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.
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."
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
"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
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.