Miami hires Mario Cristobal: Hurricanes make brash move luring Oregon coach home, but will it work?


The latest domino in the coaching carousel has fallen. Miami announced Monday that Oregon coach Mario Cristobal has agreed to return home and take over the Hurricanes. 

“My family and I are excited to return home to the University of Miami, which has been so instrumental in shaping me as a person, player, and coach,” said Cristobal in a statement. “This program has an unparalleled tradition and an exciting future ahead of it. I can’t wait to compete for championships and help mold our student-athletes into leaders on and off the field who will make our University, our community, and our loyal fan base proud.”

In taking the Miami job, Cristobal replaces Manny Diaz, who was fired Monday morning after three seasons leading the Canes. Cristobal, who won two national championships as a Miami player between 1989-92, was 35-13 (23-10 Pac-12) in four seasons leading Oregon. Diaz finished 21-15 (16-9 ACC) but won five of his last six games this season.

Cristobal’s hiring comes at a tumultuous time for both the coach himself and the Hurricanes. Miami’s negotiations with Cristobal became extremely public for an extended period of time over the weekend despite Diaz still being employed by the team.

Miami is simultaneously trying to hire Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich, a UM graduate who was reportedly waiting on the Canes to snag Cristobal before himself agreeing to leave the Tigers. 

Cristobal will be tasked with helping the Hurricanes emerge from mediocrity. The Canes only have one season of double-digit wins since joining the ACC in 2003. Miami clearly believes in Cristobal given it has chosen to pay more than $12 million combined to buy out his contract from Oregon and end Diaz’s deal.

“We are incredibly excited to welcome Mario, his wife, Jessica, and their sons Mario Mateo and Rocco home to Miami,” said school president Julio Frenk. “Mario’s legacy as a student-athlete at the U is well established. And the standard for competitive excellence that he and his teammates helped establish is one to which we continue to aspire. Our selection, however, was not one based in nostalgia for a proud past, but rather in a bold vision for a promising future.

The Miami Herald reports Miami will pay Cristobal more than $8 million a year and has made additional financial commitments to support the football program as a whole.

Miami entered the 2021 season regarded as a top contender in the ACC Coastal. However, a disastrous 2-4 start doomed its chances of competing for a league title and national relevance. The Canes did win five of their final six games, a stretch that included victories over ranked foes NC State and Pittsburgh as Diaz finally identified a star quarterback in Tyler Van Dyke.

Those victories, and the team’s resolve after a tough start, suggested that perhaps Diaz would get another season as Miami’s coach. But with athletic director Blake James fired, Diaz’s future was put into question. 

Cristobal is a Miami native who spent six seasons as coach at FIU before working under Nick Saban at Alabama from 2013-16. He served as Oregon’s offensive coordinator for a season before replacing Willie Taggart as coach. Cristobal previously worked as an assistant at Miami from 2004-06 under Larry Coker.

Beyond his obvious ties to the university as an alumnus, Cristobal’s mother lives in South Florida. She has been dealing with an extended illness, and Cristobal had been making frequent trips to the area from Eugene, Oregon, which was a 6,400-mile round trip. 

Miami’s big gamble

Trying to pull off an athletic director change and a coaching change simultaneously is a bold move, and the Canes should expect some ridicule for how they treated Diaz. However, if it all works out and Miami returns to prominence in a mediocre ACC, no one will remember the process, just the results. Should it fail, though, the Canes will receive an epic amount of blowback and endless jeers for their sloppy handling of the situation.

Diaz showed in the second half of the 2021 season that he still had the pulse of his team, and the Canes never altogether bottomed out under his direction. On the other hand, Cristobal is just 11-6 over his last 17 games at Oregon, and his offenses aren’t exactly the most fan-friendly to watch. Cristobal’s tenure ended with a 38-10 blowout loss to Utah in the 2021 Pac-12 Championship Game just two weeks after the Ducks were similarly dismantled by the Utes 38-7 in Salt Lake City.

Cristobal is a former offensive lineman, and while he was a player in the Miami program during its days of swagger, he isn’t a particularly flashy coach. However, like Diaz, he’s a Miami guy who is tied to the community in a way that few other coaches are to their respective universities.

No long-term guarantees

Nobody has held the Miami job for more than seven seasons since Andy Gustafson had the gig from 1948-63. The program’s last two coaches have lasted just three years and none of its last four have made it through five full seasons. Cristobal being a prominent former player does not guarantee that he’ll bring stability to a program that badly needs it.

Diaz is from the City of Miami and was the program’s defensive coordinator before getting the head coaching gig. Prior to Diaz’s tenure, former UM QB Mark Richt was coach for just three seasons after a long run at Georgia. Another of the program’s fairly recent coaches, Randy Shannon, was also a former player and defensive coordinator who didn’t work out in the long run, either.

So while Cristobal’s connection to a great era of the program’s history may help sell season tickets, it’s not necessarily reassuring for the program’s long-term stability. That’s especially true given the strange circumstances under which he’s been hired.

Where hope will come for Miami is the reported investment into the football program as a whole. The Canes’ facilities are far behind many top 25 programs, and their lack of on-campus stadium has long been an issue. However, there is a massive amount of talent for Cristobal — a top-tier recruiter — to scout in South Florida (and the state as a whole). If Cristobal can land star-studded recruiting classes, that coupled with the supposed increased investment into the team and a potential big-name AD leading the effort provide reasons for optimism.

Need more college football in your life? Listen below and subscribe to the Cover 3 podcast where we break down Mario Cristobal heading back home to lead the Miami program. 

Another major job opens

Did you think the coaching carousel was just about done? Think again. Cristobal’s decision to leave Oregon opens up the best job in the Pac-12 North, and now, the league’s three best jobs will have changed hands in the same cycle. With Lincoln Riley leaving Oklahoma for USC, Kalen DeBoer replacing Jimmy Lake at Washington and Oregon starting fresh, it’ll be a clean slate of sorts for the conference next season.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. This season marks five straight that the Pac-12 has failed to get a team to the College Football Playoff. Oregon has not made it since the CFP’s inaugural season in 2014, and USC has never played in the CFP. Utah is in a stable place under 17th-year coach Kyle Whittingham, but the Pac-12 needs some fresh energy. Perhaps these coaching changes will bring it.



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