FIU athletic director Pete Garcia, set to retire from the university in July, has reconsidered and is working on another contract extension, according to Panthers football coach Butch Davis.
“He’s going to stay,” Davis said. “He and [FIU president Mark B. Rosenberg] have been meeting since December.
“Pete has been contacted by other schools. But I fully expect he will be here. His passion is to stay here.”
Garcia, who has been FIU’s athletic director since 2006, has declined to comment on this issue in recent weeks and could not be reached regarding Davis’ comments.
As for Garcia’s decade-plus tenure at FIU, there have been many well-documented struggles by Panthers sports teams. But there have also been some success stories and hopeful signs.
Garcia fired his two previous football coaches, Mario Cristobal and Ron Turner. The Cristobal firing was particularly controversial since it came one year after FIU went to its second consecutive bowl game. No other coach had ever taken FIU to a bowl game until Davis turned the trick this past season in his debut year.
The men’s basketball program, the second-most prominent sport on campus, suffered through three years of being coached by Isiah Thomas. Garcia fired him after a combined record of 26-65.
His replacement, Richard Pitino, left a few days short of having completed just one year at FIU. And current coach Anthony Evans, in his fifth year at FIU, has yet to produce even one winning season.
Other FIU programs have struggled, too. Women’s soccer finished 1-14-0 this past season, ranking 316th in the nation out of 333 schools, according to ncaa.com. Women’s basketball hasn’t been the same since the glory days of coach Cindy Russo.
On the plus side of Garcia’s ledger are several fairly recent coaching hires such as Davis for football, baseball’s Mervyl Melendez, men’s soccer Kevin Nylen, softball’s Gator Rebhan and women’s tennis Katarina Petrovic.
Football doubled its win total in its first year under Davis and currently has the No. 1 recruiting class in Conference USA. Baseball took the season series from the Miami Hurricanes last year and brought in a recruiting class that was ranked top-15 in the nation.
The men’s soccer team made the 2017 NCAA Tournament, won a first round game before losing at Duke and just had a player (Paul Marie) drafted 12th overall by MLS.
In addition, with women’s tennis, beach volleyball, women’s golf and swimming/diving also doing well, this may be the high point for FIU athletics, so far.
Added to that is the work Garcia has done to raise funds and improve the school’s athletic facilities, including new practice fields for football. And, under his tenure, FIU moved from the Sun Belt Conference to a more prestigious league, Conference USA.
All of that, Davis said, is why FIU fans should feel lucky to have Garcia.
“Pete doesn’t get enough credit,” Davis said. “The academics were a nightmare when he took over. People don’t know all the things Pete has fixed.”