Mario Cristobal close to signing extension with FIU; T.Y. Hilton considering going pro

Miami (Miami Herald) - If Pete Garcia has his way, the Sun Belt Conference's coach of the year will be FIU's coach for years to come.

Garcia, FIU's athletic director, told The Miami Herald this week that reaching a contract extension with football coach Mario Cristobal is one of the school's top priorities in the new year.

``He's done a very good job here,'' Garcia said. ``For all the recruits out there, you should know the goal is for us to extend him. We intend on extending Mario Cristobal's contract.''

Cristobal, who led the Golden Panthers to their first Sun Belt title and a dramatic victory in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl on Dec. 26, is entering the fifth and final year of the contract he signed when he was hired before the 2007 season.

There have not yet been formal discussions between the sides but Garcia and Cristobal indicated that it's a not matter of if, but when.

``It's good to know I'll be around for a while,'' said Cristobal, who was in Louisiana on Tuesday on a recruiting trip. ``It's important for me to know the commitment of our university for our football team and its future.

``When you reach this point in time in your contract, and efforts are being made to go forward, it validates your effort and your commitment.''

It also brings some peace of mind to his staff, which despite a series of coaching changes around the country, remains intact. Cristobal wouldn't be surprised, however, if a couple of assistants move on to other jobs in the coming months.

As for terms of a potential deal, Cristobal declined to speculate. But because he already is the highest-paid coach in the Sun Belt, earning in excess of $400,000 last year, it's unlikely that the new contract would bring him a huge raise. Rather, the deal's appeal would be in its added years of job security.

Although it's clear that the Sun Belt's top coach of 2010 will be back this fall, there's an outside chance the conference's Player of the Year will not.

Star wide receiver T.Y. Hilton is mulling whether to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft, Cristobal said.

Hilton has requested an evaluation from the NFL Draft advisory committee -- which gives a collegiate underclassman an idea of his pro value -- and will meet with his family and Cristobal on Sunday to determine his future.

Most online scouting services consider Hilton part of the draft's 2012 class. It is believed Hilton would be drafted this year but not in the first couple of rounds. Should he stay for a final season at FIU, however, his stock could improve dramatically.

``There's no doubt that T.Y. Hilton will be a great NFL player in the very near future,'' Cristobal said. ``As information is gathered from the advisory board, we will sit with his family and discuss his options and what is best for him.''

The deadline for underclassmen to declare is Jan. 15.