At Oregon, Cristobal had the ‘Starship Enterprise.’ Now he’s trusting Miami will keep up

·4 min read

Mario Cristobal has been on the front lines of college football excess, seen facilities he likened to the “Taj Mahal” and “Starship Enterprise,” and learned what those kinds of investments and amenities can bring.

Maybe this Taj Mahal is in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where the Alabama Crimson Tide rules all and spends more than $2 million a year on recruiting, and $30 million on administrative and support staff pay to rack up national championships on a near-annual basis. Perhaps the Starship Enterprise is in Eugene, Oregon, where Phil Knight has donated more than $1 billion to the Oregon Ducks’ athletic department and helped turn his alma mater into the class of the Pac-12 Conference.

With his decision to come coach the Miami Hurricanes, Cristobal is leaving it all to operate something more Millennium Falcon than Starship Enterprise. As nice a facility as the Carol Soffer Indoor Practice Facility is, its roughly $40 million price tag still pales in comparison to the hundreds of thousands other schools have put into theirs.

“Just look at the people sitting in the audience now,” Cristobal said at his introductory news conference inside the Indoor Practice Facility, “and look at what they accomplished here when the resources had not even hit this level yet.”

The key word is his last one: “Yet.”

Done deal: Mario Cristobal to be Miami’s next head football coach

Cristobal’s arrival signals a shift. Miami (7-5) is finally ready to spend big on football in the way most of their alleged peers do.

Cristobal — and his 10-year, $80 million contract — are walking proof. His contract rivals the one he was offered by Knight and Oregon, The Oregonian reported, but he also needed to see a deeper commitment to winning from the Hurricanes to leave the Ducks. In modern college football, this directly translates to money.

“That was one of the critical pieces, to be honest with you,” Cristobal said when asked about the university’s increased investment of “resources.” “Football has changed so much and it continues to change.”

At Miami, this investment won’t mean a locker room to rival Oregon’s or a fancy new on-campus stadium for the Hurricanes.

At Miami, it will be about “investing in people” for Cristobal to put around the program, he said.

“The massive investment in making sure that these student-athletes have the best chance for success — it was a huge, overriding factor, and I learned that when I had a chance to go away, work at some different spots,” Cristobal said. “It was mind-blowing — it really was — and I’m excited to dig into that.”

Cristobal will have a large budget to hire assistant coaches, sources told the Miami Herald, and it will let him continue to beef up the recruiting department and cache of analysts. Former coach Manny Diaz started things in the right direction with a staff including six quality control analysts and four non-position coaches with “recruiting” in their title, and Cristobal will want to add more. With the Ducks, Cristobal’s staff also included multiple people with a focus on sports science to go along with a big group of recruiting personnel, and multiple strength and conditioning coaches.

Cristobal also mentioned the importance of sports psychologists, a nutrition staff and academic advisors, and the ability to bring in speakers and NFL coaches for visits. It all requires money, and Cristobal wouldn’t be back in Coral Gables if he didn’t believe his alma mater was actually going to pony up.

Cristobal won two national championships with the Hurricanes back when they could win as the scrappy private school underdog, practicing on a strip of grass at Greentree Practice Fields and trusting their local talent to will them past bigger public schools. He knows why it worked then, which means he also knows why it isn’t working now.

“We’re in a new era of college football,” he said, “where investment of resources reigns supreme.”

With those resources, he will try to assemble an elite coaching staff and turn Miami back into a recruiting powerhouse.

He will have difficult decisions to make in the coming weeks. He said he will meet with all the current assistant coaches as he tries to put together a staff, although he didn’t tip his hand about whom he might keep.

Assistant coaches were scheduled to go back out on the road Tuesday, even though they were uncertain about their futures following initial meetings with Cristobal. Offensive line coach Alex Mirabal is, so far, the only Oregon position coach definitely expected to follow Cristobal to South Florida, reported. As for what he’s looking for, Cristobal was vague, saying he wants the Hurricanes to be “multiple on both sides of the ball and very aggressive.”

His staff will probably never look like Alabama’s, which currently features two former NFL head coaches as assistants, but he will be able to make it bigger and better than Diaz or any of his other predecessors ever could. At Miami, it might just be enough.

After all: With the right pilot, the Millennium Falcon did take down a Death Star.

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