MARIO CRISTOBAL TO MIAMI HURRICANES FAITHFUL; “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?”

There’s an old adage in journalism about a focus on being right, opposed to the empty calories that come from being first and risking getting it wrong.

Unfortunately, old school sportswriting processes don’t exist when everyone has a voice, platform and take via social media—the constant race to break news, or to offer scathing critique with limited information—with emotion besting logic and common sense.

If someone isn’t giving their hot take on Twitter within minutes of reading a rumor on a message board—don’t even bother playing the game or attempting to enter the chat, as you’re too late.

Before this rant goes all “old man yells at cloud”, let’s cut to the chase and make sense of the past almost-three months in Hurricanes history.

Former Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal lost the Pac-12 title game on Friday December 4th and by Monday morning he was announced as the University of Miami’s 26th top dog—returning to his alma mater after a strong run with the Ducks, and four career-building years in Tuscaloosa, where he drafted his blueprint on how to build a juggernaut while studying every move Nick Saban made.

That in itself should’ve been the only storyline and national focus.

Instead, a hot mess of Miami supporters frustrated with the timeline—while critics, attention-starved talking heads and garden-variety haters piled-on UM in regards to process, or leaving it’s current head coach out to dry for 48 hours—as if he didn’t pull his own shady moves two years prior.

The story wasn’t about Cristobal’s homecoming; instead a focus on how he left Oregon, or how Miami worked under the radar to land the architect for a return to glory. If the same storyline surrounded any program outside of the University of Miami, the narrative would’ve been everything and it’d have been the feel-good story going into the off-season.

For any out-of-the-know, Cristobal is a Miami native who played for local Christopher Columbus High and stayed home to play for the hometown Hurricanes–where he won two national championships under Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson—before joining the program as a grad assistant under Butch Davis, which he parlayed into an invite to resume-build by join Greg Schiano at Rutgers, when the former defensive coordinator was named head coach in 2001.

Three successful years in Piscataway sent Cristobal back to UM for a three-year run coaching tight ends and offensive line—before nearby Florida International gave him his first shot as a head coach, cutting his teeth with the Golden Panthers for six seasons.

Cristobal took the underfunded, poorly-run program to its first bowl game—and first post-season win—before the experiment prematurely crapped out and he was off to Alabama to learn from the best in the biz, which paved his way to Oregon and a spot with the Willie Taggart-led Ducks—where he was promoted to head coach when Taggart bailed for Florida State.

Cristobal looked in for the long-haul with Oregon—a 35-12 run over four seasons with the Ducks, highlighted by a 12-2 season and Rose Bowl win in 2019—as well as three division titles and two Pac-12 championships.

It’s this point of the story where Miami most take pause, as Cristobal-to-the-Canes couldn’t have been more far-fetched as 2021 came to a close. The on-the-rise head coach was building something special in Eugene—all the money, all the resources and his own Nike contract from Phil Knight to help sweeten the pot. Life was good for Cristobal and arguable a 99% chance he would settle in for a lengthy run with a Pac-12 contender.

All that to say, one-in-a-million shots are discussed for a reason—because sometimes the 1% wins out and the improbable actually happens when stars align perfectly.

While all was well in the Pacific Northwest, a story was brewing downs south as Miami continued its lengthy run of underachieving under Manny Diaz—the Canes’ fifth head coach in 14 seasons—seismic shifts fast-taking place with new, big-money, billionaire boosters coming out of the works and hellbent on bringing Cristobal home to build a winner. (Not to mention, influential 305-bred moguls like John Ruiz and family on a mission to get ‘The U’ it’s own near-campus stadium at Tropical Park, or elsewhere.)

If not for Diaz’s early face-plant this past season—digging a year-three hole impossible to crawl out of—the final six weeks of 2021 don’t play out in miraculous fashion for ‘The U’—and even now, its still somewhat impossible to fathom just what the f**k happened to reverse this brutally-bad course Miami had been on; UM crying poor for decades, not making a financial commitment to building a winner and settling for low-rent, knee-jerk, safe hires for years.

Cristobal-caliber coaches were forever out of reach for ‘The U’—until one day they weren’t; a fact that when combined with daily noise on social media, via a fan base that’s been as off-track as this program itself the past two decades—it helps make sense of the chaos witnessed the past 76 days since a program-defining changing of the guard that still doesn’t feel real.

These new ways, big moves and monstrous off-season victories have even proven too much for some to grasp—tripped up every step of the way, with no ability to let things play out before coming in hot.

Kevin Steele was hired as Miami’s defensive coordinator just over two weeks ago—February 3rd and one day after National Signing Day, where Cristobal worked his magic over a seven-week span to turn Diaz’s disastrous 60th-ranked class into the 15th-best in the nation—an all-killer, no-filler haul of 14 players, with a few late-in-the-process surprises.

In vintage Miami fan fashion, the narrative remained focused on those who got away—some blaming a lack of a defensive coordinator when highly-coveted defensive end Shemar Stewart stuck with Texas A&M, instead of focusing on the fat NIL bags Jimbo Fisher and staff dropped, en route to what on-paper is the most-talented recruiting haul of all-time—packed with seven 5-Star ballers, including Stewart.

The second half of December and all of January was nothing but a bitch-fest regarding the timing surrounding assistant hires; digs at Cristobal “striking out”, dragging his feet or being in over his head—while any who praised his thoroughness or process was immediately mocked as the Miami Miserables relied on old muscle memory—expecting things to go south or quickly blow up, as has been the case since 2005.

In a matter of weeks, Cristobal took Diaz’s 60th-ranked class and finished with a punch-packing No. 15 group.

