Strengths of former FIU coach will fill gap left by Stoutland’s departure to Philly
Nick Saban must really hate Miami. Certainly, the feeling is mutual.
Saban sank yet another ice pick into the collective psyche of South Floridians with the expected hire of former Miami assistant and Florida International University head coach Mario Cristobal. Before joining Alabama, the Miami-area fixture made a brief stop at his alma mater, the
Miami, after being released from FIU in December of 2012.
The career of the now-aptly-named Cristobal has had an interesting trajectory, as he has for years been considered one of the nation’s hot coaching prospects. Prior to the 2012 season, he was on the short list of several mid-major football programs across the nation, most prominently Pitt and
Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights even went so far as to extend an offer to Cristobal just prior to what was his swan song season at FIU, but Cristobal elected to remain loyal to the Golden Panthers.
When hired to front the FIU football program in 2006, Cristobal had meager resources with which to lure recruits, especially considering the competition for talent posed by larger in-state powerhouses such as Florida, Miami and FSU. In essence, he was being asked to build a program from a pile of Lincoln Logs, paper clips and bubblegum. While their veracity can be questioned, rumors circulated (given credence by comments from Cristobal himself) that when early recruits asked to see the football facilities, the new head coach would tap-dance his way to the other side of campus. After all, at the time, FIU’s facilities were...shall we say...fledgling at best. Despite this limitation, he was able to land some solid talent in his time at FIU, such as current Indianapolis Colts speedster T.Y. Hilton.
Cristobal, the first Cuban-American head football coach in NCAA Division 1 history, made the most of what he had, turning in a five win campaign in 2008. Following a 3-9 season in 2009, the Golden Panthers went on to post two consecutive winning seasons (7-6 in 2010; 8-5 in 2011). The success propelled FIU into its first two bowl games in the history of the program. (Granted, they were Restaurant Bowls, but beggars can’t be choosers). The Golden Panthers also won the school’s first Sun Belt football title in 2010. The success created the impression that Cristobal was a hell of a coach, and the FIU program was unexpectedly on the rise.
Cristobal was strongly considered for the open job at
Rutgers when former HC Greg Schiano bolted for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the NFL. After coaching together at Miami and
Rutgers, Schiano gave Cristobal a glowing recommendation as his replacement. Despite the overture, Cristobal elected to remain with the Golden Panthers and was rewarded with a contract extension through 2017. However, after spurning
Rutgers to remain at FIU, a 3-9 2012 campaign soured the administration on Cristobal’s tenure at the school. Once again proving that college coaching contract extensions mean nothing, Cristobal was inexplicably released as head coach of the program in December 2012.
Most recently, Cristobal has served as associate head coach on Al Golden’s staff at The U, where he also coached wide receivers and coordinated the Hurricanes’ recruiting program. His roots run deep in South Florida, which was certainly more than appealing to his new employer. He was born in Miami, played at Miami’s
Christopher ColumbusHigh School and went on to a decorated career at the
Miami. Cristobal played offensive tackle for The U at the height of its power, winning championships with the team in 1989 and 1991.
In his final season, 1992, Cristobal was named first team All-Big East at the tackle position, though he would not get that coveted third ring. In a twist of fate, Cristobal and the ‘Canes were denied that third championship by none other than Gene Stallings’ ’92 Crimson Tide team in the '93 Sugar Bowl.
After finishing his college career, Cristobal tried his hand in the NFL, spending a season (1994) in Denver and two seasons (1994-1995) with Amsterdam in the now-defunct NFL Europe. Following his last season in the league, he elected to pursue coaching and hung up his helmet for good.
Cristobal began his coaching career as a GA at UM in 1998, and after two years in that capacity, joined Schiano at
Rutgers in 2001. He coached tight ends and offensive line with the Scarlet Knights before returning to Miami to join Coach Larry Coker’s staff in ’04-’05. That was his final stop before taking over the head coaching duties at FIU.
What This Means for Bama
This coaching hire can be summed up in one word: touchdown. Cristobal is as solid a coach as one can find on the current college football landscape, having spent years on multiple staffs before taking on head coaching responsibilities himself. Despite his sharp termination from FIU, one can surmise that his departure had little to do with the program he developed, either on the field or off. His two consecutive winning seasons, despite the odds working against him, demonstrate that Cristobal has the demeanor and skill set to become a welcome addition to the already-loaded UA coaching staff.
As a former all-league offensive lineman and champion at the college level, his technical credentials for the role he will fill at Alabama could scarcely be better. He is intense, but maintains a professional demeanor in the public eye. He should fit in seamlessly with the staff Saban has already constructed in Tuscaloosa, especially from the standpoint of temperament and work ethic. Cristobal has NFL cred, having played in the league and having coached numerous NFL draftees, most notably former Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett and current Panthers tight end Greg Olsen
As detailed above in the bio, Saban could have found few, if any, coaches more familiar with recruiting south Florida than Mario Cristobal. What makes Cristobal such a perfect replacement for the departing Jeff Stoutland is that not only do the two coach the same position, but both men are known for their recruiting prowess in
South Florida. Recent commits Amari Cooper and Eddie Jackson were both recruited by Stoutland out of talent-rich southern
Florida. His replacement is expected to carry that torch. Some 12 of Cristobal’s 15 years as a coach have been spent in the area, and it doesn’t hurt that when speaking to recruits from Miami, he can claim to be a hometown boy. He is known as a strong recruiter regardless, but given the fact that his old stomping grounds will likely mirror his new recruiting territory, it would appear that Cristobal has a chance to be the next “Recruiter of the Year” walking the sideline in T’town.
Cristobal will face a bit of a rebuilding task in Tuscaloosa upon his arrival, as he will need to quickly fill vacancies left by departing stars Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker. However, the Tide is backloaded with young talent on the offensive line, with two intriguing new additions in JuCo tackle Leon Brown and incoming 4 star freshman Grant Hill. Despite the offensive line exodus following last season, Cristobal will have more talent at his disposal than he’s likely seen at any of his previous college coaching stops.
It has been said many times before: replacing position coaches should not create fear and loathing among the Alabama faithful. As is the case with recruiting, Saban has a knack of getting the perfect man for the job at hand, and we can rest easy knowing the master has hit his mark yet again with the impending hiring of Cristobal.