When mediocrity becomes a good thing

Eduardo Almaguer/ Sports Director

I can’t find a real reason to be mad at Richard Pitino.

The former FIU men’s basketball coach bolted out the door less than three weeks after the end of a historic season, quickly working out a six-year, $7.2 million deal with the University of Minnesota.

I had a thread of hope that Pitino would remain a Panther and make this program relevant, well, for the first time ever. But hey, money talks, especially when what you make in five years in FIU is worth one year’s salary in Minnesota.

I’ll give Athletic Director Pete Garcia some credit. He said he offered a “modest pay raise” to Pitino at the season’s conclusion, but admitted there was no way he could match Minnesota’s offer. FIU is simply not a big budget school.

Panther fans are now faced with an odd dilemma. Should they wish immediate success for new coaches and risk bigger programs with deep pockets luring them away, or cross their fingers for a mediocre beginning to their tenure and have them go under the radar?

I know, it’s a ludicrous question. Of course you want immediate success. But recently there’s been a trend of coaches departing after big seasons. Pitino leaves after leading the Panthers to their first Sun Belt Conference championship game in history and the first winning season in 13 years. He got snapped up.

Former football Head Coach Mario Cristobal fits this mold as well. Yes, he got the boot after a 3-9 season in 2012, but let’s not forget the rumor mill was churning violently in 2011 after an 8-4 season. Pittsburgh and Rutgers were reportedly eyeing the South Florida native and word is he actually turned down deals.

So do we want new football coach Ron Turner to turn in an 8-4 or 9-3 season? As improbable as that may be with the move to Conference USA, if it happens, kiss Turner goodbye.

FIU has become a step in the ladder to greater success. We sit in the lower rungs, inviting anyone to give us a chance. The fans don’t have terribly high expectations. But careful now, if a coach does too well, they’ll leave us behind and continue climbing the ladder, leaving FIU to wait for the next person to take the first step.

My suggestion is stay mediocre. Let coaches get their feet wet for a couple of seasons, maybe give glimpses of hope with a winning streak or two in their sports, and entrench themselves in Miami. By the time they really become successful, it’ll be harder to uproot them.

Perhaps FIU won’t ever be as lucky again to land someone like women’s basketball Head Coach Cindy Russo, who’s been at the helm since before Pitino was even born, but squeezing six or seven years out of a coach is all you can hope for.

The Panthers are eyeing a handful of potential replacements for Pitino at the moment of press.

Here’s to you, New Coach. May your first season be an average one that doesn’t get anyone’s attention and will be easily forgotten.