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Coach Profile: Mario Cristobal

Cedric Mason- Touchdown Alabama Magazine

Alabama fans are still rejoicing in the fact that they landed highly touted Class of 2017 receiver Jerry Jeudy.

And they should be excited. Jeudy has been dubbed a “once in a lifetime talent.”

Crimson Tide fans need to extend their thanks to one man, a South Florida native who helped finalize the Jeudy recruitment. Let’s say it loud Bama fans: Thank you, Mario Cristobal.

Coach Cristobal has quickly grown into one of the most respected figures in the recruiting world. The Jeudy commitment helped land him and coach Tosh Lupoi at the top of the recruiter rankings list.

Cristobal has used his Florida roots to land the commitments of five-star offensive tackle, Alex Leatherwood, and four-star outside linebacker VanDarius Cowan (both are Florida natives).  Amongst other recruiters, Cristobal’s knowledge of the Miami and South Florida area is almost unparalleled.

He grew up in Miami, in a tight knit Cuban family. He embraced his culture, and shined. He starred at Christopher Columbus High School in the city, and continued his playing career at The University of Miami, or as it’s simply called, “The U”. At “The U”, Cristobal thrived. He was a four year letterman, and part of the Hurricanes 1989 and 1991 national championship teams. He also earned the distinction of First-Team All-Big East, for his play at offensive tackle.

Cristobal bounced around for a year in the NFL, followed by a short stint in NFL Europe. Cristobal began coaching as a graduate assistant at Miami in 1998. He remained in the same position for two years. He coached tight ends and offensive line at Rutgers under former Scarlet Knights coach – and Hurricanes defensive coordinator – Greg Schiano.

In December of 2006, Cristobal was named head coach of the FIU Golden Panthers. He returned to Miami, this time in a role that had a bigger purpose than the previous ones he served in. He became the first Cuban-American head coach in Division I football. It was a proud moment for Cristobal, his family and the Cuban-American community that is the backbone of Miami.

During his first season at FIU, the Golden Panthers lost their first 11 games. It didn’t deter Cristobal and his staff. He knew that he had his work cut out for him when he accepted the role. He won five games the next season, and three after that. He started to build his reputation as a recruiter at FIU.

In 2010, Cristobal and his team did the impossible, and won the Sun-Belt Conference, after many predicted them to finish no higher than sixth place. They capped that 7-6 season with a win in the Little Caesar’s Bowl over Toledo. FIU improved to 8-5 in 2011, but lost to Marshall in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl.

After 2012, FIU parted ways with Cristobal. Officials from the athletic department cited that he did well during his time with the team, but the team seemed to have trended backwards. Many criticized the athletic department for the firing.

Cristobal showed his resilience by landing a job as a tight end and offensive line coach at his alma mater. Six weeks passed by in Coral Gables, and Cristobal was offered a chance to come be the offensive line coach at Alabama. Cristobal admitted to Michael Casagrande in a 2015 interview that he was bit nervous when Saban contacted him.

“I have to be honest, I was a little nervous. It felt like game day when I got a call from Coach Saban with a potential opportunity. The best way I tell people is it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen and like nothing I’ve ever imagined.”

And the success he’s had at Alabama has been like nothing he’s ever imagined. A national championship ring, stellar recruiting classes and an offensive line who won the inaugural Joe Moore Award, have all been the product of his hard work.

What’s next for Cristobal? He certainly has nothing to prove. His resumé speaks for itself. Perhaps his next step is to one day be back at a program as a head coach, where he can take the lessons he’s learned in Tuscaloosa and take another team to the promise land. Until then, he’s yours Alabama fans, and you should be more than happy about that.

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