Florida International U

FIU makes big change, fires coach after 0-4 start

Ron Turner coaches what will be his last game at FIU on Saturday night against UCF.
Ron Turner coaches what will be his last game at FIU on Saturday night against UCF. adiaz@miamiherald.com

After starting its season with losses in the first four games, FIU made a change Sunday by firing coach Ron Turner.

Defensive coordinator Ron Cooper will be the interim coach for the rest of the season.

Turner, 62, had a 10-30 record in three-plus seasons with the Panthers — including this season’s 0-4 start which culminated in an embarrassing 53-14 loss to visiting UCF.

FIU athletic director Pete Garcia said a change was needed, adding: “0-4 and losing the way we had the past couple of games, the quicker you do it, the better.

“This way, they still have their [Conference USA] season to play, and they can start that 0-0.”

Before Saturday’s game even started, Turner made a curious decision to bench junior quarterback Alex McGough, who had made 26 consecutive starts.

Garcia said that decision was not a factor in his thinking. Garcia was basing his decision on the results of the games, not specific moves.

As for announcing the firing on the same day of the tragic death of Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, Garcia said the process of dismissing Turner had already begun late Saturday night.

“We couldn’t put the genie back in the bottle,” Garcia said. “News would have gotten out.”

Here’s how things have changed in the past few months for FIU, and, for the sake of perspective, for UCF:

Last year, FIU went 5-7 and beat UCF 15-14. UCF finished the season 0-12 and made a coaching change.

This year, there is optimism and energy at UCF (2-2), which burned FIU for its biggest scoring output in two years.

Now Turner is out at FIU while new UCF coach Scott Frost, who has installed an up-tempo offense he learned during his days as coordinator of the high-powered Oregon Ducks.

UCF ran for 276 yards and passed for 225 against FIU. The Knights started a true freshman at quarterback and yet did not have a single turnover.

READ MORE: Linda Robertson — FIU loss questions when/if Panthers program will arrive

The Knights dominated from the opening kickoff. They scored a touchdown on the game’s first possession, culminating an eight-play, 60-yard drive, and then seemed to surprise FIU by going for a two-point conversion. The conversion worked.

In fact, almost everything UCF did worked well. From midway through the first quarter to early in the fourth quarter, UCF scored on seven of its eight possessions, including six touchdowns, grabbing a 53-7 lead.

Turner, who was not available to the media on Sunday, gave redshirt freshman quarterback Maurice Alexander his first career start.

In effect, Turner benched McGough, who last year set the FIU single-season records for passing yards and passing touchdowns.

Turner told the media late Saturday night that he thought Alexander, who played his high school ball at Miami’s Booker T. Washington, could give his team “a spark”.

But that clearly was not the case. From his first pass – a short throw that Alexander, perhaps nervous, threw to his receiver on a bounce, the move backfired.

FIU went three-and-out six times on Saturday, including three of its first four possessions.

Alexander went 6-for-14 for 41 yards and one interception. He was sacked five times.

It wasn’t until FIU trailed 46-7 with 4:49 left in the third quarter that Turner made the switch to McGough.

After entering the season as the unquestioned leader of the offense, McGough is apparently in a dog-fight for his position. He completed 5-of-9 passes for 68 yards and one touchdown on Saturday. He was not sacked and did not have a turnover.

FIU’s running game, which clicked last week when Alex Gardner rushed for more than 100 yards, was shut down by UCF. Gardner was held to 27 yards on eight carries.

Bright spots for FIU included wide receiver Thomas Owens and linebacker Treyvon Williams.

Owens had 94 yards of total offense, including two catches for 42 yards and two punt returns for 52 yards. His 35-yard first-quarter punt return down to the UCF six set up FIU’s only score and touchdown in the first three quarters.

Williams had 13 tackles, including three for losses.

But the Panthers, who looked competitive in their opener, leading Indiana 13-12 after three quarters, have been badly outplayed since then. In the past 13 quarters, FIU has been outscored 137-41.

Overall, FIU has scored 14 or fewer points in six straight games.

Next up for FIU is the start of their Conference USA schedule. The Panthers host their biggest rival, Florida Atlantic, on Saturday.

The FAU Owls, who are 1-3 this season, beat FIU 31-17 last year.