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Miami in deep negotiations with Oregon coach Mario Cristobal

·6 min read

Mario Cristobal is closer to coming home.

Sources say Oregon coach and former Hurricane Cristobal and the University of Miami have worked out the final details of a contract that could be worth in excess of $8 million a year.

A UM official said Sunday evening that everything in the contract has been agreed to and the Hurricanes expect Cristobal to be their next coach, but that it will not be certain until he signs the contract. According to a source, Cristobal wants to inform his players before a decision is leaked publicly. An announcement from UM is expected in the coming days.

The Oregonian reported, citing sources, that Cristobal flew back to Eugene from a recruiting visit on Sunday night and canceled recruiting visits in California for Monday.

Cristobal would be Miami’s 26th head football coach and would replace Manny Diaz, whose status has not yet been addressed publicly by the school.

Both coaches accepted bowl bids on Sunday — Diaz to the Sun Bowl and Cristobal to the Alamo Bowl. Cristobal appeared on a video conference at 5 p.m. to accept the bid. He made a few statements about the bowl, but did not address the Miami job and was not asked any questions about it by the moderator. Diaz canceled a recruiting trip on Sunday, according to CaneSport.

Cristobal, 51, known for his unbridled energy, intense work ethic and exceptional recruiting skills, has been the Oregon Ducks coach for four seasons. He won the Pac-12 championship in 2019 and 2020 before losing 38-10 to Utah Friday night in the Pac-12 title game.

A large contingent of Miami fans on social media have been mercilessly criticizing Diaz for not bringing the 7-5 UM out of its longtime mediocrity and were desperate for UM to hire Cristobal. They will no doubt revel in the news.

Cristobal was eager to get back to South Florida for reasons beyond just returning to his alma mater. His mother Clara, with whom he is extremely close, has been very ill. He flew across the country last weekend to visit her before returning to Eugene.

Cristobal’s overall record as head coach at Oregon: 35-13, including 10-3 this season. Before Oregon (where he also served as co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach in 2017), he spent four years (2013-16) being groomed at Alabama under Nick Saban as the assistant head coach, offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator. He got his first head-coaching job at FIU (2007-12), where he became the first Cuban-American head coach in major college football.

Cristobal was an offensive tackle at UM from 1988 through 1992 under Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson and won two national titles. He coached at UM as a graduate assistant from 1998 through 2000, then as an assistant from 2004 through ‘06.

He replaced former Oregon coach Willie Taggart as head coach when Taggart left the Ducks for Florida State before the 2017 bowl game.

High-ranking Hurricanes officials were optimistic about UM’s chances of landing Cristobal, despite Oregon booster/Nike founder Phil Knight being expected to extend him an offer difficult to refuse during recent days in which coaching contracts have increased to obscene amounts of money.

Sources familiar with the negotiations said money would not be an issue in landing Cristobal, who in December 2020 signed a six-year, $27.3 million contract that pays him an average of $4.45 million annually. His buyout is $9 million through Jan. 14, 2022.. Among the UM donors with deep pockets and interest in the athletic department are brothers Jose and Jorge Mas, owners of Mas Tec, a $6.6 billion infrastructure contractor. The Mas brothers are co-owners of David Beckham’s Inter Miami MLS team and are close with Cristobal through their Miami Columbus High connection.

Auto magnate Manuel Kadre, Vice Chair of the UM Board of Trustees and a member of the UHealth Board of Directors, has been involved in the interview process. Another donor believed to be getting more involved in athletics is billionaire John H. Ruiz, an attorney and entrepreneur whose Medicare litigation firm MSP Recovery last summer was valued at $32 billion.

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UM understood that it would need to pay Cristobal more than it has paid any coach in its history — and was prepared to do so.

After the game Friday night, the first question Cristobal faced was about his future. Asked if he plans to sign a contract extension with Oregon or accept the UM job, if offered, he replied: “I haven’t talked to anyone. Let’s not create narratives. Oregon is working on some stuff for me and that’s what I have right now. That’s the extent of that conversation.

“If there is anything to report, I’ll report it. I always have. Every year, we have people come for our staff, including myself. How the media treats it, I have no control over...Do I expect people to come at me? Yeah, I do. There’s nothing else to report. If there ever is, I’ll make sure to get it to you as fast as I can.”

It has been known for a long time that Cristobal was the major target by at least some of the big-time UM decision-makers who have been pushing hard for him.

A standout lineman at Christopher Columbus High School, Cristobal graduated from Miami in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and later earned a master’s degree from Miami in 2001. Following his college career, Cristobal signed a free agent contract with the Denver Broncos in 1994 and then played for the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe in 1995 and 1996.

Cristobal and his wife Jessica were married in 2006 and have two sons, Mario Mateo and Rocco.

Meanwhile, UM remains in negotiations with Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich to take the same job at Miami. A UM official said before any deal is reached with Radakovich, the school would like him to meet with Cristobal if he takes the UM job, as the Canes expect. That meeting would be after Cristobal takes the UM job.

Radakovich, 63, earned his MBA from the University of Miami and started his career in the Hurricanes athletic department as a business manager from 1983-85.

He is a highly respected athletic director at a football powerhouse that has won three football national titles, including in 2016 and 2018. He reportedly made $1.3 million at Clemson this year, but could get a huge raise to come to UM. His buyout is believed to be $150,000. Sports Illustrated is reporting UM “has reached out to several high-level Power 5 ADs with contract offers that would make them the highest paid in the industry ($3M+ a year).’’

If he is named, Radakovich would replace Blake James, who was dismissed Nov. 15. Sources said there were at least three other athletic directors on UM’s short list, including New Mexico’s Eddie Nunez, a Miami native.

Radakovich joined Clemson in 2012 after six years at Georgia Tech. The Clemson athletic department increased revenue from $69 million in 2014 to $120 million in 2019. During his tenure, Clemson spent $180 million on facility improvements. Radakovich served on the College Football Playoff selection committee after 30 years of college football experience as an athletic director and former football player. He played tight end and punter at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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