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The FIU Panthers football team represent Florida International University in Miami, Florida in the sport of college football. The FIU Panthers are a mid-major NCAA FBS college football team. The team plays at the on-campus FIU Stadium. In July 2013, the Panthers joined Conference USA.
On 1 September 1999, when after several years of contemplating the commencement of a football team, FIU moved a step closer by hiring Don Strock to be FIU’s Director of Football Operations. One year later, Don Strock was named Head Coach with plans to lay the foundations for a college football team. QB David Tabor was the first FIU football recruit. In February 2002, FIU found its star QB in highly touted Jamie Burke from Cardinal Mooney High, Sarasota, FL. Burke was the only player to ever throw for over 500 yards in a single game in Florida as well as led the state in touchdown passes in a season with 34. Burke was being recruited by the University of Florida but opted instead for FIU when Steve Spurrier left to coach the Washington Redskins. FIU had everything it needed to begin competing in NCAA Football. FIU was placed in the Division I-AA level as an Independent team.
FIU won its inaugural game on 29 August 2002 against Saint Peter's College (New Jersey), 27—3. The team faired fairly well against the competition that season and managed to finish with a 5-6 record. The Golden Panthers then hoped to build on that in the coming 2003 season. FIU signed to play more challenging teams of the division in hopes to get more recognition as a solid football team. The opening game of the following season started with a loss to Indiana State and it led to a 0—8 start for the second year team. They failed to reach the standard set the season before and fell to a 2—10 season. The next season followed with similar results, finishing with a 3—7 record.
After the 2004 season, FIU moved up to Division I FBS, formerly known as Division I-A, despite their relative lack of success in their first three seasons in Division 1 FCS. FIU became the fastest school in the history of college football to reach the highest level. This has since been eclipsed by multiple schools during the conference movement in 2012.
In 2006, Barnes and Williams were both drafted to the NFL. That same year, the FIU Athletics Department hired a new athletic director Pete Garcia, and found a new head coach for the team, Mario Cristobal. Cristobal became the second youngest Division I-A coach at 37. Cristobal brought in a new coaching staff in hopes to turn the program around. In 2007, FIU was the second-youngest team in Division I-A. 2/3 were underclassmen; mostly freshmen. During the 2007 season, FIU played its home games in the Miami Orange Bowl during the expansion of FIU Stadium to 20,000 seats. The Golden Panthers concluded the season with a win against North Texas 38-19. It was the last college football game ever played at the historic Orange Bowl prior to its demolition and the last home win at that stadium. In September 2008, the Panthers inaugurated the expanded FIU Stadium by hosting the South Florida Bulls with a crowd of over 16,000. FIU lost the game 17—9. The team would go on to win the next three games in a showing of a much improved team from the 2006 and 2007 team.
On Saturday, 27 November 2010, FIU defeated Arkansas State University to clinch the Sun Belt Conference Title. This earned FIU its first bowl berth in the short history of its football program. Twenty-nine days later, on 26 December, they became Little Caesars Champions. Fans brought signs saying, "¡Sí se puede!", Spanish for "Yes we can!" On 3 December 2011, FIU accepted an invitation to play in the 2011 Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl, the school's second consecutive bowl game.
After going from an 8—5 season in 2011 to a 3—9 season in 2012, FIU Athletic Director Pete Garcia made the decision to fire Cristobal because "we’ve gone backwards over the last year and a half. Over the last 22 games, we've gone 8-14." Garcia openly coveted Butch Davis to replace Cristobal. The decision was heavily criticized.