FOCUS ON THOSE ONBOARDED; NOT WHO GOT AWAY

In mid-January, defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson was poached by Alabama—many unable to grasp that when Saban calls, smart coaches answer, take the promotion and haul-ass to Tuscaloosa to further their careers—just as Cristobal did post-FIU, after temporarily agreeing to join Al Golden and staff in 2013—sticking around a matter of days before he was called-up to Bama’s big leagues.

At the same time, there were also leaks that Arkansas offensive coordinator Kendal Briles supposedly turned down Cristobal in the Canes—when in reality, it appeared to be a textbook negotiating move to shake down the Razorbacks for more cash. (According to Miami, no offer was ever made—and per Cristobal’s hiring history, offers aren’t extended to assistants not legitimately committed to getting on board.)

Cristobal was attacked for “losing” Robinson—fans in sky-is-falling mode again. The ace recruiter and former secondary coach who called Miami his “dream job”—it was now and indictment on Miami’s new leader for “T-Rob” wanting to beef up his resume by working for the best-run program in the sport.

The perceived “hits” continued days two weeks later when co-offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon—who followed Cristobal from Eugene to Coral Gables—got a shot to return to his alma mater and trekked north to Georgia to work under Kirby Smart and the defending national champs. The topic resulted in an all-over-the-place, 72-page thread on CanesInSight—one that went as far as attacking McClendon’s wife’s looks as why she didn’t feel comfortable in Miami—prompting his barely-got-to-know-you stint at UM.

Not for nothing, but Charlie Kelly and his “Pepe Silvia” evidence wall on a fan-favorite episode of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia comes across more logical than some of these current message board threads and Twitter Spaces rants.

Robinson and McClendon jumping ship, no assistants hired by NSD—too many refusing to let things play out; chastising Cristobal and prematurely playing that here-we-go-again card—negativity was quickly replacing all new goodwill surrounding the program, and for what? These self-imposed timelines by overly-aggressive fans who want to make up 15 years of incompetence in 15 minutes?

Whatever self-imposed dark skies fans chose to hover under for two months—clouds finally parted after the Steele hire and February has gone gangbusters ever since for Cristobal and his Canes.

Three days after landing a veteran defensive coordinator, Cristobal poached Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis—the 2021 Frank Broyles Award Winner also a masterful recruiter who runs a balanced offensive attack and is a massive addition to the staff.

Next up, the Robinson void was filled—and improved upon—when Cristobal poached Georgia’s defensive backs coach Jahmile Addae from Smart’s staff. Addae was ranked by 247Sports as the nation’s No. 2 recruiter for the Class of 2022—the Dawgs No. 1 in scoring defense, No. 1 in red zone defense and No. 2 in total defense during their 2021 title run.

No McClendon? No problem, as Cristobal reeled in Appalachian State offensive coordinator Frank Ponce in a quarterback coach and passing game coordinator role. Ponce is another ace recruiter and was a successful head coach at Miami Senior High, where he also played—these deep local ties set to pay dividends with local high school coaches on the recruiting trail.

For good measure, to add a little more beef to the defensive side of the ball regarding experienced position coaches, it was announced Friday night that Cristobal is adding Charlie Strong to his staff as linebackers coach.

The former longtime Florida defensive coordinator—and top-flight recruiter—parlayed that success into a four-year stint as Louisville’s head coach, before getting hired away by Texas and then a run at South Florida in the same role. One year as an Alabama assistant lead to a one-year role with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2021—and now he’s on board with Cristobal’s Canes.

Another sneaky little pull during this February to remember—former Michigan State staffer Andrew Rodgers took his talents to Coral Gables two weeks back. One big storyline from 2021; how the Spartans and Mel Tucker dominated the Transfer Portal with two dozen new players—including former Wake Forest running back Kenneth Walker Jr.—it was Rodgers who creates lists and compiled the info for Tucker regarding these transfers.

Add these key pieces to staff that already saw Joe Salave’a (defensive line), Alex Mirabal (offensive line), Aaron Feld (strength and conditioning) and Jeff Eaton (assistant strength coach) following Cristobal from Eugene to Coral Gables—this might’ve just become the best top-to-bottom coaching staff in the ACC in a matter of weeks.

Translation; Cristobal and Miami are going to go ham on the Portal in the coming month, in a way that should even supersede Diaz’s impressive three-year off-season run.

Highsmith in a much-talked about GM-type role; the final piece to the infrastructure puzzle Cristobal is building.

Lastly, for context- and narrative-sake—chatter surrounding Alonzo Highsmith returning to Miami in the oft-talked about GM role many wanted him in a year ago—balls seem to be in motion. Manny Navarro of The Atlantic–and former Miami Herald UM beat writer—guested on the a recent “Wide Right” podcast and worked in the Highsmith tidbit (around the 53:35 mark) when discussing if Ed Reed will continue in his Chief of Staff role under Cristobal.

All of this recent movement playing to the hyperbolic title of this piece—the Maximus Decimus Meridius quote from Gladiator—after the former Roman general makes mincemeat of a few well-armed opponents. Cristobal remains fueled—by his Cafecito scuba tank and desire to build a winner—to hear, or give a collective shit about any critique or outside noise.

Not delivering on superfans’ timetables? No one gives a shit. Questioning the resume of guys he thoroughly interviewed through a rigorous process? That’s why Cristobal pockets a reported $8,000,000 annually and has a monster budget to bring on who he deems the ideal fit—while critics furiously peck away online, getting Doritos dust all over their keyboards.

