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Column: How Mike MacIntyre Answered His “Outsider” Status

When Mike MacIntyre was hired at FIU, he had an uphill battle in proving himself to South Florida — 17 months into his tenure, he’s managed to do just that.

Michael Berlfein/FIU Athletics

MIAMI, FL — Outsider — noun.

Definition: a person who does not belong to a particular group.

The son of longtime college coach George MacIntyre, FIU head coach Mike MacIntyre is far from a coaching outsider— football and coaching is in his blood.

However, when he was announced as the fifth head coach in Panthers’ history on December 9, 2021, the question from South Florida amounted to “who was this outsider coming here — especially so having been chosen over one of our native sons?”

Last Monday, MacIntyre earned verbal commitments from two rising South Florida products, getting an early jump locally on the 2024 recruiting class— coming off of the 2023 class that saw 13 of South Florida natives sign with FIU.

17 months after his hiring, MacIntyre took his program to Charles Hadley Park at Luther Campbell Field in Liberty City — deep in the heart of Miami to hold an open practice. Clearly, the move is in an effort to further ingratiate the program — and himself to Miami’s prep and youth football culture — one that’s undoubtedly the most fertile recruiting ground in America and sees programs across the nation try to create inroads in the area.

Back to the outsider question.

In December of 2021, the idea of MacIntyre having such success in South Florida seemed preposterous.

Predicting a future that would see MacIntyre’s club hold a practice on a field that bares Luke Campbell’s name — impossible would be an understatement.

11 days after the end of the Butch Davis era, rumblings of a new coach started coming my way. Athletic Director Scott Carr had been on the job for eight days, but promised that the coaching search would move in “warp speed.”

When I started following up with several sources, I expected one of the names with South Florida ties to be the choice. I’d had more than reliable information that Tim Harris Jr. and Frank Ponce, both Miami natives, had interviewed for the job. Instead, MacIntyre’s name came up several times.

After announcing that former San Jose State and Colorado head coach would be the hire, I expected the reaction to be mixed. Instead, it was mostly shock.

“This is really bad, if true,” read one commentor.

“Question, who TF is he,” asked a former FIU player. “Who TF knows,” answered another FIU fan.

I could list more — but I’d have to veer into actually writing out the expletives if I go much further.

A longtime local high school coach, Campbell is one of the godfathers of Dade County youth football. His immediate reaction was swift.

So, just HOW exactly did MacIntyre solve the issue — it started with the assembling of his coaching staff.

MacIntyre hired Fort Lauderdale native Eric Hickson to be the team’s running backs coach, giving him an assistant who spent nine seasons as an assistant in Broward County.

“This area means everything to me, there’s no place like it and the opportunity to coach kids from my backyard, that’s what it’s about,” said Hickson.

The next decision was arguably the biggest coup.

Long-regarded as one of the top defensive back coaches and local recruiters in college football, cornerbacks’ coach Corey Bell was added to the staff in late January of 2022. Bell, once the youngest high school coach in the state of Florida, spent 19 seasons coaching across multiple South Florida high schools.

Those decisions helped give MacIntyre a measure of credibility as he and the rest of the staff combed each high school in the tri-county area.

Six weeks after his initial displeasure, Campbell tweeted this show of support when Bell was hired at FIU.

Bell spoke about being able to help facilitate the practice at Charles Hadley Park.

“Being from that area and being good friends with Luke (Campbell), we were to come together and put that on the calendar,” said Bell. “It allows people around the city to come watch us and it’s a big part of what we want to do as far as putting our brand out there.”

South Florida High School reporting legend Larry Blustein spoke about the impact Saturday’s practice and impression it can leave with local talent.

“Getting into a community that they recruited so well in this past cycle is showing present and future prospects, especially ones from the inner city that they are indeed a program that will stay home to build this program,” said Blustein. “Lastly, it’s big-time credibility for FIU amongst the locals and can really help in making inroads with the local fanbase.”

Last month, MacIntyre and members of his staff invited coaches from Dade and Broward counties to local restaurants in an effort to build relationships.

How trivial is the gesture, that’s subjective — what’s reality is in today’s college football landscape, perception matters just as much, if not more — than the facts. The perception of FIU that MacIntyre had to break was that the program was in shambles, coming off a revered name in South Florida saying as much on his way out the door.

Full disclosure, I have a great measure of appreciation for Tim Harris Jr., stemming from the three seasons that I covered FIU while he was on staff (2018-2020).

He spoke candidly to me about his desire to become a head coach and to be fair, that certainly played a factor in some of the frustration when he wasn’t chosen for the Panthers’ gig.

It’s impossible to know how Harris would have fared last season.

However, it can’t be overstated the job that Mike MacIntyre has done in establishing the FIU program as a presence in South Florida.

During the opening week of spring practice, I counted over a dozen high schools from the tri-county area represented by either players or coaches at the team’s practices, which are open to the public. MacIntyre can be seen leading practices at one moment, followed by taking time to shake the hands of the coaches and exchanging hellos with the players on hand — instructing his assistants to make sure they’re following suit.

Even Campbell has come around on being a believer on MacIntyre.

“When I first met with Coach (MacIntyre) he impressed me with how much he stressed that he wanted to recruit this area,” said Campbell. “He’s committed to this community and FIU as an institution has done a lot for this community and that’s speaks to me as someone from this community.”

For Carr and MacIntyre, earning the respect of the community was their desire from day one.

“When we were going through the interview process, we knew what Coach Mac’s plan was and days like today were a part of that,” said Carr. He’s got a personality that resonates with people and he genuinely engages with people.”

Last season’s 4-8 record is one that defied the prognostications of nearly all experts, but clearly not one that the program can rest on. With the departure of the last six Conference USA champions and the additions of two FBS programs, the clock on MacIntyre’s rebuild has been expedited — it’s win-now mode for the Panthers.

However, MacIntyre’s biggest victory to date has been not only rebuilding the FIU program’s reputation amongst South Florida’s high schools — it can be argued that he’s enhanced it — making himself and his program a visible presence at each stop.

All of this is highlighted by today’s practice — one that saw several players and coaches take time to talk with fans, friends and family — in Liberty City.

For all the things that made MacIntyre an “outsider” initially, what is apparent is the fact that the Nashville-bred coach’s authenticity resonates with people.

“I feel like I’m genuine and I care and that shows no matter where you’re from,” said MacIntyre. “I’m an extremely hard worker and there’s so much talent and passion here in this community and I’m going to continue to work to keep things rolling.”