Mario Cristobal Firing Is Shameful

SEPT 24, 2011; Miami, FL, USA; Florida International Golden Panthers head coach Mario Cristobal before the game against the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns at FIU stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Florida International brass fired Mario Cristobal today in one of the more shocking moves this coaching carousel season. Barring some kind of malfeasance, Cristobal’s firing is downright shameful.

The Golden Panthers struggled to a 3-9 finish this year. Apparently, being the sole reason the program has any expectations wasn’t enough to give Cristobal collateral for the move to Conference USA.

Before Cristobal became FIU head coach in 2007, the fledgling program was notable for one thing, and one thing only: an embarrassing brawl against crosstown opponent Miami during the 2006 season. That same season, it finished 0-12 under Don Strock.

Just four years later, Cristobal coached FIU to a share of the Sun Belt Conference championship and a bowl game. The Golden Panthers beat Toledo in the 2010 Little Caesars Bowl in one of the most exciting match-ups of that postseason. Then, in 2011, Cristobal led the Golden Panthers to another postseason berth.

Today, less than a year removed from facing Marshall in the Beef-o-Brady’s Bowl, Cristobal was fired.

When I saw Cristobal’s name getting frequent mentions on Twitter, my initial presumption was he accepted a more high profile gig. After all, he was firmly in the mix for the opening at Rutgers last offseason. With the head coaching job at USF vacant, Cristobal is an obvious choice. He’s a proven winner, with a track record for building a program from nothing into a bowl contender.

Cristobal has sent players to the NFL. Former Golden Panther T.Y. Hilton is among the nation’s best rookies this season. Despite bumps in the road — Cristobal’s overall record is 27-47, the result of its worthlessness when he took over — he has a once laughable program respected.

So much for that.

Maybe athletic director Pete Garcia is trying to make a splash for the move to C-USA. He’s certainly garnered attention, much like a kid in the schoolyard eating worms. Of course, this is the same athletic director who hired Isiah Thomas to coach the basketball program.

CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman alluded to Garcia’s relationship with former University of Miami and North Carolina coach Butch Davis as possible motivation. Davis was forced out at UNC after numerous NCAA violations surfaced, including assistant coach John Blake’s ties to an agent.

Feldman also shed light on how out-of-left field this firing came, further adding to the disgracefulness of it all.

Cristobal will, and should get other opportunities. As mentioned, he makes perfect sense for USF. Cristobal is rooted in Florida, having played for great Miami teams in the late ’80s and early ’90s. He’s loyal to the region — his loyalty to the city of Miami and FIU kept him there long enough to be thanked for nothing. Colorado might be a possibility should its efforts to woo away Cincinnati’s Butch Jones fall short. Then again, Cristobal might want to be wary of thankless jobs with unsupportive administrators.

Topics: FIU Golden Panthers, Football

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