FROM PRETENDERS TO CONTENDER-ISH OVERNIGHT

Incredible to think that three short months ago Miami was shuffling out of Doak Campbell Stadium as losers, dropping a must-win game to a joke of a Florida State program that had won six football games dating back to October 2020—upset at home by Jacksonville State two months prior, and sitting at 3-5 when the Hurricanes rolled in.

Fans were at their wits end with Diaz—the 1-2 start to open his third season at the helm; demolished by Alabama (mocked for celebrating with silly jewelry while getting manhandled) and outlasted by Michigan State (outscored 21-3 in fourth quarter after holding up “four fingers”)—while almost upset by Appalachian State in-between the two (a late field goal to escape victorious).

The chase for a Coastal Division title was even all but out the window by mid-October—sitting at 0-2 in conference after gut-wrenching, slow-start, last-second losses to Virginia and North Carolina.

The unexpected emergence of Tyler Van Dyke and a Heisman-like performance from the new quarterback helped Miami go 5-1 from that point on—but it also masked a dismal defensive performance as Diaz’s unit underperformed, regressing as the year rolled on.

There was zero hope going into 2022 had this madness continued; Diaz set to lose offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee—by way of Van Dyke’s emergence and SMU wanting their former play caller to return in a head coaching role—while Diaz stubbornly stuck to his self-imposed dual role of program CEO and maligned defensive shot-caller.

Recruiting was a disaster and a 7-5 run killed any improvement narrative had Diaz returned for year four—but everything changing when a few rogue Miami boosters went big game fishing and set out to  in Cristobal.

The act itself nothing more than a pipe dream and ultimate long shot before pressure ramped up by way of the slow start to a new season—resulting in a few difference-makers building off the shots fired by ESPN College GameDay’s Kirk Herbstreitwho took UM to task on the September 25th broadcast.

University of Miami football had legitimately been irrelevant since the 2005 Peach Bowl—when No. 9 LSU waxed No. 8 UM, 40-3 on New Year’s Eve—and it’s been a rinse-wash-repeat disaster ever since.

Larry Coker gutting his staff for a lame-duck 2006 season before getting canned—leading to the low-rent hire of defense coordinator Randy Shannon, who was never ready for prime time—going 28-22 over four seasons. Meanwhile, Golden was an empty-suit and nowhere near the up-and-comer he was tabbed as coming out of Temple—going 32-25 before canned in the middle of his fifth season, on the heels of a 58-0 ass-kicking Clemson laid on Miami at home in 2015.

Mark Richt was the right guy at the wrong time; the Canes needing the 2006 version of the former Georgia Bulldogs head coach—not the 2016 guy leaning towards retirement with too many miles on the odometer after a 15-year run in the SEC—temporarily reignited when his alma mater called.

As for Diaz, that show was over before it started—former athletic director Blake James with a career-defining gaffe—paying Temple a reported $4,000,000 to bring his defensive coordinator home as head coach, 12 days after he’d agreed to taking over the Owls program and signed less than a day after Richt stepped down.

Due diligence and any legit interview and hiring process, be damned—which thankfully helped lead to James’ departure and the off-season hiring of Clemson’s Dan Radakovich—who Miami has since made the highest-paid athletic director nationwide.

Those who followed this program for decades—defeated is an understatement. The OG’s saw the top of the mountain in the 80’s and early 90’s, suffered through the probation era, saw Davis rebuild this program against all odds—only to capture that fifth national title in 2001, with Miami set up to dominate for years to come.

Instead, Davis’ extension was mismanaged and he bailed for the NFL payday—leaving the wheels to fall completely off in matter of years. Still, hope remained as no true college football power emerged—until Saban turned things around at Alabama and captured his first championship with the Crimson Tide in 2009.

At that moment, Miami was stuck hoping it could fail upwards—relying on past glory, and hoping it could keep enough local talent home to compete—which didn’t happen as the likes of Alabama, Georgia and the others started throwing millions of dollars at recruiting budgets, in effort to lure South Florida’s best out of state.

Wheels fell off New Year’s Eve 2005 in Atlanta and have never been put back on—until now—as Cristobal will change everything.

NO MORE FOOL’S GOLD; ‘THE U’ WITH REAL DEAL

Each new hire brought a modicum of home to Miami faithful—if Shannon could just lock down local talent, if Golden could create something out of nothing like he appeared to do at Temple, if the proven and experienced Richt could do with the Canes what he did earlier in his career with the Bulldogs—or if Diaz could find that 2017 defensive energy, coupled with bringing a prehistoric offense into the modern era.

All those “if” moments never panning out—while the Hurricanes put together a pathetic 118-85 run, starting that gut-wrenching night in Atlanta on December 31st, 2005.

Hope is what keeps college football fans coming back for more—albeit expectations vary on the respective program one pulls for. Some hope it’s the year they can simply beat a rival, others hope to win a division and to get a crack at a conference title—while the elite aim for conference championships, College Football Playoffs berths and playing for national championships.

Miami used to be a title-or-bust program back in the day; where a 10-2 run in 199o—capped with a 46-3 beatdown of No. 3 Texas in the Cotton Bowl and No. 3 rank in the final polls—was seen as a “down” season; an opening-season loss at No. 16 BYU getting the Canes off to a bad start, with title dreams ending in South Bend late October went falling to the sixth-ranked Irish.

To go from that, to only winning the Coastal Division one time since joining the ACC in 2004—boat-raced out of the stadium by Clemson, 38-3 in Miami’s lone ACC Championship Game appearance? The logical Cane learned to make peace with history, to appreciate the glory days and to hope for a resurgence—but to expect the worst, as 7-6 seasons were the new norm and 9-4 seasons were the new benchmark for a step-foward season.

