CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — Mario Cristobal is going home.
Cristobal is leaving Oregon and returning to Miami, accepting an offer to become head coach at his alma mater, where he won two national championships as a player. He let the Ducks know of the decision Monday, his team meeting in Oregon nearly simultaneous to Miami announcing the firing of coach Manny Diaz after three seasons.
“My family and I are excited to return home to the University of Miami,” Cristobal said.
Diaz was hired by Miami in 2018 on the same day that Mark Richt stepped down; this time, the football vacancy was even shorter, since Miami wasn’t firing Diaz without a commitment from Cristobal to come aboard.
The Cristobal hire is one of two major signings Miami has pursued in recent days. A person with knowledge of the school’s plans told The Associated Press that Miami expects to complete the hiring of Dan Radakovich as athletic director this week. Radakovich has been athletic director at Clemson but started his career in sports administration 40 years ago at Miami, where he got one of his degrees.
Cristobal was 35-13 at Oregon, with two Pac-12 titles and a Rose Bowl victory on his resume. He and Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens were in constant contact throughout the weekend, and Cristobal gave him the final decision early Monday.
“The University of Miami made it clear — I won’t comment on the ways — that Mario was a person of interest,” Mullens said. “Obviously, we’ve been well aware of it. … That’s the alma mater and that’s home.”
Cristobal played at Miami, was part of the 1989 and 1991 title-winning teams and returned to the Hurricanes to start his coaching career as a graduate assistant under Butch Davis in 1998.
He left to spend three seasons at Rutgers, then returned to Miami from 2004 through 2006. He wanted to be a candidate for the top job when the Hurricanes fired Larry Coker but instead was hired as coach at FIU and spent six seasons there.
A four-season stint as an Alabama assistant followed, and then Cristobal spent four years as head coach in Oregon.
But the lure of home was just too strong. So the Miami native is returning again.
It comes after Diaz was fired following a 7-5 regular season and going 21-15 in three seasons at Miami. His job security had been in question for some time, and speculation ramped up three weeks ago when the Hurricanes dismissed athletic director Blake James — one of the people who hired Diaz in 2018.
Firing Diaz, though, suggested Miami was certain in the belief that Cristobal is coming. Mullens said Oregon and Cristobal had reached an agreement on terms of a new deal, but he “knew that he was going to consider that Miami offer as well.”
Miami will play Washington State in the Sun Bowl later this month. It’s unknown who will be the interim coach for that game. Oregon also is waiting before naming an interim coach for its Alamo Bowl game against Oklahoma; Mullens said it depends in part on which coaches follow Cristobal to Miami.
Diaz was criticized by an impatient Miami fan base for some bad losses, such as a 2019 defeat to FIU and the bowl loss later that season to Louisiana Tech. The Hurricanes started 2-4 this season, one of those defeats coming to Virginia when Miami missed a short field goal that would have won the game as time expired.
But Diaz’s fate may have been sealed with a 31-28 loss to Florida State last month, a game where the Hurricanes let the Seminoles take the lead in the final seconds on a drive where they couldn’t get a stop on a fourth-and-14 play.
Miami went 5-1 in Diaz’s final six games. And with the exception of Notre Dame’s one-year appearance as a conference member, Diaz guided Miami to the second-best record in Atlantic Coast Conference games in his three seasons. The Hurricanes were 16-9 against league opponents in that span, behind only Clemson.
The recruits Diaz landed in the last two years proved to be among Miami’s best players in 2021. Miami was the lone ACC team to beat conference champion Pitt this season and after the regular-season finale, many players took to social media to post support for Diaz.
Diaz’s firing continues what is now an 18-year cycle of impatience at Miami, starting with the season in which the Hurricanes joined the ACC. That was 2004, and the Hurricanes are still waiting for their first conference championship.
Coker — the last coach to bring the Hurricanes a national title in 2001 — was fired despite going 53-9 in his first five seasons, then managing only a 6-6 mark in his sixth and final regular season with the Hurricanes.
Randy Shannon was 28-22 in the next four seasons. Al Golden — who didn’t know he was inheriting a program that was about to get hammered by NCAA sanctions thanks in large part to the actions of rogue former booster who went to prison for masterminding a Ponzi scheme — went 32-25. Richt went 26-13 in three seasons, then retired with five years left on his contract amid constant complaints from fans that son Jon shouldn’t have been coaching Miami’s quarterbacks.
Diaz now joins that list. And Cristobal becomes the next person tasked with getting Miami back atop college football.
“I can’t wait to compete for championships,” Cristobal said.