Some University of Miami football fans’ prayers were answered on December 26, 2021, when the school announced that Mario Cristobal, former head coach at the University of Oregon, would be taking the reins of the Hurricanes and replacing Manny Diaz. After a tough 2021 season marked by the first loss to Florida State University in four years, ‘Canes were ready for a reset. Now one big question remains on campus: What will Cristobal do?
Screaming. Crying. Throwing up,” read one comment under the ‘Canes football team’s Instagram post announcing Mario Cristobal’s new role as head coach. “Grind first and shine 2nd. Time to work MC!
Congrats sir!” read another. Of course, not everyone thought Cristobal’s appointment meant an automatic win for the team—but the optimism of the ‘Canes community was palpable, even online, when the big news dropped. One person commented, “I know this is a big deal, but I wanna see THE WORK first. Not what he did everywhere else but what is MC gonna do HERE.”
His task: lead the Hurricanes to their first ACC title and back to national relevance for the first time in years. And, according to former student Jackson Davis, “not getting embarrassed” by rivals like Clemson. Even with ultra-high expectations, this is more of a homecoming than anything else for the Miami native.
A second-generation Cuban-American, Cristobal began his football career at Christopher Columbus High School, a local all-boys academy known for the sport. His parents worked two jobs and took night classes to help him learn more English while he attended the school. When he was cut from his high school’s baseball team, Cristobal took up football as a new after-school hobby that soon turned into much more. He went on to earn a scholarship to the University of Miami, play on the 1989 and 1991 national championship teams and, eventually, get signed by the Denver Broncos (where he ultimately failed to make the team).
Cristobal’s coaching career began at Rutgers in 2001, and in 2004 he returned to UM as a positions coach. He would continue to bounce around for years, taking his first head coaching job at Florida International University in 2007 before moving on to an assistant position at the University of Alabama in 2013, then another head coaching job at Oregon in 2017.
Make no mistake, UM is betting big on Cristobal. It cost the university around $9 million to buy him out
of his contract—and his new salary is reported to be $8 million per year. In addition to signing the new contract, they had to pay out Manny Diaz to the tune of around
$8 million and put another $20-30 million per year into the school’s football budget. This was likely a big factor in Cristobal’s willingness to come here, as he remarked in an initial press conference.
“That was one of the critical pieces, to be honest with you. Football has changed so much, and it continues to change. A lot of people refer to it as an arms race.”
Cristobal, Davis remarked, is a world-class recruiter, and this major investment in the program in the program is cause for excitement. “We should be a top seven recruiting team at worst,” he said.
Though no one knows exactly how the season will unfold, the excitement brewing within the locker room and fanbase is electric.
“I have really high hopes for the football team next year,” said UM freshman Sahiti Koganti. “I think our stadium is going to be filled more, we’re going to be winning more games and there’s going to be so much more hype around the football program.”
Players say Cristobal is full of energy when coaching. Throughout practice, he keeps a keen eye on every one of them, watching their sharp cuts and explosive jumps.
“I know this is a reach for his first year being here,” said senior defensive tackle Jordan Miller. “But this is my last year and I’m putting all my chips in, so we’re going full steam ahead for that national championship.”
Miller, a Jacksonville native, was not very familiar with Cristobal until it became apparent that he was the primary candidate to become the next head coach.
“He’s a very driven person on the field,” Miller said of his new coach. “He’s very engaged in the betterment of each and every player and he has shown a lot of that engagement towards me.”
To an outsider, Cristobal’s intensity may make him seem unapproachable, but the players say once practice is over, there’s a compassionate side to him. Miller even said he’s “someone you can go to about anything.”
Dante Johnson, a senior wide receiver from Covington, Georgia, also knew little about Cristobal, until he got to know him personally.
“I was excited because I was ready for a new change,” Johnson said. “It’s been cool so far. I know he’s a guy who’s very detailed and disciplined, and he’s a great coach because he tries to relate to us.”
While hopes are high for Cristobal’s return, perhaps rightfully so, Davis said he hopes fans won’t be too quick to jump all over him for early mistakes.
“The expectations should be high quickly,” he said, “but if there’s adversity, we can’t just keep calling for coaches heads.” Instead, UM will have to “continue investing and giving all the resources possible to succeed.”
“It’s incredibly exciting as a fan to see the energy he brings every day,” he continued, “but what we really can’t overlook is how substantial and important it is for the infrastructure and investment that he’s implementing, and needs, to stay consistent.”
“I feel like The U is going to be great this year,” said UM sophomore Aaron Hall. “[We have] a lot of good players. I’d like them to go to the championship and probably win if they can beat ‘Bama.”
“He’s changed everything, like the coaching staff and all that,” said UM junior Angie Menner. “We saw with the basketball team how they were able to go to the Elite Eight, so maybe we can go far with football.
words_ morgan champey, isabella paone, jacob pereira & caroline val. photo_ josh halper & jared lennon. design_keagan larkins.
This article was published in Distraction’s summer 2022 print issue.