was picked as Sun Belt Swimmer of the Week and junior Sabrina Beupre as The Belt's Diver of the Week.

Perez won the 400 Individual Medley at the Mizzou Invitational setting a new school record of 4:12.95 That and her school record 500 freestyle time of 4:50.32 were among four Sun Belt-best times this season she reeled off at the meet. Beaupre placed third in both the 1-meter and the 3-meter competitions at the University of Missouri-hosted meet.

 

Cristobal fired; Butch next?

FIU fired head football coach Mario Cristobal after six seasons Wednesday, the last of which was a 3-9 season after FIU was the preseason favorite for the Sun Belt title. FIU heads into Conference USA next season.

"It was based on going 3-9 this year with 30 seniors and what was supposed to be his best team," FIU athletic director Pete Garcia told The Herald. "He's done a very good job for this program, but we've gone backwards over the last year and a half. Over the last 22 games, we've gone 8-14."

That's a reference to FIU's record after a 3-0 start in 2011 that included wins over eventual Big East champion Louisville and defending Conference USA champion Central Florida. This year, Garcia said, FIU's wins were over 1-11 Akron; rebuilding FAU; and South Alabama, in their first year of FBS competition.

Garcia can be temperamental and his relationship with Cristobal the past few years could be called "strained," if you want to be very generous. Cristobal several times made public reference to not being fully aware of the coming NCAA sanctions when he took the job. Also, sources at Camp Mitch said Garcia told a group of boosters before this year's regular season game against Troy that, though this season hadn't gone as planned, changes would be made after the season. Upon hearing that a week or two later, Cristobal almost exploded. His worry wasn't for himself, but for his assistants, who he felt it was his province to handle.

But I don't think Garcia swings a wrecking ball without plans for the next building. Butch Davis is a name, just as Isiah Thomas was a name and even Richard Pitino is a name (a last name, at least). Davis and Garcia go back a ways. Garcia said he hasn't talked to Davis or anyone about the job. 

This comes 12 months after FIU played in its second consecutive bowl game in only its seventh year of FBS play and in the fifth year after Cristobal took over a NCAA sanction-ridden program that had gone winless in 2006. The team went to bowls in 2010 and 2011 after 6-6 and 8-4 regular seasons, the only two regular seasons at or above .500 in FIU's 11 seasons. That earned Cristobal attention from the University of Pittsburgh after the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Rutgers was ready to hire Cristobal in February. But he chose the current happiness he and his family experienced living on South Beach and working near the neighborhood where he was raised.

Cristobal's overall record was 27-47.

This year, FIU wasn't helped by losing starting quarterback Jake Medlock to injury, forcing true freshman E.J. Hilliard to start three games against bowl teams and play the second half against Sugar Bowl-bound Louisville. FIU lost two games on last minute scores and another in overtime. Starting running back Kedrick Rhodes spent most of the season with two sprained ankles.

Still, when Medlock was healthy, offense rarely proved to be a problem compared to defense and special teams, expected to be the backbone of a team that received Top 25 votes in the preseason coaches poll. Those two units failed spectacularly with several fumbled returns, three missed extra points, three bad punt snaps leading to two opposing touchdowns and a safety and the defense ranking 67th in total defense and 90th in scoring defense despite returning 21 of 22 on the two-deep roster from the No. 16 scoring defense in 2011.

Senior defensive end Tourek Williams came on late in the season to earn First Team All-Sun Belt honors, as did senior safety Johnathan Cyprien. Senior offensive tackle Caylin Hauptmann was Second Team All-Sun Belt.


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