A young Alabama Crimson Tide assistant is primed to be college football’s next hot head coaching candidate, but it’s not defensive coordinator Kirby Smart. This assistant has FBS head coaching experience, but it’s not offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.
Offensive line coach Mario Cristobal will be the next It Name, circulated in association with plenty of high-profile openings when the coaching carousel begins turning anew next fall.
Cristobal became an integral cog in the Alabama recruiting machine in 2013, shortly after his perplexing firing from Florida International University. The Crimson Tide have powered along with one of the best offensive lines in college football in Cristobal’s time in Tuscaloosa, and Alabama continues to lead the nation in recruiting with the coach as one of the primary pitchmen.
To wit, 4-star junior college transfer Charles Baldwin committed to Alabama over the weekend, specifically citing Cristobal, per 247Sports.
“I really like offensive line coach Mario Cristobal,” Baldwin said. “I think he can get me to the next level.”
Those unfamiliar with Cristobal’s track record might ask what makes a coach fired from a then-Sun Belt, now Conference USA program is suited to be a high-level coaching candidate. But Cristobal’s unceremonious dismissal came just two years after he led FIU to a second consecutive bowl game, and the only two bowls in the program’s history.
Cristobal also won a share of the Sun Belt Conference championship in 2010, just four years after FIU was only recognized as that team that brawled with Miami.
That FIU athletic director Pete Garcia made such a head-scratching move is not necessarily a surprise. After all, this is the same Pete Garcia who hired scandal-and-failure-plagued Isiah Thomas to coach the Panthers basketball team, and the same Pete Garcia who banned the only daily newspaper reporter on the beat of a football team starved for attention.
Garcia reversed the ban shortly thereafter, but not before an avalanche of negative press that overshadowed an otherwise decent season.
No, Cristobal being fired in the wake of one losing season isn’t necessarily surprising, given the circumstances. That some other program failed to make him its head coach is, however. It’s even more baffling that Cristobal is heading into his third season as an assistant to Nick Saban.
Don’t expect Cristobal to remain on the Alabama coaching staff much longer, however.
Florida Atlantic University missed a real opportunity to tweak rival FIU when it hired Charlie Partridge to replace embattled Carl Pelini. In Cristobal, the Owls could have had a coach intimately familiar with the local recruiting landscape.
A return to the Miami area isn’t out of the question, however. Should the University of Miami and Al Golden ways part ways at season’s end, Cristobal is the first person athletic director Blake James should call.
A former Hurricane, Cristobal understands the attitude inherent with playing for The U — something that has been a routine gripe of Golden’s more ardent critics. Combined with his chops recruiting South Florida, Cristobal has the background Miami fans want in a head coach.
But if the Miami job doesn’t come open, you can still anticipate Cristobal’s name generating buzz. He’s a natural fit for any program looking to establish a recruiting pipeline into the Miami area specifically, and Florida in general.
Given the depth of talent in the Sunshine State, that’s essentially every team east of the Mississippi — and plenty west of it, as well.
Cristobal is a proven commodity, and now a branch on the Saban tree. It’s only a matter of time before he’s back as a head coach.