MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Florida International University will be moving to a new conference and have a new head coach in 2013. In a move that shocked the college football world, the Panthers fired head coach Mario Cristobal Wednesday morning.
“Today we informed Coach (Mario) Cristobal that a change was being made in the direction of our football program,” said athletic director Pete Garcia in a statement. “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.”
The move caught most off-guard Wednesday even after FIU struggled to a 3-9 record in 2012.
“It was puzzling,” Cristobal told CBS4 Wednesday. “The first thing I’m thinking about is we got here five years ago and it was the worst program in America. Not only that, but five year probation, lost scholarships. So when we were able to get this team to a bowl, win a conference championship…really proud of all that we’ve done.”
Cristobal said there was no indication prior to his firing the school was upset with the program’s performance.
“It’s tough news man, he’s invested his whole life in here,” said FIU defensive back Sam Gervais. “For his time to come to an end is a sad time for us all.”
Students reacted to the firing Wednesday afternoon:
“It’s crazy man,” said FIU defensive lineman Fadol Brown. “He turned down job offers and stuff like that to stay here and they fired him. It’s crazy, the business is crazy.”
FIU’s firing of Cristobal also comes after the head coach took them to two straight bowl games before struggling in 2012.
“To put it in perspective, I heard one school it took 111 years to go to two successive bowl games and we did it in four years,” Cristobal said.
Additionally, Cristobal’s contract had just been extended through 2017 in July. Cristobal turned down opportunities to go to Rutgers and was a finalist at Pittsburgh in order to stay at FIU last year.
“I never look back,” Cristobal said. “What’s known is I do things the right way. I’m a lights out worker. We got it done here without, really, any help, resources and what not.”
Cristobal was only FIU’s second head coach in history when he took over a downtrodden program in December 2006. Cristobal’s task at FIU was to turn around a Panther team that finished the 2006 season with a 0-12 record.
Cristobal was able to achieve success at FIU where others hadn’t and was considered a solid recruiter given his ties to the area. During Cristobal’s tenure at FIU, the school went from 1-11 in his first year to 8-5 in 2011, his best record. The school also registered a big victory on the road against Louisville last year.
In Sun Belt Conference play, Cristobal managed a 20-26 record and was 13-11 in his last three years in conference play.
Cristobal’s firing, which he described as “puzzling,” will leave a tarnish over the university and athletic director Pete Garcia for years; but Cristobal is ready to move on.
“You always do things the right way. Regardless of my emotions at this moment, it’s still making sure those guys [players] finish strong in school and do the right things. There are some things, there are no real explanations and some things are illogical and don’t make sense.”
Cristobal also told CBS4 that he’d be coaching again very soon.