All of this is what makes the Cristobal hire so hard to wrap one’s head and heart around less than three months in. These kinds of big-money moves happen at other programs—not at the University of Miami—highlighted in an October 2019 deep dive we did at ItsAUThing.com regarding the University of Georgia’s $200,000,000 investment in their program; the “Do More” campaign designed to help them make up what little ground their was between the Bulldogs and the University of Alabama Crimson Tide.

Two years later, the investment paid off and Georgia took home its first national championship since 1980. Could Miami legit be on a similar trajectory with Cristobal and the financial commitment the university is now making in its efforts to again become a contender?

LEARN TO BE A WINNER AGAIN; PROGRAM & FANS

Cocky as Miami fans come across, 16 seasons of being a pretender took a toll—that loser’s muscle memory real—which causes many of the negative reactions to any perceived setback; the time it took to assemble a staff, an assistant bailing for a bigger program or a 5-Star the Canes started chasing late in the process going elsewhere.

It’s almost as if many supporters of ‘The U’ don’t know what to do with any level of prosperity—while unable to “trust the process” of a real head coach, as so many previous frauds spouted the phrase and never delivered.

The tide as finally turned for Miami and before going into spring football, some Portal robbing and some spirited fall practices that set the stage for Cristobal’s inaugural season at his alma mater—a quick reset and acknowledgement of all that’s taking place.

Diaz is gone, Cristobal is home—and while the process of assistant-hiring didn’t fit the self-imposed timeline of many—the gangster, Saban-like moves of Miami’s native son are all that matter right now.

Months back, this program was on track for a Ponce to replace a Lashlee as offensive coordinator, while fans could only hope Diaz focused on his CEO role and brought someone like Strong run his defense. Instead, it’s Cristobal in charge, a head-coach-caliber offensive coordinator like Gattis in the driver’s seat, a salty veteran like Steele running the defense—and ballers like Ponce and Strong both stepping into coordinator-like roles, simply to be a part of something special that is brewing.

If that doesn’t get the orange and green juices flowing, check your pulse to make sure you’re alive.

Everything has changed overnight in Coral Gables—which is part of the reason it’s so hard for some to digest all that is taking place. That being the case, it’s time to exhale, sit back and enjoy the ride—because for the first time in a long time, there is a process that be trusted and a total pro in the driver’s seat—confidently on the move and chasing that sixth ring.


Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with
BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello is a storyteller for some exciting brands and individuals—as well as a guitarist and songwriter for his band Company Jones, who just released their debut album “The Glow”. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.

DIAZ OUT, CRISTOBAL IN AND MIAMI HURRICANES READY TO AGAIN CHASE CHAMPIONSHIPS

Mario Cristobal is the new head coach of the University of Miami football program.

The feeling of typing and reading back those words remains incomprehensible in this whirlwind of a 2021 season—not to mention 15 years of incompetence and some degree of acceptance that “The U” would never again compete as a big time college football contender.

Equally as welcoming, the news that Manny Diaz is out—his Hurricanes entering the preseason with a glimmer of hope, a No. 15 ranking and expected to take a step forward in a make-or-break third year for the now former head coach.

Instead, the type of free-fall that ended an era and ushered in a new one—humbled by Alabama in the opener and a late kick needed to survive Appalachian State the following week, only to see Miami then outworked and out-hustled by a Michigan State squad with a second-year coach looking much further ahead than UM’s third-year guy.

The Spartans were the ones who were supposed to wilt in that sweltering South Florida heat and humidity—not the homegrown kids, who held up those fourth quarter “four fingers” before getting outscored 21-3 over the final 15 minutes.

The ugly 1-2 start prompted ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit—the Hurricanes’ unofficial 2021 MVP after all that’s unfolded—to undress UM’s top brass in front of the nation, hours before Miami beat up on a glorified high school out of Connecticut and mugged for cameras with chain and rings like they were en route to 4-0.

No sooner were all eyes a fledgling Miami program, Diaz went 0-2 in conference play in a Coastal-or-Bust season—the Canes now 2-4 as defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory against Virginia and North Carolina, who both finished the year with matching 6-6 records.

A freshman quarterback played some rookie-of-the-year level football—literally—which did nothing but postpone the inevitable, as an MVP offensive performance only masked the fact that Diaz retaking over the defensive coordinator role was a disaster; Miami the worst-tackling unit in the nation for most of this season, when defense has always been UM’s calling card.

The comeback narrative exploded in tragic, yet necessary fashion—a disastrous loss against a Florida State squad that had won six total games over a two-year span.

All of Diaz’s warts were on display in this rivalry showdown; from an opening quarter where Miami had eight penalties—false starts, late hits and mental mistakes—to a comeback blown after failing to convert on a late third down and surrendering a 4th-and-14 dagger, which capped an 11-0 run for the Seminoles in the game’s final minutes.

DIAZ: TOOK LUCKY BREAK, BROKE IT IN TWO

The tank-job in Tallahassee saw any comeback narrative fast crashing and burning, rendering lackluster wins over Virginia Tech and Duke completely meaningless, outside of bowl eligibility and a ticket punched for El Paso to take on Washington State month’s end.

On his way out the door, Diaz lobbied like the son-of-a-politician; working to spin negatives into positives—focused on kids not quitting, despite facing “significant injuries and adversity”, as well as “unique challenges” to which his players “repeatedly responded”.

Zero talk about a 2-4 start, or the fact a 3-1 run in November was against bottom-dwelling teams that finished the season with a 17-31 combined record—in the worst collective year the ACC has seen in forever; No. 17 Pittsburgh and No. 18 Wake Forest facing off in a lackluster championship game—Diaz whiffing when the Coastal was wide open and a basketball school took the Atlantic.

