For Mario Cristobal, the road has always led back to Miami.
Once again, he’s coming home.
Cristobal is leaving Oregon and returning to Miami, accepting an offer to become the 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 the other part of the move, that being Miami announcing the firing of coach Manny Diaz after three seasons.
“We appreciate all of Mario’s accomplishments and hard work here at Oregon, and we wish him and his family all the best in their next chapter,” Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens said.
Diaz was hired 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.
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 played at Miami, was part of the 1989 and 1991 title-winning teams and returned to start his coaching career as a graduate assistant for the Hurricanes 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 — winning two Pac-12 titles and leading the Ducks to the title game this season as well.
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.
But Diaz kept working, even in recent days while the school was trying to pry Cristobal out of Oregon. Firing Diaz, though, suggested Miami was secure in the belief that Cristobal is coming. “An announcement regarding new leadership for the football program will be forthcoming,” the university said in the news release where it revealed that school president Julio Frenk had fired Diaz.
Miami will play Washington State in the Sun Bowl later this month. It’s unknown who will be the interim coach for that game.
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.
“We are grateful to Coach Diaz for his many contributions to our campus community and to his native South Florida, and for the strong leadership and exemplary character he exhibited during his tenure at the University,” Frenk said. “We wish him and his family the very best as they move forward.”
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.