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Posted: Monday January 30, 2012 11:21PM ; Updated: Monday January 30, 2012 11:46PM

Cristobal: 'Best recruiting class' kept him at FIU

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MIAMI (AP) -- Mario Cristobal is a Miami native, played his college football for the Hurricanes and often speaks of how appreciative he is to have the chance to coach in his hometown at Florida International.

He's in no hurry to leave, either.

Despite being pursued by Rutgers to replace Greg Schiano, Cristobal said Monday night he is staying with the Panthers, the once-moribund program he has led to consecutive bowl appearances. While there were widespread reports Monday that he was leaving FIU, Cristobal insisted to his team that he remains committed - and said Wednesday's signing day will be a big day for the program.

About 45 players visited Cristobal's office Monday, prompting the coach to call an impromptu team meeting to alleviate their concerns.

"This will be the best recruiting class we have ever had," Cristobal said in an email to The Associated Press on Monday night.

Rutgers turned to assistant Kyle Flood to replace Schiano as the team's coach, hours after Cristobal passed on a chance to take over, a person with knowledge of the decision told the AP on Monday. Schiano left Rutgers to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Known as a strong recruiter, Cristobal has energized the FIU program. FIU lost 31 of its first 40 games under Cristobal, and has gone 15-7 since, winning a bowl game to close the 2010 season and losing to Marshall this season in another postseason appearance.

That success has led to interest from other schools. Cristobal, who also was a candidate to take over at Pittsburgh several weeks ago, got a four-year extension from FIU in August, and it's believed that talks have been ongoing about yet another deal.

Even though he's a Miami native, Cristobal - who makes just under $500,000 annually at FIU in base salary - has Rutgers ties, having once been an assistant at the school.

"We have built a great program," Cristobal said. "It is a great time to be a Panther."

Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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