FIU's Cristobal takes advantage of national stage

Mario Cristobal made some money Friday night.

He was already considered one of the top candidates to earn a job at a big-name school after this season, but FIU's 24-17 road win over Big East foe Louisville on national television was a real coup for the Golden Panthers head coach.

A coup that will only help him make the short list of many athletic directors looking for new leaders next offseason.

Mario Cristobal ICONMario Cristobal is one of the rising coaching stars in college football.

And if Cristobal is looking for references to put on his resume, he can just add his star receiver T.Y. Hilton, who scored touchdowns of 74 and 83 yards on his first two catches against the Cardinals. He also praised his head coach after the game.

"Coach Cristobal has done a wonderful job with us, and we love everything he's doing," Hilton said. "FIU is on the rise."

Cristobal has built FIU essentially from the ground up after taking over a program that didn’t have a weight room, a stadium or full scholarships. NCAA sanctions had taken away 24 football scholarships from the school.

In addition, the program's APR rating was one of the worst in the country when he took over in 2007, and the team was on a 12-game losing streak and still transitioning to the FBS.

But despite possessing a 16-33 career overall record in four years, Cristobal led the Golden Panthers to a surprising 7-6 mark and a share of the Sun Belt title in 2010. He led the team to a Little Ceasar’s Bowl win over Toledo in the program's first-ever bowl game after the first winning season in school history. Not only that, but the NCAA praised him for improving the football team’s APR rating.

Cristobal is regarded as a good recruiter and he can bring his solid connections in Florida to a potential next stop. The only downside is that he has limited coaching experience outside of the state of Florida. He did coach at Rutgers from 2001-03, however.

Cristobal signed an extension in early August that puts him under contract through June 2016. He is comfortable and enjoys living on Miami Beach because he's a local product who has several relatives still living in the area. But with a Sun Belt co-championship and a bowl win last season on his resume, he was already considered a rising star in the coaching ranks.

Friday night's victory over Louisville just shines the spotlight even brighter on his qualifications to lead a major program.

Ability to clean up a program while still bringing in good recruits? With all due respect to North Carolina interim head coach Everett Withers, it sounds like Cristobal would be a perfect fit in Chapel Hill.

Email or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

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