Cristobal is first Cuban-American coach in I-A

Updated: December 20, 2006, 8:22 AM ET
Associated Press

MIAMI -- Mario Cristobal was hired Tuesday by Florida International, luring the Miami assistant away from his alma mater with a five-year contract and the chance to be one of the youngest coaches in Division I-A football.

Mario Cristobal

The 36-year-old Cristobal becomes the first Cuban-American head coach in major college football. Only Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, 32, is younger in Division I-A.

"Are you ready to build something special or what?" Cristobal said upon being introduced as the new coach. "This is an awesome day. I am ready to play a football game right now."

Movement At The U.
 Miami Hurricanes
Miami did make staff changes in 2005, but the wrinkle in their '06 turnover was a change at the top. Larry Coker was fired on Nov. 24 after a
6-6 season; he'll coach the Hurricanes for the final time on Dec. 31 in the MPC Computers Bowl. Since Coker's dismissal, other dominoes have fallen in Coral Gables:
  '06 UM job New job
Randy Shannon D-coordinator Hurricanes
head coach
Rich Olson O-coordinator Arizona State O-coordinator
Mario Cristobal O-line coach FIU
head coach

Cristobal replaces Don Strock, who resigned last month after five seasons at FIU. Strock, the first coach in the Golden Panthers' football history, went 15-41 at FIU. The team was 0-12 in 2006 -- joining Duke as the lone winless teams in Division I-A this season.

"He has all the qualities we were looking for in a head coach -- character, integrity, work ethic and passion," said FIU athletic director Pete Garcia, the former Miami associate athletic director who left for the Golden Panthers two months ago. "We are confident he will lead this program in a manner that this university, alumni and the South Florida community will be proud of."

Cristobal and FIU will face the Hurricanes Oct. 6, when the schools -- just 9 miles apart -- meet at the Orange Bowl. This year's Miami-FIU game was marred by an on-field melee that led to the sanctioning of 31 players, including 18 Golden Panthers. Two Florida International players were kicked off the team.

Cristobal, a Miami native, played for the Hurricanes from 1988-1992 and earned All-Big East honors as a senior offensive lineman.

After a brief playing career, mostly in NFL Europe, Cristobal returned to Miami as a graduate assistant in 1998 and stayed through the 2000 season. He left for a three-year stint as an assistant at Rutgers. Cristobal returned to Miami in 2004 as tight ends coach, then became offensive line coach this past season.

Cristobal is the second offensive coach to leave Miami. Hurricanes offensive coordinator Rich Olson has been hired as offensive coordinator at Arizona State by new coach Dennis Erickson.

Olson has been an assistant to Erickson for eight season, at Miami and in the NFL with Seattle and San Francisco.

It's still unknown if Cristobal will be with the Hurricanes for their appearance in the MPC Computers Bowl against Nevada on Dec. 31.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press