Mario Cristobal Leaving Miami Hurricanes

Another one bites the dust. Or should I say, another one has been poached? Mario Cristobal is headed to FIU and word is the announcement will come later in the day.

First off, congrats to Mario. After nine seasons as an assistant, a head coaching opportunity fell into his lap. Sure, it’s an FIU program which went winless in 2006 and has to compete against every other Sunshine State school for recruits.

Not to mention, The U sharing the same backyard and being the City of Miami’s lone traditional power with more National Championships than all other Florida schools combined.

Truth be told, no program outside FIU was going to even give Cristobal a look regarding a head coaching opportunity. Five years as a Miami assistant and a three year stint at Rutgers without even being offensive or defensive coordinator? It tells you a few things about FIU and this decision.

Months back, FIU hired Pete Garcia away from The U and made Miami’s Senior Associate Athletic Director their new AD by doubling his salary and giving him control. Today they’ve done the same for Mario, possibly tripling his current salary and giving him his first head coaching opportunity.

This move is a double-edged sword for Cristobal. A year ago the New York Jets attempted to lure away the Miami assistant, offering him a position coaching their Tight Ends. He turned it down to stay at The U and up his stock. Cristobal is known for being a stellar recruiter and is viewed as an up and comer.

Fail at FIU and that “up and comer” moniker will be long gone. Mario has a few years to turn things around and show improvement (isn’t anything an improvement after 0-12?). But failing with the Golden Panthers sends him right back to “Assistantville” with the rest of the “underlings” hoping for their shot at a top job.

The move is risky, but it’s something that an up and coming coach can’t turn down. The increase in pay sure as hell helps, but it’s the prestige of a head coaching position which causes a guy like Cristobal to take that leap of faith here. You can’t even think about failing or what the downside could be. You have to think of what good this move can do, where it can lead and what doors might open as a result.

Mario knows Miami. He knows recruiting. He’s of Hispanic decent. He won two rings (1989, 1991) as an offensive lineman for the Canes. Cristobal is a winner and this hire shows you what that University of Miami lineage means. Garcia obviously thinks highly of this kid if he’s willing to roll the dice and bring him aboard with no previous experience.

How badly does this hurt Miami? Depends who you ask. The doom and gloomers on the message boards already have their “the sky is falling” posts in full force. Some are calling it rock bottom while others chastise Randy Shannon, Paul Dee and Donna Shalala for not upping the ante and keeping Cristobal on board. As if there’s a way to compete with a head coach’s salary.

Cristobal has been recruiting for Miami these past few years, right up until this week. There are some kids on the fence who said if he’s gone, they’re out. We’ll see. If a potential recruit doesn’t want to experience four years at The U because the first year offensive line coach has bailed to the crosstown program, then these kids were never Miami material in the first place. Sad but true.

I understand the connection these kids make with the coach recruiting them, but there’s a bigger picture here. Talk to Coach Shannon and ask him what he envisions. Let him sell these recruits on what he plans on building here – with or without Cristobal.

Best wishes to Mario. As much as I loathe FIU and I’m sick of their loudmouthed fans and the fact they’ve poached two of our guys, I still want to see Hurricanes succeed. That goes for Cristobal as well as Garcia.

And of course if it doesn’t work out, we’ll take you both back… at a discounted rate, of course.