The Florida International Panthers football program just completed their 14th season as a football program with a 63-7 loss to Western Kentucky.
That is fourteen years in the recruiting hotbed of Miami, an area that should bring in some of the best group of five players on a regular basis. There was talent on the roster when Cristobal was fired and there is talent now with Richard Leonard and Jonnu Smith among the NFL level talents on the roster.
So, why is Florida International consistently one of the biggest messes in all of FBS football?
Simply put, the Panthers are still reeling from the weird and awkward firing of Mario Cristobal after the 2012 season.
FIU started their football program as a FCS independent in 2002 under head coach Don Strock. During his time with the program, Strock brought the team from non-existence to the FCS to the Sun Belt. After an 0-12 season in 2006, it was clear that the Panthers needed to go in a different direction.
In stepped Mario Cristobal. The former Miami and Rutgers assistant coach was given the reigns of the floundering program as the second head coach of the Panthers. After three years of building up a recruiting base and getting the roster to an FBS level, Cristobal did the impossible. He got the Panthers into a bowl game.
During the 2010 and 2011 seasons, FIU went 15-11 with back to back bowl trips. The 2010 win in the Little Caesars Bowl over Toledo still stands as one of the program's top moments.
The 2012 season saw FIU fall to 3-9, with the FIU administration doing the unimaginable and firing Cristobal.
Athletic director Pete Garcia showed just how out of touch the administration was with the program by making this ludicrous statement about the firing.
"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."
First off, that quote is ridiculous.
Of the many reasons for picking apart that quote is the fact that he was counting the last 22 games, an arbitrary moment in the 2011 season for his starting point. If you add in the first three games of the 2011 season, which would give you two full seasons (25 games) to consider, things change considerably.
Adding those three games would have added wins over North Texas, at Louisville, and Central Florida to his two year resume of 2011-2012. Not only did they win those three games, but Florida International was also coming off of their best season in school history, an 8-5 finish in 2011.
Looking at the nine losses in 2012, five were by eight points or fewer. A team has to have a significant amount of negative luck to go 2-5 in games of eight points or fewer.
At any rate, the decision was made to fire Cristobal and replace him with... Ron Turner?!?! Turner had not been a head coach since his stint with Illinois ended with a 3-8 season and his firing in 2004. Sure, Turner led the Illini to a Sugar Bowl berth in 2001, but also led Illinois to six losing records during his eight seasons with the program.
In addition to Turner struggling during a majority of his coaching career with Illinois, he was coming off of four seasons as a quarterback coach on the NFL level. Recruiting immediately suffered with Turner at the helm, falling to tenth in CUSA in 2014 and seventh in CUSA in 2015.
The Miami area is a difficult area to recruit for coaches that do not understand the culture. A coach has to get in good with the coaches and those around the high school programs in order to get the best recruits. A good comparison is the talent brought in by Willie Taggart at South Florida and the talent that was brought in by Al Golden at Miami.
On paper, Miami should be able to get any recruit in the city but they didn't under Golden. Taggart has been able to get several big time recruits from the Miami area due to his ability to understand the culture.
It has been fairly obvious at this point that Turner does not understand how to recruit Miami very well and it hurts the program.
The Panthers have slowly gotten more competitive after a disaster of a 1-11 season in his first season on board. So far, he is 10-26 with the Panthers after three regular seasons. Short of some sort of miracle allowing them to participate in a bowl game at 5-7, they will be staying home again for the holidays.
With losses of 31-17 to FAU, 52-0 to Marshall, and 63-7 to Western Kentucky, the 5-7 season of improvement looks much less impressive.
Should Florida International continue to give Ron Turner a chance to turn the program around, or is it time to go another direction and bring in a coach that can recruit the Miami area with the intensity that it needs? Or do you put the blame squarely on Athletic Director Pete Garcia?