FIU fires coach Mario Cristobal

Florida International coach Mario Cristobal has been fired, athletic director Pete Garcia announced Wednesday morning.

Garcia called FIU's season "a total collapse," and said the program needs to go in a different direction.

Cristobal was 27-47 in six seasons at FIU, though he took the Panthers to their first two bowl games before a disappointing, injury-filled 3-9 campaign this season.

In a morning meeting, Garcia told Cristobal of the decision, one that caught both the sixth-year coach and his team by surprise.

"Stunned. Sad," Cristobal said. "We did a lot of good things. We graduated kids. We sent kids to the NFL. We turned a lot of things around. We had one bad year."

Garcia noted that FIU had 19 returning starters from a year ago and was expected to contend for a Top 25 spot this season, its last before going to Conference USA. He also said the fact that FIU's three wins this season came against teams that combined to win a total of six games was a factor.

"We will now turn our attention to attract the very best candidate to fill the position of head coach," Garcia said.

Cristobal was pursued by Rutgers earlier this year after Greg Schiano left to coach in the NFL, but decided to remain at FIU. Cristobal also was a candidate for the Pittsburgh opening after last season before the Panthers decided to hire Paul Chryst.

He received a four-year extension from FIU in August of 2011.

Garcia has close ties to Butch Davis, the former Miami Hurricanes and Cleveland Browns coach who last was working on North Carolina's sideline. Davis would figure to be a candidate at FIU, especially because Garcia has made splashy hires before -- including Basketball Hall of Fame player Isiah Thomas, and then Richard Pitino, the son of Louisville coach Rick Pitino, after Thomas was fired earlier this year.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.