When the smoke finally cleared, Diaz was 21-15 after three years—on par with the type of dead-end runs predecessors like Randy Shannon and Al Golden put together before soon fired—as well as 0-2 in the postseason, zero division titles and a slew of signature losses, with no landmark victories.

Many clamored for Diaz’s exit as far back as 2019, when the first-year coach was upended by former Miami dynasty architect Butch Davis and Florida International—Canes players rolling in flat and dancing on the sidelines while down 23-3 in the fourth quarter against a commuter college, before waking up and seeing comeback fall short.

The Golden Panthers have won one measly football game since that colossal upset over Miami two years ago.

A week later, the still-punch drunk Canes were embarrassed at Duke and then shutout by Louisiana Tech in a meaningless bowl—6-7 in a season that started with Diaz mixing it up with players and tacking dummies with “7-6” on their chests, in the same building Cristobal would hold an introductory presser less than three years later.

Diaz was part of an ongoing rinse-wash-repeat process; knee-jerk hires, low-rent up-and-coming coaches and rebuild-after-rebuild do-over moments—and without a recent influx of money and a handful of big-money boosters taking things into their own hands—history shows that there would’ve been a year four, if not more for Diaz.

Cristobal’s has come up for years—half of a crowded board of trustees room lobbying for him in 2019 when Diaz was hired, but the rest of the room too shaken by Oregon’s buy-out to entertain the notion as a reality. As Diaz stumbled to a losing inaugural season, Cristobal went 12-2, winning the Pac-12, a Rose Bowl and conference coach of the year honors.

The refrain with Diaz was the same as with a Golden or a Shannon; Miami could ill afford to send their current coach packing, couldn’t afford a wish-list coach’s buyout and certainly couldn’t take on a bloated top-flight head coach’s salary—let alone his demands for the next-level staff it’d take for him to even entertain the move.

In the matter of weeks, months or even years—the embarrassing hat-in-hand, frugal mindset went up in smoke.

MONEY FINALLY TALKED; BULLSH*T SENT PACKING

Jaded and stuck-in-their-ways, millionaire board of trustees members who once yielded all the power—pushed aside when big-dick-energy, nine-zero-having billionaires took the reigns; Canes loyalists like John Ruiz and Jorge Mas and their respective families very vocal in their desire to see Diaz’s #TheNewMiami looking more like old, ass-kicking, take-no-prisoners Miami and that decade of dominance era that once defined this proud program.

There was also the COVID-inspired turnaround of Miami’s own U-Health department; in the red for years, but now in the black to the tune of almost a billion dollars the past two years—yet there currently so much donor money at play, the Canes haven’t even had to tap into medical school profits.

Should athletics need any of those funds, president Dr. Julio Frenk has seen the light—thanks to guys like Rudy Fernandez—abandoning the old eat-what-you-kill attitude former president Donna Shalala had towards athletics; hence Miami leaving Nike for more adidas money, or abandoning the Big East for the ACC and the TV revenue that came by way of a more-prestigious conference.

The University of Miami literally went from digging in couch cushions for money, to doing Scrooge McDuck dives in a swimming pool full of greenbacks—again, unfathomable after years of crying poor.

This return to the University of Miami was always Cristobal’s dream job—even if he wisely and professionally chose to avoid putting his homecoming through any nostalgic filter during Tuesday’s welcoming press conference. The passionate, calculated and driven head coach is showing a degree of gratitude regarding the pinch-me opportunity—while staying on-brand with his time-is-wasting, let’s-get-to-work attitude and energy.

This quickly and wisely shuts down the emotion-related queries that reporters in Eugene and Coral Gables are chasing, in effort make sense of and to humanize the moment—but for reeling Ducks fans making sense of the departure, as well as Canes fans clamoring for soundbites signaling a return to glory; Cristobal also staying on point with the now and future at “The U”, without getting distracted by the type of nostalgia the media loves peddling fans.

Without all this found money and new power moves, Cristobal would still be in Oregon today—a fool to abandon what he was building with the Ducks. Resources galore in a Pac-12 conference ripe for the taking for years—where he could take the blueprint he helped implement under Nick Saban at Alabama in four years as an assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and head of recruiting, learning from the best in the business.

Cristobal was so respected in his four-year run in Tuscaloosa, many had him on a short list to replace Saban when the iconic head coach steps down in the coming years—a logical landing place after chasing Pac-12 titles and Playoff berths in Eugene, which was in the cards soon enough, proven by a 35-13 stint heading back to an interim bowl game loss in 2017.

Tossing out last year’s COVID-defined season—more brutal for the Pac-12 than others, as suspect leadership resulted in a shortened season and later start than most—Cristobal went 22-5 in 2019 and 2021 combined; winning the division twice, a conference championship and a spirited Rose Bowl.

Flaws? Sure, there was an annual loss-of-focus moment where Oregon pissed away championship dreams—tripped up by an average Pac-12 opponent it should’ve rolled—not to mention the buzzsaw Cristobal ran into against Utah this season, dropping two of his final three games with the Ducks in ugly fashion; his offense looking nothing like the squad that dropped 550 yards and 35 points on third-ranked Ohio State in Columbus months back.

All that to say, the good greatly outweighs any bad—and outside of Saban, every coach in the sport seems to have moments and games like these. The goal is to keep working for season-long focus, which comes in due time with veteran leadership, the right players and those special seasons where championships are within reach—the team feeling it and getting into an unflinchable zone.

