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30 posts from December 2012

December 08, 2012

DBs decommit in the wake of firing

Carol City defensive back Simeon Thomas and North Miami defensive back Troy McCollum announced their decommitments from FIU via Twitter Friday. Last night, I heard that Belen's Xavier Hines, a third member of what would've been a strong group of freshman defensive backs for FIU (according to ratings of South Florida recruiting types, including our Herald people), also is out.

Panama City Bozeman defensive end Chandler Burkett is in a holding pattern with his committment. North Palm Beach Benjamin tight end Jonathan Pavlov told a Palm Beach reporter he's sticking with his verbal until he meets the new coach.



December 07, 2012

The Ghost of UM Coaches Past...

Butch Davis definitely let it be known Thursday he didn't want FIU's head football coach job. I don't know where ESPN's Joe Schad got his information for his report that Butch was out, but I know I wholly trust where I got my info.

Before that, however, I heard three different applicants' representatives were told not to bother inquiring, this would be Butch Davis' job. And 640AM midday host Andy Slater put out the idea that Thursday was a setup to make FIU athletic director and longtime Davis pal Pete Garcia look heroic by reeling in Davis when all appeared to be lost.

If that sounds ridiculous, note what UM players say they remember from 2001: being told by Davis he wasn't going anywhere, then seeing Davis and Pete Garcia on television the next day getting off the plane in Cleveland together to accept jobs with the Browns. 

SportsByBrooks, who's a hawk on college football, says Davis was using his position as Tampa Bay's special assistant to get information on FIU's players from Mario Cristobal before the firing. A very well-placed source says, "That's a reach. No room for Mission:Impossible 5."

I saw Davis at several FIU practices in 2011. I can't say the same for 2012 -- maybe I saw him at one or two -- but FIU's about as welcoming as any school to NFL scouts dropping by to watch practice and ask questions.

December 06, 2012

Sounds from Camp Mitch on Butch, other options

Despite what I just said on 640AM's The Andy Slater Show, perhaps ESPN Joe Schad's report from earlier today is correct.

About two minutes into my nuked turkey marsala lunch, heard through the Camp Mitch grapevine that rippling through the FIU hierarchy is that former University of Miami and North Carolina coach Butch Davis doesn't want FIU's head football coach job. Now, that doesn't mean he can't change his mind later, but, for now, he's out.

Also heard that a) perhaps FIU's attention has turned to Florida State offensive coordinator James Coley, a Miami native guy who coached at Norland High a decade ago when the Vikings were a power and b) some big muckety-mucks at Camp Mitch aren't happy with the way Pete Garcia handled this. Not like he's going to get rung up or anything, but it doesn't do to make the muckety-mucks unhappy when you're rolling the dice.

Half the assistants south of Olney, Illinois might be blowing up Pete Garcia's phone. Garcia said to me yesterday this wasn't the same job Cristobal took in 2007. He's right. Ironically, Cristobal's a large reason for that. Still, FIU's seen as a stepping stone, unless someone truly loves living and working here. Some people get attached to their starter house and it becomes the family home.



The Blind Side & what follows

Well, didn't hit the lottery. In fact, missed it by so much, I should get a few bucks for it -- you know, rent on Mediterranean Avenue -- because it's almost as hard missing by as much as I did as it is getting three of six.

So, bleary-eyed, not-busy-tailed, eating my large slice of bacon pizza from Pizza Rustica and sucking down some cold caffiene, I pound out this last post before heading for bed. Or a few minutes of Dave Brubeck (RIP).

The national shocked reaction to Mario Cristobal's firing, not from fans but from media, ADs and coaches tells you how FIU's 2012 season was viewed to those with more than a facile eye. This wasn't a Gene Chizik or Joker Phillips, sinking for a few years and being jettisoned before the boat sinks in shark-infested waters. This was a bad day writ large. What should work doesn't. Bad things that shouldn't happen do. What isn't messed up by someone else or just the vicissitudes of the universe, you mess up yourself.

Cristobal's not blameless nor is the staff. Everybody gets a piece of 3-9 cowpie. But rarely is there a single person or facet that plunges you to that level. Fans want a single shooter to blame. Get the Oswald and life's back to rainbows and Kit-Kats. But that's not life on or off the field.

If Mitch McCluggage stays perfect on long snaps; if Jack Griffin stays perfect on extra points; if Willis Wright doesn't get stripped at the goal line by Western Kentucky safety Jonathan Dowling on the gadget pass bomb; If freshman E.J. Hilliard fumbles one fewer time against Louisiana-Monroe; we're talking about a bowl today. And there's no difference in the actual coaching. That's why coaches are control freaks about the things they can control -- there's so much they can't in this business of getting young men aged 18-to-22 to do the right things as a group.

(Continued Thursday morning from the Miami Country Day School Parents Association meeting after I went facedown on my keyboard last night...)

Anyway, this says relationship between Pete Garcia and Mario Cristobal came into play. Garcia hired Cristobal, but soon after, their relationship began to cool. By last winter, it was that forgotten pot roast in the back of Grandma's freezer since 2009. A couple of Camp Mitch sources say Garcia had little involvement in retaining Cristobal after the Pitt or Rutgers flirtations. And said flirtations doubtlessly annoyed Garcia as he might have to swing into action to find quickly a new El Jefe for his highest profile, only-thing-close-to-revenue-producing sport.

Then again, the football budget hadn't budged much over the last five years despite the program's success. Even before the collapses, this season's attendance was disappointing, which is under Garcia's umbrella. And Cristobal's stature within FIU continued to grow the longer he stayed. Combine that with his relationship with Garcia and he's a potential power threat to Garcia in his own department.

