Pete Garcia’s contract with FIU as its ‘executive director of sports and entertainment’ is up next month.
Some disgruntled boosters apparently don’t have much patience.
On Wednesday afternoon, a banner plane circled FIU’s Modesto A. Maidique Campus in west Miami-Dade County with a simple message: ‘FIU, fire Pete Garcia.’
Whether the desired outcome was reached is doubtful; the plane circled campus at lunchtime when hundreds of students were out and about on a cloud-filled day.
Only very few looked up and actually saw the banner plane. A handful witnessed by the Miami Herald were completely oblivious to the message puttering way up above.
A few who missed the banner plane said they wouldn’t have known the meaning anyway — as they said they didn’t know who Garcia is.
They did, however, know the athletic department is trying to boost attendance by offering students who attend five of FIU’s seven home games with an Amazon Fire stick. Students who go to all seven games get a free android tablet.
The Panthers’ poor attendance has them flirting with danger as far as FIU’s status as a Football Bowl Subdivision program.
One requirement for FBS football schools is 15,000 actual (or paid) attendance at home games over a span of two seasons. FIU didn’t make the cut in 2014 but did last year.
“I think that money used on [the plane] could have been used in another way, maybe to help get student’s attention,’’ said Allan Espinoza, a senior working Rush Week outside the crowded Graham Center in the middle of campus.
“No one knew about it. The money could have been spent in a much better way. FIU is a commuter school. Many people come to campus and leave because it’s close to home. I live 10, 15-minutes away.’’
Added junior Miled Finianos: “They don’t really advertise athletics much here, except for the football specials like the tablets and whatever. But no one is ever encouraged to go to games. I went to the first football game but couldn’t make the second. So, I’m not getting a tablet. But I don’t know anyone who is trying to do it. It does look bad, especially when news outlets report it as a desperate plea for us to keep our [FBS] status.’’
According to one booster who wanted to retain his anonymity, the decision to fly the plane at lunchtime on a weekday was done to reach more eyeballs than say doing it at an actual FIU football game.
The Panthers lost both of their home games this season, with actual attendance averaging much less than 10,000 according to witnesses.
Garcia has come under fire from some alumni and boosters for his handling of various athletic issues including the firing of popular football coach Mario Cristobal and the hiring of controversial basketball coach Isiah Thomas — who lasted just one season at FIU.
Garcia has been at FIU since 2006 and oversaw the finishing construction of the school’s football stadium and renovation of its basketball arena.
On the entertainment side of his job responsibilities, Garcia has brought events to campus such as the Miss Universe pageant and Miami FC soccer matches. A cross-fit competition held at the arena didn’t go as planned as the basketball court was damaged.
Garcia was given a three-year contract extension by the school in 2013 but this week, the school’s student paper wrote an editorial saying that should be the last one.
“While there has been some growth [in athletics under Garcia], there is not enough to justify paying large amounts of money to Garcia,’’ the Beacon wrote in a story published Monday.
“We believe this money would be better suited to finding a replacement [who] will put together coaching staffs that ensure the safety and success of student athletes.’’
Garcia isn’t the first to get the banner treatment in South Florida.
Butch Davis, who brought Garcia with him to the Cleveland Browns when he left Miami in 2001, was famously greeted with a banner in 1997 flying over the Orange Bowl which read “From National Champs to National Chumps ... Thanks Butch!”
Al Golden was the most recent subject of the aerial taunts as a group rented different banner planes depending on where the Hurricanes were playing with various sayings such as “C’mon #FireAlGolden these banners are expensive” and, believe it or not “Make Miami great again — Butch Davis 2016.”