CANES IN THICK OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL CHESS MOVES

A week before Miami landed Cristobal, USC fired a shot and pulled Lincoln Riley from Norman to Los Angeles, hours after Oklahoma choked away a Big 12 title game berth and crack at the Playoffs, falling to rival Oklahoma State in the regular season finale, along with an earlier loss against Baylor which came back to haunt.

Last year, early-season losses to unranked Kansas State and Iowa State had Riley and OU in a fast 1-2 hole, before bouncing back and winning the Big 12—but the damage was done and Playoffs dreams ended in September. The year prior, the Sooners were in last in the final four and crushed by top-seeded LSU—but still had no answer for an inexcusable loss to a Kansas State squad that finished 8-5 and fell to Navy in the Liberty Bowl.

No sooner was Riley a Trojan, Brian Kelly bailed South Bend for Baton Rouge and a monster payday from LSU—abandoning the one-loss Irish after a dozen years at the helm. A regular season home loss to Cincinnati kept Notre Dame out of this year’s Playoffs; one of many head-scratching losses in Kelly’s career—though less egregious than the postseason beatings he’s taken over the years.

Last year the Irish were dismantled by Clemson, in a COVID year ACC title game appearance, then smacked around by Alabama in the semifinals, outscored 65-24 over eight quarters of big time football—proof that Kelly had his his ceiling in South Bend. His best there wasn’t going to cut it—Kelly needed a bigger time program if he wanted to win a national championship, hence the fake Southern accent and beeline towards the Bayou state.

The disgruntled folks in Oregon can fight and deny it, but Cristobal’s decision proves that Miami is the better program when the Hurricanes are hitting on all cylinders—which hasn’t been the case for two decades, until this week.

The way UM refused to invest in football over the years, zero argument that UO ran smoother—with their top-notch facilities and Phil Knight shoe money pumping—swinging for the fences and more upside as a result.

Not anymore.

Not with the abundant talent in South Florida and not with the return of a hometown hero, with two decades of deep recruiting ties and newfound support from UM to seriously get after it.

Still, for all the financial talk and boasting about Oregon’s deep pockets, it was Miami who came in hot with the $8 million-per-year, 10-year offer—trumping the annual $7 million the Ducks were willing to pay—and its the Canes who are allocating an $8 million annually for assistants, which now tops the number Clemson allows Dabo Swinney for his guys.

Cristobal’s coaching prowess, his new financial resources, UM’s aggressive new attitude—as well as the talent pool in the Canes’ backyard—it all adds up to Miami having another gear Oregon wasn’t expecting.

A paradigm shift has taken place and “The U” is officially back—because these long-awaited changes are set to deliver conference championships, Playoffs appearances and the big-time football the Canes would never see again if competing on a budget and hoping stars would align someway, somehow.

The new-look Miami and these type of deep-pocket resources; Cristobal is being set up for success—just like powerhouses in Alabama and Georgia—both of which spend more money on recruiting than any other NCAA programs, in effort to lock down the talent in UM’s backyard.

The result; the best of Dade, Broward and Palm Beach county have been leaving the state en masse for Tuscaloosa and Athens—chasing conference titles and national championships.

CANES DAYS OF LOSING TOP-FLIGHT TALENT ENDS NOW

The recruiting pipeline out of what Howard Schnellenberger dubbed “The State Of Miami”—it’s been broken since Larry Coker attempted to keep alive what Butch Davis worked so hard to rebuild decades ago.

Forget what Alabama stealing an Amari Cooper out of Northwestern or Georgia going into American Heritage and poaching a lifelong UM fan like Sony Michel—what about losing Central’s Devonta Freeman and Dalvin Cook to Florida State at a time when both the Noles and Canes were average and on a level playing field?

Even lowly Louisville built it’s entire program on having it’s way with top Miami prospects when Charlie Strong ran the show and pulled recently-fired Canes defensive line coach Clint Hurtt north when the Shannon era came to a close.

The Cardinals’ 2011 roster featured 25 players from Schnellenberg’s fenced-off region—including a dozen from Dade County; eight of which hailed from Northwestern—including quarterback and receiver duo, Teddy Bridgewater and Eli Rogers.

Screw an article, one could write a book regarding almost two decade’s worth of local prospects bailing on the Hurricanes, coaching turnover and low-rent rebuilds. Forget what Alabama, Georgia, Florida State or Louisville was peddling—it came down to what Miami couldn’t offer.

So many kids and their parents who grew up on “The U”—looking for any way to justify their kids playing at home, but in the end forced to accept that the hometown program lost its way and their kids would be better off taking their talents elsewhere.

All of this explains why Hurricanes fans are jumping out of their skin over an a head coach who just got his teeth kicked in by Utah two times in the past three weeks. Oregon in whatever shape or form they were in under Cristobal this fall; pales in comparison to what he can bring to UM, with a new-school attitude, budget an big-Cane energy—set to produce two vastly different results.

Cristobal is the first sitting Power Five head coach Miami has hired since Dennis Erickson left Washington State for South Florida in 1989—eventually replaced by Davis, who cut his teeth under Jimmy Johnson as a defensive assistant at Miami and went next level with the Dallas Cowboys; winning championships at both stops.

Davis’ recruiting efforts could never receive enough praise; the 2001 roster he assembled—and even the “how”—hamstrung with lost scholarships in the late nineties due to years on probation, yet still cherry-picking talent and the right-fit guys to rebuild this program.

PATH TO MARIO (UN)OFFICIALLY UNDERWAY FOR YEARS

Cristobal’s recruiting success has been on display for years. Nationally recognized for his road wins at Alabama, there’s also a Davis 2.0 aspect to what he brings in this return home; as it’s not just about talent—it’s about identifying Miami guys and seeking the kind of player that will be an ideal fit for this unique program.

