It's only Year 2 of the Mario Cristobal era for Miami football, yet there are already some lingering questions as to whether this was the right hire. The Hurricanes still have one game left this season in Chestnut Hill against Boston College, where they could finish at best 7-5 (not counting the bowl game) or 6-6.
But would two wins better than last season's 5-6 ease the tension and keep the Hurricanes' head coach off the hot seat heading into Year 3?
Was Mario Cristobal the right hire for Miami football?
All were hailing Cristobal as the savior of sorts when he was hired in Coral Gables. Of course, that's long been a title that no one has been able to carry, as Miami football is now on its fifth head coach since 2007. But, like all the others, Cristobal was supposed to be different in that he was Miami. He grew up there, went to the University of Miami, and had success there.
Well, so did Randy Shannon, the former Miami defensive coordinator turned head coach who took over for Larry Coker in 2007 and was then fired in 2010. At least the excuse you could give Shannon was that it was his first head coaching gig. This is Cristobal's third, with stints at FIU, Oregon, and now The U, his alma mater.
Cristobal has barely over a .500 record as a head coach (73-71) and has now gone 11-12 while at Miami. And what's worse, he's 5-10 in conference play, losing six of those at home. Note that this is all in a very winnable ACC conference that only has four teams currently with eight wins or better. It's also a conference that Miami has never won and only made one appearance in the title game.
Miami football has been far behind other programs for years
However, it also must be considered where this program was before Cristobal arrived. For one, it was without the resources that all the other conventional national title contenders that it used to dominate against now have. It didn't have the upgraded, modern-day technically advanced facilities that spanned from the physical and nutritional to mental progression. The athletic program as a whole lacked any real direction and was simply skimming by with bargain buying that went from the facilities to the coaches.
Miami football has been behind the eight-ball on these programs for the last two decades, where at least there has been a focus on the overhaul of the program, starting with former Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich and even Cristobal. There's, if nothing else, a sense of urgency now. But 20 years is a lot to make up for.
Concerns heading into Year 3 for Mario Cristobal and Miami football after loss to Louisville
What's concerning for Cristobal is that in just Year 2, he's already had to overhaul his coaching staff, starting with both of his coordinators. And while there has been progress, especially defensively, Miami is still just one win better than last season thus far, with two more chances left in the one regular-season game against Boston College followed by a lower-tier bowl game.
So has there been a real change in philosophy? That's the real question. Because what becomes really concerning after that is results, of which there have been few great ones during Cristobal's two years at Miami. You're still seeing a lot of undisciplined football, as Jon Weiner of the Dan Le Betard Show pointed out. You're still seeing close, bad losses due to poor game management.
In Saturday's loss against No. 10 Louisville, Miami had a chance for that of a program-defining win in Year 2 for Cristobal. Yet, some of the same issues persisted, especially toward the end of the game. On a fourth-and-goal at the 3-yard line, Cristobal called his first timeout with only 1:30 left in the game. Cristobal said after seeing Louisville's defense, he wanted to get the best play possible, according to Adam Lichtenstein.
Tyler Van Dyke's pass went incomplete to Jacolby George, turning the ball over on downs. And what's worse, George drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, moving the ball up to the Louisville football 18-yard line. Miami forced the Louisville offense to punt, but it left the Hurricanes with only 29 seconds left to go 75 yards, which was originally 60, but Brashard Smith drew another Miami unsportsmanlike penalty.
This has been the story of Miami football now for too long, but now you have to account for Cristobal's mismanagement of the clock, which has seemed to follow him all the way from Oregon. At least in Saturday's game, it was somewhat reasonable to call the timeout to get the best play call to score, but it also put Miami in a bind at the end. Of course, the crux of this issue, and what fearfully may be the legacy of Cristobal's tenure at Miami, is the Georgia Tech game, where the Hurricanes didn't take a knee to end the game. It was so bad it somehow made most forget the loss to Middle Tennessee State last season.
Oregon football's success has some questioning Mario Cristobal for Miami football
What most fans and pundits will point out now is that of Oregon's success under Dan Lanning, who took over after Cristobal left Eugene. The former Georgia defensive coordinator is 20-4 as a first-time head coach and has the Ducks as the No. 6 team in the country currently, with a legitimate shot at making the College Football Playoff. But would Oregon be in this situation without Cristobal's building of the program?
Cristobal brought in the highest-ranked recruiting class in Oregon history, ranked No. 9 by Rivals in 2020. And then he bested that in 2021 with the third-best in the country. Lanning entered a way more favorable situation at Oregon — who had won double-digit seasons and a Rose Bowl victory under Cristobal — than Cristobal did at Miami. That goes from the roster to the resources and facilities.
Some of that which has transpired at Miami football in Cristobal's two seasons is definitely inexcusable. His clock management will have to improve, along with a consistency in play-calling. But there's also glaring needs from a roster standpoint still, like at quarterback. However, there are much deeper roots that have more or less strangled the Hurricanes' program for decades that may require more time to unearth. That's why Cristobal's seat isn't quite warm just yet.