Florida International U

Former FIU coach Ron Turner says he ‘wanted to finish the job’

Former FIU head coach Ron Turner
Former FIU head coach Ron Turner adiaz@miamiherald.com

In the past 39 years, fall weekends in the Ron Turner household have always been built around his coaching schedule.

On Saturday night, while the FIU Panthers — the team he tried to reconstruct for the past three-plus years — were playing host to their fiercest rival, the FAU Owls, Turner was at home, watching other football games.

Turner, 62, was fired last week by FIU athletic director Pete Garcia, who made defensive coordinator Ron Cooper the interim boss.

This was the first time Turner — who said he plans to coach again — has ever been fired during a season.

“It’s a decision I don’t necessarily agree with,” said Turner, whose record at FIU was 10-30, including 0-4 this season. “But I want to thank the players, assistant coaches and support staff for their commitment to the program.”

In his phone conversation with the Miami Herald, Turner was calm and not outwardly emotional. But he was “disappointed” he wasn’t allowed to coach FIU in any 2016 Conference USA games.

“I wanted to finish the job, but I understand the way the business works — it’s results-oriented,” Turner said.

“[Cooper] is an experienced coach. The staff will tweak things. I know they’ll be successful. The foundation’s there.”

Turner said his team’s tough early-season schedule had a lot to do with his demise. FIU was outclassed by Big Ten teams Indiana and Maryland and also by a UCF squad that’s on the rise.

The only game in which many FIU fans expected a sure win was at Massachusetts, and Turner admitted his Panthers played terribly in that contest, especially in the first half.

What is a little trickier to figure out is why FIU, now in its 15th season playing football, has struggled to win with any consistency, especially with an overabundance of talented high school players virtually at its doorstep in South Florida.

Coach Don Strock, a former Dolphins quarterback, got the program off the ground but failed to have a winning season and was gone after going 0-12 in 2006.

Mario Cristobal was next, and he produced the only winning years in FIU history — 7-6 with a bowl win in 2010 and 8-5 with a bowl loss in 2011. But Cristobal, now an assistant coach at national power Alabama, was fired by Garcia after the team went 3-9 in 2012.

Turner’s first team took another step back, going 1-11. But FIU followed with 4-8 and 5-7 records in Turner’s past two complete years.

According to Turner, he and his staff had to fix a lot of “off-the-field stuff” with the players he inherited. But all that has been corrected now, Turner said.

Turner said his current team is loaded with young men who are achieving in the classroom and in the community.

“I’m very proud of that,” Turner said. “We also made a ton of inroads in recruiting in South Florida and in Tampa. We had 21 recruits committed for next year.”

Turner said he sensed he was in trouble even before this season started as FIU power brokers avoided him.

Once he was dismissed, he told his players at a team meeting last Sunday morning. His players were shocked and disappointed, said Turner, who added that he has received a barrage of support from former players as well as coaching friends in the NFL and college.

Turner spent much of this past week relaxing pool-side in Key West with his wife, Wendy.

The Turners have four children — two daughters and two sons. The boys have followed their dad into coaching — Cameron is the assistant wide receivers coach with the Carolina Panthers, and Morgan coaches Stanford’s tight ends.

Cameron lives in Charlotte, and Turner said he can hardly wait to visit his son’s kids, Charliejane, 4, and Luella, 2.

Turner also said Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera, whom he knows from their days with the Chicago Bears, has invited him to come up and visit with the staff.

“I’m fine,” Turner said. “My family is fine.”