The beauty of a five-year run as a player between 1988 and 1992—when the program went 55-5, won two national titles (1989, 1991), lost a championship game (1992) and was arguably the best team in the nation the two years it didn’t play for it all (1988, 1990)—the high-level players Cristobal was around daily. The attitudes, the work ethic, the way championship players carry themselves.

Cristobal also saw it as a grad assistant between as Miami was turning a post-probation corner; part of that 1998 team that went from a 66-13 drubbing at Syracuse to a thrilling 49-45 upset of second-ranked UCLA days later.

There for that statement win in the Meadowlands against No. 9 Ohio State in the 1999 opener, the near-takedown of No. 2 Penn State at the Orange Bowl weeks later and match-ups at No. 1 Florida State or No. 2 Virginia Tech—teams that owned probation-era Miami, but a feeling the was turning as players were growing into future superstars overnight.

When Miami broke five-game losing streaks to the defending national champ Seminoles and title-game runner-up Hokies in 2000, the Canes were back—and snubbed of a title shot, took their frustration out on No. 7 Florida in the Sugar Bowl—off the field in a notorious Bourbon Street brawl, as well as the Superdome via a 38-20 smackdown.

The muscle memory of Miami’s 26th head coach as both a player and an assistant—as well as where his coaching trajectory took him over the past 15 years the Hurricanes were bleeding out—it all led back to this moment.

“What better place than here—what better time than now?,” as Rage Against The Machine so passionately shouted it two decades back, as the Canes turned their 1999 comeback corner.

Further proof this is a game-changer for Miami; the reaction from the outside—proving the “us against the world” mentality is back in full-force—as the college football universe gets chippy whenever the Hurricanes seem to be on to something.

The critics, rivals and haters prefer “The U” stands on the precipice of greatness; living for those early-season runs where outsiders—not insiders—start with all the premature, “Is ‘The U’ back?” chatter, knowing it’s not and getting ready to pop the bubbly when the Canes ultimately fall.

UM football is polarizing and when talking about a small, private school nestled in Coral Gables—where most fans aren’t alumni—there is going to be more hate surrounding this program than love.

The heads on College GameDay often quick to say the sport is better when Miami is a contender; they know the Hurricanes are good for ratings. Many of ESPN’s top-ranked games have UM on the marquee; most of the nation tuning in praying “The U” gets wrecked—which has been often as Miami sports a 118-85 record dating back to a 2005 Peach Bowl beating courtesy of LSU, 40-3.

THE ERA OF DOUBLE STANDARDS RETURN

Look at all the outside chatter this week and the hypocrisy surrounding Miami’s efforts to land Cristobal, opposed to what USC and LSU did to nab their big fish.

Zero focus on how Riley abandoned Oklahoma hours after losing at Bedlam and sending rival Oklahoma State to the Big 12 title game and pissing away a shot at the Playoffs—or fact that conversations with the Trojans obviously took place for weeks, based on how quickly a deal came together.

The same for Kelly’s coarse goodbye to his players, the morning after they learned via the wire that he was bailing out—not to mention viral video of his faux Cajun accent in his first public outing as the Tigers’ new head coach—both non-news stories that were buried within a day.

Riley to USC and Kelly to LSU are feel-good stories—no one in the media harping on how Oklahoma or LSU were left high and dry—or chastising the process.

After years of penny-pinching and media rants about how a college football is better when Miami is contender—moves are made to precisely shift that narrative—the Canes writing checks to compete and bringing home their native son in epic fashion; the media wants to make it all about the “how”.

Cristobal—known as one of the good guys and one of the sport’s brightest coaching stars—landing his dream job; nitpicking articles immediately pointing out that UM didn’t show “common courtesy” in reaching out to Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens for permission to speak to the Ducks then-head coach—while hammering Miami for how it handled Diaz over a 48-hour period; Cristobal chatter starting up hours after Friday night’s Pac-12 game, deals worked on over the weekend, Diaz fired Monday morning and Cristobal-to-The-U official by Tuesday. 

Coaching at this level is a cut-throat game and all seems to be fair in love and war, until it happens at Miami; the forced outrage and case-building to constantly make UM the villain—yet lost in how Miami supposedly mistreated Diaz, the fact three years prior the recently-fired Canes leader was the one doing the screwing.

Hired by Temple mid-December 2019, Diaz strangely stuck around the Miami program for a last hurrah at defensive coordinator—a meaningless third-tier bowl game after a 7-5 season—when he should’ve been in Philadelphia building a staff, on on the road closing recruits, much like Cristobal has since arriving in Coral Gables late Monday night.

Wisconsin went on to smoke Miami in Pinstripe Bowl, 35-3 on Thursday December 28th—third-year head coach Mark Richt calling it a career the morning of Sunday December 30th. Diaz—back to South Florida from New York, dealing with loose ends before heading back north—openly lobbied for Richt’s job, had his agent pressuring UM to get a deal done immediately and 16 days after agreeing to terms with Temple, he was named Miami’s 25th head coach; the same evening his boss stepped down.

THEY HATE US ‘CAUSE THEY AIN’T US…

The logic-driven college football fan would quickly formulate a thought that Diaz arguably got what he had coming in some karmic fashion—doing Temple dirty, finding payback in how Miami let him squirm for a few days—and that’d be the end of it.

Instead, outsiders and national writers have turned into social justice warriors overnight—feigning outrage over how Diaz was treated, when in all reality the displaced frustration is solely rooted in Miami landing a top-flight coach ready to lead them back to the promised land.

