April 13, 2011, Florida International University and its Director of Athletics, Pete Garcia, signed-off on a five-year contract extension through 2016 that saw his role expand into the school’s newly-created position of Executive Director of Sports & Entertainment. The move to expand Garcia’s title had come on the heels of FIU’s athletics department and South Beach Food and Wine Festival events enjoying five of its most successful years in the history of their respective programs.
In his present capacity, Garcia serves FIU in dual capacities, as Director of Athletics for the Panthers 18 varsity sport programs and as Administrative Director for the world-renowned South Beach Food & Wine Festival, an event started by the FIU School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Biscayne Bay Campus in 1997.
Creating a Culture of Excellence
When former FIU President Modesto A. Maidique hired Garcia on Oct. 16, 2006, the pair shared a lofty vision to see the school’s intercollegiate sports program become a pillar of success for the University, on campus, in the community and nationally.
Familiar with such a staunch task from his previous senior level posts in the National Football League and at the University of Miami, Garcia knew he had to install a new culture built around excellence. His commitment to academics and NCAA compliance has been paramount. He has aggressively improved all aspects of the program, from facilities and support staffs, to attracting some of the country’s finest coaches to FIU. With outstanding coaches and beautiful venues, top-notch student-athletes would follow – and they have.
The positive impact achieved through Garcia’s plan for success was recognized this past spring when FIU accepted an invitation to join Conference USA in all sports beginning in 2013.
Everything Built Around the Student-Athletes
Under Garcia, the Student-Athlete Academics Center has seen the addition of more advisors, tutors and computers. The compliance office staff has grown as well, including the first known Academic Progress Rate (APR) specialist in the country.
For 2011-12, the Sun Belt Conference honored 131 FIU student-athletes for achieving grade point averages of 3.0 or better. The 131 honorees marked an increase from last year's total for FIU, as 100 Panthers were honored for their academic successes in 2010-11. Thirty-eight FIU Panthers were named to the Sun Belt Commissioner's List, which honors all student-athletes recording a 3.5 GPA or better. Ninety-three FIU student-athletes were named to the Sun Belt Conference Academic Honor Roll, which honors those maintaining a 3.0-3.49 GPA.
FIU has shown significant improvement for the fourth-straight year in the NCAA’s annual APR release during 2011, with six teams (women’s cross country, softball, swimming & diving, women’s tennis, women’s indoor and outdoor track & field) recording perfect yearly scores of 1,000. In the latest APR report, FIU’s athletic programs registered their highest multi-year scores across the board in the seven-year history of the APR. Of the athletic department’s 18 sports programs, 16 finished above the required multi-year score of 925, while men’s basketball increased its multi-year score from 886 in 2008-09 to 910 the following year (+24 points) - the first time the squad has recorded a multi-year score over 900.
“Our No. 1 priority is to ensure that all of our student-athletes have the resources and support necessary to graduate and be ready for the outside world. That’s the reason we are dedicated to intercollegiate athletics,” Garcia said.
Turning Panthers into Champions
On-field success has mirrored the scholastic success of FIU’s student-athletes. Since 2006, the Panthers have totaled eight Sun Belt titles, nine NCAA Tournament berths, two bowl games, 28 All-Americans, 23 conference players of the year and 11 conference coaches of the year.
The football program, under Mario Cristobal, whom Garcia hired shortly after his own start in 2006, has now been to back-to-back bowl games in 2010 and 2011. In 2007, Garcia then tapped Henry “Turtle” Thomas to lead the baseball program. Under Thomas, FIU went to consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances in 2010 and 2011. Other coaches, such as Melissa Applebaum-Dall'au (women's tennis), Thomas Chestnutt (women's soccer) and Eric Campbell (track and field) have each earned conference Coach of the Year honors following championship level seasons. In 2012, Richard Pitino (men’s basketball), Kenny Arena (men’s soccer) and Trevor Theroulde (women’s indoor volleyball) joined the coaching staff roster at FIU and each is fully-equipped to shape their respective programs into annual winners.
“They all know their games, they are relentless workers and exceptional recruiters,” Garcia said. “That’s the blueprint of everybody we have hired.”
Athletics Facilities on the Rise
Visitors to the beautifully tropical Modesto A. Maidique Campus at FIU will find it difficult to miss the presence and continual development of some of the finest intercollegiate athletics venues in the state.