When there's a Cold War with your supervisor, don't misstep or the door opens to being booted out. And 3-9's a misstep.

Right now, it looks rash. Whether or not it's ultimately judged to be the right move depends on what follows. If you pull a wildcat divorce on your wife and wind up with the other woman for the next 40 years, you made the right move. If, three years later, you're eating Spam and paying two alimonies, you should've stayed with your first woman.

Butch Davis' name, of course, popped up and he fits the Garcia MO of big splash. But Davis left North Carolina just ahead of the NCAA and FIU just finished flushing the NCAA violations out of its system.

Why would Davis come to FIU? The same reason anyone with a broadcast primetime past goes basic cable series -- cleansing the name or rebuilding a reputation for quality work. Also, it's a chance to do what they do. Hall of Fame NFL coach George Allen finished his coaching life at Long Beach State.

With that in mind, here's a couple of other guys I thought of: 

Joker Phillips – After a bowl appearance in 2010 at the University of Kentucky, the SEC devoured Phillips. But Conference USA isn’t the SEC. Phillips background as a skill position assistant and offensive coordinator fits FIU's talent pool. Though he just took the University of Florida receivers coach/recruiting coordinator job, surely his contract has an out for a head coaching chance. FIU pay would be three steps down from his Kentucky salary, but a step up from that of a UF assistant.

Jeff Tedford – I have no idea if Tedford would want to leave Califronia for South Florida. Or, if he even wants to be a head coach again so soon or at all. But this one has intrigue. Tedford available after being fired from Califronia-Berkeley and, possibly, cheap. The remainder of his Cal-Berkeley deal, which runs through 2015, guarantees him $1.8 million per year. What another head job pays him is just that much less of the $1.8 million that Cal has to pay. FIU could pay him $300,000 and it makes no difference to Tedford's bank account. And he can coach college offenses.


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.


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.

December 04, 2012

The (Coaching) Wire

Coaching's scramble season, when Sun Belt coaches get fired or hired elsewhere, is in full swing this week.

For the second consecutive year, Arkansas State lost a coach to the SEC, Gus Malzahn heading to Auburn. Wisconsin's looking for a head coach after Bret Bielema went to Arkansas, opening up a Big Ten job.

The rumor mill has churned out Mario Cristobal's name as a possible candidate for the South Florida job. Despite the coaching staff's role in FIU going 3-9, this isn't surprising. As I alluded to in a post several weeks back, most athletic directors and coaches look at FIU's season and think, "Been there." Cristobal's stock, at a peak a year ago, hasn't gone Enron.

But his stock is common compared to the preferred of Western Kentucky's Willie Taggart, who turned his college alma mater from bumbling to bowling and went to high school at Bradenton Manatee. Manatee High coach Joe Kinnan, who built the school into a muscular state power during the 1980s and is an influential football voice over there, reportedly endorsed Taggart for the USF job.

By the way, South Florida was paying Skip Holtz around $500,000 in base salary. They'll need more than that to get Taggart (other opportunities or can stand pat) or Cristobal (makes around $454,000 in base, living in South Beach, working in his old neighborhood), although last year showed money to be no god to Cristobal. He got some extra in the extension, but more money went to be spread among assistants and for use in day-to-day football operations.

As for whether or not Cristobal would jump across the state after flirting with Pitt and jilting Rutgers at the altar last year, it's more likely than him going to either of those. He's a 305 guy and South Florida's only a four-hour drive away.



December 01, 2012

School records for Gustafsdottir & Ribi in Missouri (not muddy) waters

As far as basketball at The Branch tonight, the women won, the men lost, I'll blog more about it later or tomorrow morning.

At the final night of the Mizzou Invitational, sophomore Johanna Gustafsdottir finished second in the 200 backstroke to Missouri's Dominique Bouchard by 5.06 seconds after clocking a 1:57.83. In just over one season at FIU, Gustafsdottir owns five individual records and swam on four of the record holding relay teams.

The 200 butterfly saw Marina Ribi finish third in 2:00.31 while smashing her own school record of 2:04.36 set in October.

The 400 freestyle relay of Gustafsdottir leading off, Ribi anchoring and Klara Andersson and Sonia Perez Arau in between came in sixth in 3:25.23. Gustafsdottir's opening leg of 51.03 broke Trudi Maree's record of 51.27 set Feb. 28, 2008 at the Sun Belt Conference meet.


New guys

I asked FIU coach Richard Pitino for thumbnail sketches on this week's signees. Here's what he said:

On Jaquan Lynch, a 6-1 senior at Brooklyn Thomas Jefferson High: "Lynch we saw over the summer. Really liked him a lot. It turned out (assistant coach) Kimani (Young) had known him growing up. He had a relationship with him. He reminded me a lot of a kid I coached at Louisville, Russ Smith, where he just puts the ball in the hole, great defensive player. I thought he’d be perfect for our up-tempo style, our pressing style. Plays both positions, the 1 and the 2."


On Daquein McNeil, a 6-3 senior guard at Saxton River Vermont Academy, rated as the No. 41 shooting guard in the country by Rivals.com, three stars by Rivals and Scout.com, two stars by ESPN: "I think he can play three positions. I like getting guys who can play multiple positions because we switch a lot and do a lot of different things defensively. Daquan is a kid I’ve known because I recruited him at Louisville. Really liked him a lot. Loved how hard he played, his leadership skills, his versatility, loved his potential."


On Jonathan "Sponge" Holton, a 6-9 sophomore at Palm Beach State College and Coral Gables High graduate: "He was a guy who could play a couple of different positions for us. Very talented player, very skilled player. Good pick and pop guy.”

Holton's also faced accusations of video voyeurism while a freshman last year at Rhode Island University for posting videos of himself having sex to his Facebook account.


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