FIU football will be “a team to rally behind”

New athletic director Scott Carr and Florida International University athletics have their eyes set on a bright future, one that includes a resurgent, recharged football program.

It won’t be easy and likely won’t be quick, either. But the challenge – daunting as it may be – is one of the main reasons he took the job last month, leaving a comfortable post as deputy athletic director at the University of Central Florida to do so. And Carr took his first – and perhaps most important – step this month in hiring a new football leader.

In introducing new head coach Mike MacIntyre at a press conference on Dec. 9 at the Modesto A. Maidique campus, Carr unveiled the Panthers’ new world, one in which seasons like the campaign FIU just endured potentially will never happen again.

MacIntyre, 56, was chosen to lead the Panthers after a nationwide search following a 1-11 season and the dismissal of Butch Davis. MacIntyre brings more than 30 years of coaching experience along with more than a dozen national honors to a region rich in football history.

Carr, 49, well aware of how important the football coach is to a university, could have gone a different route with the hire. There were younger candidates in the mix – some with head-coaching experience at the lower levels of college football, some with position-coaching experience at the higher levels. Still, Carr chose all-around experience, authority and a connection to South Florida.

It makes sense when you consider Carr’s roots. At UCF, names like George O’Leary, Scott Frost, Josh Heupel and Gus Malzahn have occupied the lead role in the football program. Before heading to Orlando, O’Leary and Malzahn had head-coaching experience in the Football Bowl Subdivision’s Power 5 at tradition-rich programs like Georgia Tech and Auburn. Frost, at Nebraska, and Heupel, at Oklahoma, played quarterback at the highest level of college football – for powerhouse programs, no less – and eventually moved onto coaching careers at Oregon, and Oklahoma, respectively, to begin their climb up the ranks.

So, UCF’s strategy is fairly clear, across several generations of their program: Find successful, hungry coaches with experience in the major conferences, and build out from there. It’s also fairly clear that at FIU, Carr is going to follow the same path.

MacIntyre is a Miami native who left South Florida to play college football at Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech. As a head coach in 2016, he led Colorado to the first Pac-12 South Division championship in school history, an achievement that helped him land several national awards, including the Associated Press Coach of the Year.

“We’re going to win championships!” MacIntyre exclaimed to a crowd of students, fans, players, faculty and bystanders who crowded around to soak in the press conference amid a busy time at MMC as the fall semester wound down. “The proof’s gonna be in the pudding.”

The pudding may take a long time to make. The Panthers went 0-8 in Conference USA this season, lost their final 11 games, and will have plenty of roster spots to fill after several players entered the transfer portal following the season-ending 37-17 loss to Southern Miss.

But that’s the draw of an experienced coach for a program like FIU because he has seen success from all corners of the sport. MacIntyre was also the head coach at San Jose State and this past season, he was defensive coordinator at Memphis, so he is quite familiar with the level of play in the FBS Group of 5, where FIU resides.

“I love this area,” he said. “This is where I fell in love with football.”

Carr agrees and believes the veteran coach will embrace FIU’s new vision within a new-look athletic department.

“He’s a brand builder who will promote FIU throughout the South Florida community and the state of Florida,” he said. “We could not be more excited to bring his energy and passion to campus.”

The Florida ties are important for several reasons, but most importantly, from a recruiting aspect. South Florida is a region saturated with FBS prospects at the high school level, and the Panthers must establish a reasonable foothold in that space.

MacIntyre is headed there, but as with all aspects of the program, it figures to be a slow build. In his first National Signing Day with FIU on Dec. 15, he announced three players had committed to the Panthers in the early period, and one is from the region. Offensive lineman John Bock II, from Ft. Lauderdale, joined running back Antonio Patterson from Tennessee and wide receiver Jalen Bracey from Mississippi in FIU’s class.

“There is so much talent and passion for football in our area,” MacIntyre said.

And now, MacIntyre can plot his second NSD, which is in February, giving him more time to hit some of those coveted South Florida pockets of talent.

“Scott and I talked multiple times and once I got the first call, I started researching Florida International,” MacIntyre said. “It’s been amazing to walk across this campus and see the growth. I always knew it was a gold mine. But now, I see it’s an even bigger gold mine than I could have imagined.”

And if his campus introduction is any indication, MacIntyre will surely have the support of all of FIU as he looks to change the culture of the program and give fans, students and alumni a team to rally behind.

Anthony Blanco is a senior majoring in Digital Journalism with hopes of pursuing a career in sports journalism. Anthony is passionate about covering sports and hopes to one day make his passion his profession.