Highlighting facilities growth during his tenure, Garcia oversaw the building and operation of the University’s on-campus football stadium, Alfonso Field at FIU Stadium, and the R. Kirk Landon Fieldhouse. Alfonso Field at FIU Stadium, which was renovated in 2008, now stands at 20,000 seats after the offseason addition to a new seating section on the north side. The adjacent two-story, 50,000-square-foot R. Kirk Landon Fieldhouse, which opened in 2009, includes the 14,000-square-foot Doctors Hospital Center for Orthopedics & Sports Medicine.
U.S. Century Bank Arena has also become a model facility and annually hosts commencement, athletics and premium entertainment events. In 2012, FIU finished nearly $10 million in renovations and enhancements which now includes a suites level and grand entrance.
A new home for the school’s newest varsity athletics program, women’s sand volleyball, is slated to be completed during 2012.
Conference USA Awaits FIU in 2013
On May 4, 2012, FIU hosted a community engagement at the football stadium to accept an all-sports invitation to join C-USA starting July 1, 2013. It was noted that Garcia helped foster the relationship with C-USA in prior years, whose subsequent invitation would now provide the school with increased television visibility coast-to-coast and alignment with other like institutions across a larger national geographic footprint.
“This is a milestone day for FIU Athletics,” said Garcia. “This gives FIU increased opportunities to showcase a very successful athletics program on a national level. The increased visibility through Conference USA will also create further awareness for our law school, new medical school and the rest of our academic programs.”
FIU will join a league in 2013 that has earned a combined 67 football bowl invitations, 102 appearances in postseason men's basketball tournaments, 85 trips to postseason women's basketball tournaments, and 53 NCAA baseball regional berths since its own formation in 1994.
South Beach Food and Wine Festival Becomes a Global Attraction
Benefitting FIU's Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management Teaching Restaurant and the Southern Wine & Spirits Beverage Management Center, the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival presented by FOOD & WINE and hosted by FIU and Southern Wine & Spirits of Florida, is a national, star-studded, four-day destination event showcasing the talents of the world's most renowned wine and spirits producers, chefs and culinary personalities.
Since Garcia’s tenure started as Administrative Director of the event in 2008, similar to FIU Athletics, the Festival has seen a period of outstanding growth and prosperity. The 2012 Festival attracted more than 60,000 guests and approximately $2 million raised for the University. Student participation in the event has also grown, with more than 1,000 FIU students now receiving valuable practical experience.
Active in the Community
Off-campus, Garcia is a key player across the South Florida sports and entertainment landscape. He is among a select few named to the Executive Committee of the Miami-Dade Sports Commission, a Collegiate Representative committee member for the Orange Bowl Committee since 2007 and represents FIU on the 21-member NCAA Division I Awards, Benefits, Expenses and Financial Aid Cabinet.
With Garcia, the Miami-Dade Sports Commission recently partnered with WWE to host WrestleMania Week in Miami-Dade in 2012. The week-long fete for the most successful sports and entertainment vehicle in the world was an economic boon for the community bringing sold-out crowds and millions of television viewers to several live professional wrestling events at AmericanAirlines Arena and Sun Life Stadium.
With the OBC, Garcia joins other esteemed University Presidents and Athletic Directors from South Florida’s other NCAA institutions on a membership make-up that includes the most prominent business men and women charged in promoting the community through a year-round calendar of youth, collegiate and entertainment events.
Most notably, in 2013, the OBC will be the spotlight of the college football world hosting the Bowl Championship Series National Championship Game in January, in addition to the annual Discover Orange Bowl game – both held at Sun Life Stadium.
A Formidable Background
Garcia first worked at the University of Miami from 1990 through 2000, and it was in 1992 that he became the football program’s recruiting coordinator. In that position, he was instrumental in recruiting student-athletes and future NFL stars Vernon Carey, Andre Johnson, Frank Gore, Ray Lewis, Bryant McKinnie, Clinton Portis, Ed Reed, Jeremy Shockey, Jonathan Vilma, Vince Wilfork, amongst several others. In 2001, Garcia joined former Miami head coach Butch Davis with the Cleveland Browns as director of football development. Two years later, Garcia was promoted to vice president.
Born in Havana, Cuba, Garcia’s family came to Miami in 1967. He graduated from Hialeah High School and the University of Miami before landing a position with the Miami Dolphins in 1989.
Garcia says that directing the Panthers has given him an opportunity to further his career without leaving the community he loves.
“South Florida has been very good to me and what better way to pay it back than establishing another elite sports program that the community can rally behind,” Garcia said. “Our goal is to get our alumni and students excited about this program and ensure that our student-athletes have all the tools to compete at the highest level.”