Mario Cristobal is a Miami Hurricane once again.
Cristobal, who was dismissed as Florida International University’s coach on Dec. 5, is joining Al Golden’s staff as associate head coach and tight ends coach. He is expected to be introduced at a news conference Friday.
The hiring marks a homecoming for Cristobal, a Miami native. He won two national championships as a UM offensive tackle from 1988-92 and later served as a graduate assistant, a tight ends coach and an offensive line coach for the Hurricanes.
“I’m so fired up that he’s back,” said Jason Fox, a former UM offensive lineman who now plays for the NFL’s Detroit Lions. “He’s played there. He’s coached there. He knows the ins and outs of that program. As far as coaches go, there’s not a lot better than coach Cristobal.”
Cristobal, 42, fills the vacancy on Al Golden’s staff that was created last month when receivers coach George McDonald left to take a job at the University of Arkansas. Brennan Carroll, who worked with the Hurricanes’ tight ends the past two seasons, will replace McDonald as the team’s receivers coach, UM announced Thursday. Carroll will also take on a “larger role in the passing game,” according to a university release.
It’s unknown how Cristobal’s hiring will affect defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio, who has the title of assistant head coach among his responsibilities. UM’s defense is coming off its worst statistical performance in school history.
Almost as soon as the hiring was announced, speculation on social media raised the question over whether Cristobal was being brought on-board as a coach-in-waiting. Golden, whose contract at Miami runs through the 2019 football season, has repeatedly said he intends to stay at UM, but that hasn’t stopped other schools from approaching the coach. Golden was reportedly a top target for Wisconsin after the departure of Bret Bilema, but he declined to pursue the job.
Cristobal is viewed in college football circles as a top recruiter who can immediately help the Hurricanes in that area.
“He got me so fired up about Miami, that was the only place I wanted to go,” said Fox, who signed with UM in 2006 from his home in Fort Worth, Texas. “He’s a heck of a recruiter. He recruits tough guys. He knows how to find them and he’s going to bring them to the university.”
Cristobal has strong roots in South Florida and those ties kept him from leaving the area for other job opportunities in the past. After the 2011 season, Cristobal was reportedly offered jobs at Rutgers and Pittsburgh but chose to remain at FIU.
After the 2005 season, Cristobal had a chance to join the New York Jets’ staff before opting to stay at UM.
“He decided to stay with us instead of going to the NFL,” said Derrick Morse, an honorable mention All-ACC guard under Cristobal in 2006. “I never forget him coming into the O-line room and saying, ‘Monday Night Football playing against the New York Giants? Eh, whatever. But a Saturday afternoon Miami-Florida State game? I want to put my hand through the wall.’ When he said that, you could just feel the passion the guy has for the school.”
Cristobal coached at FIU from 2007-2012. He led the Panthers to two bowl games and a Sun Belt Conference championship in 2010, when he was also named the conference’s coach of the year.
FIU was picked to win the Sun Belt in 2012, but the Panthers finished 3-9.
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com