In hiring Mario Cristobal, Miami finally finished messing around
CHARLOTTE — Consider this a warning. Maybe not a hurricane warning — not yet. But there’s officially a tropical disturbance brewing just off Key Biscayne that is going to be worth monitoring. Rapid development is expected, and hurricane force winds could return in due course.
You can call it an overreaction to early recruiting momentum.
You can say it’s another college football writer whose taken in one too many viewings of Billy Corben’s, “The U.”
You can ask hat after nearly two decades in the college football wilderness, whether it might be time to tap the brakes on any story suggesting Miami is back. Maybe that’s fair.
But here’s what was obvious watching Mario Cristobal at the podium Thursday morning in Charlotte.
Miami is finally finished messing around.
Is Miami back? Not yet. There’s a Bird Road or US 1 South in Coral Gables at-rush-hour-level of traffic to navigate on that journey. But in hiring Cristobal, the Hurricanes are finally serious about getting back to college football’s elite.
How else do you explain the 10-year, $80 million dollar deal that brought Cristobal back home to Miami, where he won 2 national championships as a player and helped “rebuild” the Hurricanes to greatness as a graduate assistant several years later? It wasn’t just the contract for Cristobal either, or the allure of winning at his alma mater. Yes, you pick up the telephone when mama esta al telefono. But Cristobal also got the big contract and the guarantees prior regimes couldn’t get from the Miami administration.
Cristobal’s contract includes massive investments in support staff and facilities upgrades. It also includes a guarantee that the Hurricanes will have the highest assistant coaching salary pool in the ACC (at 9.5 million, about 1 million dollars more than Clemson, if you are scoring at home).
The contract and administrative promises alone represent radical change for a program that, for too much of the last 2 decades, has floundered under the weight of its own expectations and failure to realize the sport has changed. Long gone are the days when Miami can just roll the ball out and win 9-10 games because at least half the best players in the football mecca of Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties will find their way to Coral Gables. Yes, kids still want to stay home when they can. But when the whole college football universe recruits your backyard, and you don’t adapt, you’ll get left behind.
Finally, Miami has made the commitment — and gone out and spent the money on a coach — with that in mind. Look no further than the way Miami left Manny Diaz, whose family is 305 royalty, in late night limbo while they waited to see if Cristobal would accept their offer and come home. You don’t burn a bridge with the Diaz family in Dade County unless you see pots of gold on the other side.
Speaking of pots of gold, Miami’s commitment has brought huge boosters, dormant for over a decade, out of the woodworks. Powerful Miami attorney John Ruiz has injected NIL money in to the mix, picking fights with podcasters on Twitter and daring the NCAA to draw a line somewhere other than the South Beach sand along the way. If you’re all in, I guess you’re all in. Dale!
Cristobal is glad to see the excitement, but hearing him talk and speaking with him Thursday morning was to hear a coach who is all business as he approaches rebuilding Miami into the national power the ACC thought it was getting when it brought the Hurricanes into the conference in 2003. It’s tough to believe a program as proud as Miami hasn’t won a single ACC Championship, but that’s the state of things as Cristobal takes over. He understands that, and is committed to change.
Gone, for example, is the turnover chain, a relic of the Mark Richt era designed to beckon back to the Canes glory days, when “The U” was college football’s glamorous bad boy super villain. When everything the Hurricanes did, from wearing camo fatigues to making rap videos to beating you by 5 touchdowns was done with style and swagger.
“We don’t need the turnover chain,” Cristobal explained Thursday. “It’s not part of our culture. We really just need to focus on getting better as a program. It is not a shot or disrespectful to anyone. Our history is our history. But we are moving in a direction that doesn’t involve that.”
That’s a positive thing.
Gimmicks like the turnover chain generate fan excitement and make for fun sideline television, but it’s winning — something Miami hasn’t done enough over the last 20 years — that builds and sustains swagger. This isn’t the chicken and the egg. Real swagger comes after you build a winning foundation.
Tyler Van Dyke, Cristobal’s excellent quarterback, agreed that it was time to get to work. But he took it a step farther, suggesting fate had intervened to bring Cristobal home.
“Think of how we lost the FSU game,” Van Dyke said Thursday morning. “Fourth and forever. FSU gets a guy over the top. All the sudden, (Manny Diaz) is in trouble and really, that created a monster. Coach Cristobal isn’t here if we win that game. Maybe our university isn’t as invested if we win that game. But fate stepped in.”
Be it fate or frustration, Cristobal is just getting started. That starts with recruiting, and Miami has built immense momentum on the trail, rocketing into the top 10 of the 247 Composite over the past month. 5-star offensive lineman Francis Mauigoa is in the fold, as are 6 highly-coveted 4-stars, including Mauigoa’s IMG teammate Jayden Wayne (DE) and quarterback Jaden Rashada. Even better? Rashada and Mauigoa picked the Hurricanes over bitter in-state rival Florida. For Cristobal, recruiting breeds competition, and that’s what builds swagger and wins championships.
“We want competition,” Cristobal said. “When I was here and we won championships as a player and built it back as an assistant, our practices were knock-down, drag-out, championship fights. It was like game day on Tuesday. That’s what you want. We want to attract the kind of players who are attracted to that.”
So far, so good. And Cristobal said the Canes are just revving up to what they are capable of as a recruiting operation.
“We’ll finish this year strong (recruiting) but it isn’t just this year,” Cristobal said. “We’re just getting started. We’ll get elite players here because they know what Miami is when Miami is right. Especially local kids. They might not remember the championships and the wins and the fun, but they have an uncle who does. Or a coach. Or their mom and dad. We take those stories and sell them on the commitment of this university, the investment in facilities, a great city in Coral Gables within a greater city in Miami. The NFL is nearby. NIL is rolling. There’s a lot of juice right now. A lot of juice.”
You almost want to run through a wall just listening to Cristobal. And it’s the middle of July.
Still, it’s about work, according to Van Dyke, the sophomore who took over for the injured D’Eriq King after Miami’s brutal start to the 2021 season and ended up throwing for 2,931 yards and 25 touchdowns against just 6 interceptions. It was easily the most impressive debut season for a Hurricanes quarterback since Ken Dorsey.
“It’s time to get to work,” Van Dyke said. “We have a great new scheme under Josh Gattis, tremendous talent at tight end and running back, a good offensive line. We can’t wait to get started. We just need to focus on us.”
A quarterback that walks and talks like a leader, a big influx of cash, rapid recruiting momentum, and a head coach relentlessly working to build something back home, where it matters most. That sounds like the perfect storm. Like a hurricane.