By: Wells Dusenbury
During his tenure at Florida International, Mario Cristobal was known as one of the area's top recruiters, bringing in a number of Palm Beach County and Treasure Coast recruits.
Whether that trend continues next year at FIU is anyone's guess at this point.
In a surprising move, the school dismissed Cristobal after six seasons with the program. The 42-year old was 27-47 as the Panthers' head coach, but went 15-11 and led the team to back-to-back bowl appearances in 2010 and 2011.
This year the Panthers suffered a setback, falling to 3-9. That was enough to cost Crisotbal his job.
High school coaches around the area were surprised by sudden dismissal.
"I can't believe he got fired after bringing them to two straight bowl games," said Seminole Ridge head coach Matt Dickmann. "I mean, there's always ruts in the road, but there has to be something more to this...I'm in shock."
In a strange twist, FIU assistant coaches were at Seminole Ridge this morning to see running back Silas Spearman and linebacker Rayfield Dixon. 15 minutes after they left the school, news of Cristobal's dismissal broke.
Overall, the Panthers have nine area players on the roster. Four of those players are freshman who signed with FIU in February. (Suncoast's Davison Colimon, Palm Beach Central's Edens Sinceace, Treasure Coast's Patrick Jean and Benjamin's Trenton Saunders.)
Right now the Panthers have two area commits in Benjamin tight end Jonathan Pavlov and Vero Beach offensive lineman Chris Flaig.
The news of Cristobal's firing was equally as shocking to Flaig's high school head coach.
"It doesn't make any sense to me," said Vero Beach head coach Lenny Jankowski. "You just talk amongst high school and college coaches that recruit our area and [Cristobal]'s got a great reputation."
Like seemingly most recruits, Flaig heard the information second-hand, rather then from FIU.
"I was the one that told Chris," Jankowski said. "He was floored by it. His mom's come in and they're overly concerned."
As with any time there's a college coaching change, the worry for Flaig and his family is whether the new FIU head coach will honor his commitment.
Flaig pledged to the Panthers in August and stopped looking at other schools after committing. Now, he's left in the precarious position of possibly not having any options if the Panthers' new head coach pulls his offer.
Jankowski said he plans on calling FIU's Athletic Director, Pete Garcia, to get more information on the situation and see if they plan on honoring their commitments.
"I've got to protect our kids. He shut down his recruitment when he committed. Hopefully it doesn't come back to bite him."
-Ken LaVicka also contributed to this story
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