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Opinion: FIU Fans Wanted Change — But Are They Ready To Embrace It

The hire of former San Jose State and Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre was a surprise — but not one that wasn’t thought out by new AD Scott Carr.

Michael Berlfein/FIU Athletics

In his final press conference with the New England Patriots, NFL Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells uttered a line that has become etched in sports lexicon for almost 25 years now.

“If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries,” said Parcells in reference to his desire to have more say over the Patriots’ front office decisions.

Change, both good and bad, takes time to get used to. For 15 years, the same chef fed FIU fans — oftentimes leaving them yearning — or better yet — starving for more.

This is crucial when putting into context the immediate reaction to FIU Athletic Director Scott Carr’s decision to ink former San Jose State and Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre to a five-year contract as the Panthers’ fifth head coach in program history.

The 56-year-old MacIntyre, who was named the 2016 Coach of the Year by various publications (including SBNation, the parent company of Underdog Dynasty) comes to FIU after a two-year stint as Memphis’ defensive coordinator and has a career 46-65 record in nine seasons at a collegiate head coach. Notably, MacIntyre finds himself in arguably the nation’s top recruiting hotbed, without any real ties to South Florida.

Carr interviewed names more familiar to Panthers’ fans such as UCF co-Offensive Coordinator Tim Harris Jr. and Appalachian State OC Frank Ponce — both Miami natives who worked their way up through the prep ranks in Dade County.

He could have made the easy choice of one of the multiple names interviewed, who would have filled FIU fans’ bellies with satisfaction.

However, in the end, the first-time AD had to choose someone that HE was wholly comfortable with — and trusted not only his gut, but some well-placed reasoning.

“In the end, I had an opportunity to talk with two well-respected coaches and a fellow athletic director that I trust, all of whom have had success at the highest level of college football and when I mentioned Mike MacIntyre, they all came back with incredible recommendations,” said Carr. “It’s hard to turn that down, in conjunction with someone who has experience as a program builder.”

At MacIntyre’s introductory press conference Thursday, the Tennessee native chose to forego a microphone in favor of loudly announcing himself to the Graham Center audience.

“Scott and I talked multiple times and once I got the first call, I started researching Florida International,” said MacIntyre. “It’s been amazing to walk across this campus and see the growth, I always knew it was a goldmine, but now I see it’s an even bigger goldmine than I could have imagined,” said MacIntyre.

The aforementioned career record that’s 19 games under .500 certainly isn’t going to amaze people. At Colorado, MacIntyre inherited a program coming off of seven straight losing seasons and led the Buffs to a 10-win year in 2016 — but that was sandwiched in between five losing seasons.

His experience at San Jose State, however, is the one that Panthers’ fans should be most interested in.

Similar to FIU, SJSU is a program set squarely in the middle of a pro sports market (Oakland-San Francisco), having a student enrollment that is largely minority (36% Asian, 29% Hispanic) and largely first or second-generation.

“At San Jose State, we had to compete against the 49ers, Oakland Raiders, San Francisco Giants, all of the major pro teams in the Bay Area,” said MacIntyre. “For me, I take the challenge head-on of raising money, there are people if you show the what the kids need to be successful, you can get it and I have a passion for this, when you tell people this is what we need and this is why we need it, people help.”

San Jose State v UCLA
MacIntyre turned around a doormat program — guiding them to a double-digit win season in 2012.
Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

After two winning seasons in the prior 17 years, MacIntyre guided the Spartans to five wins in his second season and 10 in his final campaign (11 total) in 2012, the program’s most wins since 1940.

MacIntyre and Carr are fighting an uphill battle, one that most certainly won’t be won in one press conference or possibly one season. Reaction locally in South Florida was largely negative from former players, fans and a certain high-profile head coach of Miami Edison High School.

Seemingly, the biggest knock against the choice of MacIntyre is the fact that Harris Jr., a beloved FIU former assistant, was available along with Ponce, who would have instantly brought a level of credibility when recruiting in South Florida.

It’s unquestionably true that either man, along with current Florida A&M head coach Willie Simmons would have been equally fine hires and are more recognized — locally, that is.

MacIntyre and his staff will have to work to establish relationships among the prep ranks that the other names are already made men. However, despite Uncle Luke’s declaration on Twitter telling parents to send their kids elsewhere, there’s one major point that’s being missed.

There are over 2,500 players in the NCAA’s transfer portal — a number that’s swelling by the day. A side effect of the transfer portal is the fact that high school players are having to compete with portal players for scholarships.

I’m here to tell you that no matter whether it’s from me, Mike MacIntyre or the custodian working in Landon Fieldhouse — if an offer is made from FIU — no local high school player isn’t taking it because Luke Campbell said so. While the Ron Turner-era didn’t produce wins at FIU, his tenure did produce stalwarts such as Maurice Alexander, Sage Lewis, Stantley Thomas-Oliver, Austin Maloney, Anthony Jones, Napoleon Maxwell and many more who played major factors in FIU’s success ‘17-’19 — and Turner also had no ties to South Florida.

Panthers’ fans yearned for change after having grown beyond fatigued with Garcia as AD, followed by the final two seasons of Butch Davis’ tenure as head coach.

The biggest change that can’t be measured by recruiting rankings, South Florida-ties, or anything of the sort is synergy.

“I can’t stand still behind a podium, I’ve got to be moving around a bit and talking to the people,” said MacIntyre in explaining why he chose to shout to the crowd in front of him. “I’m energetic and fired up.”

FIU President Mark Rosenberg’s volume was as equally loud when he introduced Carr as Athletic Director on December 1 as it was when he introduced MacIntyre on Thursday. Carr hasn’t stopped operating at a fast-paced level since taking over the job.

In my four seasons covering the program, the level of alignment that the three men currently have was sorely missing, especially in the last 36 months of Davis and Garcia’s tenures.

Will the selection of MacIntyre prove fruitful for FIU — time will tell that story.

However, Thursday’s presser revealed that for the first time in a while, the three most powerful people in deciding the fate of the FIU football program are working in lockstep together, a much-needed change from the past.