ESPN’s Andrea Adelson—a Miami native, University of Florida graduate and former columnist of the Independent Florida Alligator—went attack-mode in her latest piece; that Gators DNA pumping as she talked up the Cristobal hire, as well as reports that Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich is also UM-bound.

“Simply throwing money at the problem, and making two good hires on paper, is not going to cure a rotten culture that has surrounded the program, seeped into its very foundation, spread its tentacles and suffocated those who have tried to change it.

That rotten culture left Miami officials—desperate to land Cristobal—to abandon decency and class and leave another native son, former coach Manny Diaz, dangling in the wind for nearly two weeks while it cajoled someone else to take his job”, Adelson wrote in sanctimonious fashion.

The long-time columnist even let emotions get in the way of facts when describing Richt’s exit in late 2018.

“That rotten culture places outsized, unrealistic expectations on everyone who walks in the door, and as soon as the struggles begin, lights fires only to watch them burn. Nobody is given time to get anything done. Look at celebrated coach Mark Richt. It was only five years ago his hire was celebrated and former athletic director Blake James was praised for doing what nobody thought possible. But when things went bad in Year 3, the pitchforks came out and Richt resigned.”

Not one word in her piece about the offensive-minded Richt fielding one of the most-prehistoric offenses Miami has seen in decades—in line with former defensive coordinator Diaz taking back defensive reigns this season, while that side of the ball backslid and was the worst-tackling, underperforming units in the nation.

Same for letting emotion replace fact, resulting in selective memory as there were “pitchforks” out for Richt; just an ask that the veteran coach bring in a quality play caller and sticking to a CEO role, instead of the nepotism that kept his son Jon Richt coaching quarterbacks and involved in the offensive game-planning.

Worn down from 15 years in the SEC—leaning towards retirement before his alma mater called—Richt tapped out as the rebuild seemed too daunting. There was also a recent diagnoses of early onset Parkinson’s Disease—which he wasn’t ready to share with the world—which Adelson left out of her carefully-worded piece, working in the phrase “rotten culture” in three consecutive sentences.

Adelson is hardly alone in her shaming of Miami’s handling of its break-up with Diaz and it’s courting of Cristobal—but a noteworthy example as her tone shift over a 19-day span is telling.

Weeks back Adelson went all-in on a glowing piece regarding the 20-year anniversary of the 2001 national champion Miami Hurricanes—quick to lean on “South Florida” street-cred—growing up 250 miles north of Miami, in Orlando—and landing a gig with the Orlando Sentinel upon a return from Gainesville.

“I had a front-row seat as the Miami beat writer for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, that season. I grew up in South Florida, and watched the previous four Miami national champions closely. I went to the University of Florida, where as a freshman in 1995, the Nebraska Cornhuskers staked their claim to the greatest-of-all-time throne after dismantling the Gators in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl. I still have visions of Tommie Frazier leaving Gator defenders in his wake,” Adelson wrote.

The piece went on to nostalgically praise the 2001 talent-heavy Hurricanes—how hard they hit, how hard they worked, how they dominated the opposition—as well as the unparalleled leadership and how accessible, mature and professional the faces of the program were.

“That openness allowed us to truly get to know the players and coaches, and develop a rapport with them, so we could tell their stories in a deeper way — and share a fair narrative as the season unfolded. Nobody was too “big time” for anything. We could see with our own eyes what made that team go.”

Praising Miami’s past greatness so easy, even a Gator could do it—Adelson reaffirming these Hurricanes of 20 years ago were undoubtedly college football’s GOAT’s. Giving UM it’s due as the program officially rises from the ashes—an immediate narrative shift—rivalry DNA arguably kicking in and partially fueled by savior Dan Mullen flopping, while feigning excitement for the Billy Napier era, as Miami jumps out of its collective skin landing a whale like Cristobal.

Or maybe it’s simply good business, as Miami is a polarizing program and an ESPN writer is going to gain more traction riling up rival fans and outsiders about the Hurricanes making moves than they would speaking from the place of someone with true insight to “The U”—fully aware what an unprecedented, out-of-nowhere move this was for the long-time, cry-poor university.

Supporters of UM, alumni or even beat writers and long-time op-ed columnists—well aware Miami is back on track when forced again to embrace the hate—rivals and opposition in a fit of rage, arguing points with emotion instead of logic and harping on the way something was done, opposed to what was accomplished—which was the way stories about Riley to USC or Kelly to LSU were reported, or digested.

Miami won’t be “back” overnight—but there’s no denying the seismic shift that just took place in college football, as the Hurricanes followed up big moves by Southern Cal and LSU with resounding checkmate. “The U” is technically *back* when that sixth national championship is claimed, but safe to say Miami is a legit contender again and won’t be backing in ACC title games, or trying to win division titles on a wing and a prayer.

Cristobal isn’t perfect, but he checks off every box that matters most—and he’ll not only be embraced by his hometown and alma mater with open arms—he’ll do with with a level of financial and administrative support never seen before at the University of Miami.

Combine that with the lockdown about to be put on Schnellenberger’s “State Of Miami” as well as the ability to send one of the game’s best recruiters into the homes of top talent nationwide…you already know.

Heed the warning, college football pundits—December 6th, 2021 is the day the game completely changed…one mo’ ‘gen. The college football universe has been puton notice; building a champion has become top priority for the University of Miami—and with the right coach, the infrastructure, the blank checks and proximity to the nation’s best talent—you have every right to be mad, sad, scared and despaired.

Been a minute since this phrase held any meaning, but it’s a Canes thing—y’all wouldn’t understand.

Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello is a storyteller for some exciting brands and individuals—as well as a guitarist and songwriter for his band Company Jones, who just released their debut album “The Glow”. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.