The crazy college football coaching carousel continues as Mario Cristobal left the University of Oregon for the University of Miami earlier this week. Certainly there have been some crazy hires for multiple schools this offseason, but as a Canes’ fan myself, I wanted to give an in-depth fan perspective, which is what we here at LFG Sports are all about.
Listen, I led the Mario train to Miami starting a few months ago when Manny Diaz struggled, but I never expected it to truly happen. I just want to put the focus on Manny Diaz for a second. As someone who met Manny personally, he was a pleasure to talk to and truly wanted the best for Miami. How Miami treated him in his final weeks was disrespectful, but let’s face it, the man was not ready for a head coaching job. I don’t believe there is any argument that Manny is a better coach than Cristobal, but the question is if Cristobal is “the guy”. Here is why I believe he is, but also isn’t.
Let's look at the positive side of the spectrum: this is the definition of a home run hire. Cristobal played and coached for Miami previously and had Oregon as a CFB powerhouse the past few years. The biggest edge Cristobal brings to Florida is his masterful recruiting. The man recruited Kayvon Thibodeaux, Justin Flowe, and C.J. Verdell just to name a few, just imagine what he can do in Miami! He continuously recruited top 10 classes at Oregon, and was able to poach guys from schools like USC and UCLA. He was also able to successfully and continuously recruit big classes during his time at FIU. Showing his recruiting prowess, my guy was already on the road recruiting as soon as he was done at Oregon. Cristobal is a proven winner, at least at Oregon, he led them to two Pac-12 titles, a Rose Bowl win, and he was the 2019 coach of the year. What he was able to do in a mostly weak Pac-12 division only brings hope to South Florida in a declining ACC, especially with Brent Venables leaving for Oklahoma.
But with all good things, there comes some negatives. Even though Cristobal is a great recruiter and a proven winner, there is evidential struggle. His full coaching record is two games above .500 at 62-60, and he really lacks in the category of “winning the big game” -- an issue many fans like myself called out in Manny Diaz. The biggest alarm is Cristobal’s struggles at FIU, despite winning a Sun Belt title in 2010, he only had two winning seasons with the program and was fired after going 27-47 in six seasons, yeesh.
After being fired by FIU, Cristobal struck a deal with Alabama to become one of Nick Saban’s associate head coaches. Ever since then, Cristobal has been a different coach than the one we saw at FIU, and we can only suspect that Saban had some influence in Cristobal’s changed coaching philosophy. He was soon hired at Oregon, as everyone knows, where he has had continued success. Evident in the fact that year-in and year-out Oregon seems to be in the college football playoff hunt until a fluke loss, like this year against Stanford or losing to 6-5 Arizona State in 2019. This is what scares me away, despite having two 10-win seasons under his belt, he consistently struggles in games his teams should win.
Now, let's look at his past year in 2021, the Ducks held the number 3 ranking under Mario, but got throttled by Utah 38-7 in week 11, eliminating them from the playoffs. Somehow this overrated Oregon team beat Ohio State in the Horseshoe early in the season, but it was mainly fueled by a C.J. Verdell legacy game. Although Oregon was eliminated from the playoffs by Utah, they had a chance to get revenge in the Pac-12 Championship, but again got demolished 38-10.
Cristobal’s bright spot in Eugene was in 2019, where his squad finished 11-2 and won the Rose Bowl, one of the most prestigious bowl games in the sport. One thing to note in Cristobal’s coaching career; his best years were with superstar QB Justin Herbert. This past years’ struggles can be placed upon current Oregon QB, Anthony Brown who could not throw a football to save his life. But barring a transfer, Cristobal inherits one of the best QB’s from down the stretch of 2021, Tyler Van Dyke.
I am glad Miami has finally invested in a (I think) great coach, and they are also reported to be hiring a very reputable athletic director in Dan Radakovich from Clemson. It finally looks as though the program might be turning itself around for us, the fans. But the truth is, Miami athletics itself needs a rebranding --especially football. For example, go watch Kirk Herbstreit completely obliterate the Miami program a few months ago. With a new AD, and a homerun hire at that position, the program finally has the chance to start competing for titles once again. I'll be optimistic about the Radakovich and Cristobal pairing, but I’ll believe in the program’s success when I actually see the product.
My final thoughts on Cristobal are pretty simple: the future is bright with Cristobal and the team he could build, but it could take a few seasons to really get off the ground. I have no doubt Mario will be able to recruit in the hotspot that is Florida, but we will have to see if he can actually develop and coach that talent at a high level. In a weak ACC, there is no reason for lack of success in the coming years, but without success, fans will be calling for Cristobal’s head.
My opinion? From what I have seen in the past years at Oregon, I do not think Cristobal is as great a coach as people think, and could possibly struggle with the spotlight on him down here in South Florida. With a new team, new program, and a great recruiting area, he can definitely prove me and some other fans wrong, but that is to be determined. He definitely is ready for the job, the recruiting, the whole nine yards, but the true test will be if he can do his job and do it at the highest level possible. I look forward to our potential success to come, but as Michael Scott once said “No question about it, I am ready to get hurt again”.