‘All in is all in’: Mario Cristobal returns home determined to return Miami to national prominence

Head coach Mario Cristobal holds up a Miami jersey as he is introduced by University President Julio Frenk at the Carol Soffer Indoor Practice Facility on Tuesday, Dec. 7.
Head coach Mario Cristobal holds up a Miami jersey as he is introduced by University President Julio Frenk at the Carol Soffer Indoor Practice Facility on Tuesday, Dec. 7. Photo credit: Josh Halper

It almost didn’t feel like a head coach’s introductory press conference.

Rather, hundreds gathered in what resembled more of a family gathering — a reunion long overdue.

University of Miami President Julio Frenk flashed a grand smile, as he stood at a palm-adorned podium and introduced football head coach Mario Cristobal, a former offensive tackle and two-time national champion at Miami, inside the school’s Carol Soffer Indoor Practice Facility Tuesday morning.

“This is incredible. It’s just the beginning. I’d like to thank President Frenk, of course, and all the people involved in this commitment to make this a reality for my family, for myself and for our program,” said Cristobal, who accepted a 10-year, $80 million contract Monday.

Cristobal, along with his wife, Jessica, and two sons, Mario Mateo and Rocco, arrived in Coral Gables, the home to their many close family members, to a captivating atmosphere the two-time UM alumnus had become all too familiar with during some of Miami football’s most storied moments.

The weight of Cristobal’s expected presence to dynamically reconstruct Miami football’s fabric became apparent the moment he stepped up to greet all in attendance. Those seated inside the spacious $40 million facility weren’t seated for long. A rumbling applause accompanied a standing ovation for the 26th head coach in Hurricanes history, while a collective buzz gripped the air.

“My God, what an honor … As my family’s here, my brother, his wife, my nephews, my goddaughter, everybody’s here,” Cristobal said. “I’m 51 years old, and yet as I walked through this morning, the things that come back to mind as if it was just yesterday, it’s incredible … It’s that strong of an impression that [the experience] never leaves you.”

Even as Cristobal and his championship teammates endured national title journeys through the midst of UM’s predominance, a homecoming ceremony holds as only a fraction of a new era in Hurricanes football. Far greater resources now rest on university grounds, and the program’s culture, in the eyes of many, needs refreshing from someone visioned to rally the five-time national champions back to the promise land.

“As we talk about building a championship program, as we talk about taking things and elevating the standard to elite levels, it all starts with work,” Cristobal said. “It’s about the time invested because without that, it’s not real. And it’s time to go to work. We want to make sure that the program here is always the program that you can be proud of, for the right reasons. A program of relentless competitors. Always, always a team that nobody wants to play. That’s what we want to be … We’ve got to speak it into existence. We’ve got to work that into reality.”

The impact from his initial tenure has yet to be forgotten. Cristobal, a recent Rose Bowl champion with a near-pinnacled Oregon team of the Pac-12, now begins to forge a new one through a similar mode: relationships.

“It meant the world to me to be able to go upstairs and share a few moments, and most importantly, to let them know that for this thing to work, I’ve got to get to know them,” Cristobal said. “The best way to respect someone is to get to know them, and the only way to get to know someone is by investing time in them. We’re going to spend a lot of time together. We’re going to work together and we’re going to hold each other accountable, because that’s what it takes. Without that, there’s no foundation.”

Miami, which will finish its fourth consecutive season without collecting more than eight wins or a return to a New Year’s Six bowl, has received criticism from experts across the college football landscape for not boasting the consistent, relentless culture it once gained endless credibility for decades ago. A rocky 0-2 start in the Atlantic Coast Conference culminated into a boiling point when concerning how that culture could exhibit added signs of progress, ahead of trying to rescue another campaign from spiraling under lofty expectations.

Yet ahead of gained prominence with the Oregon football team, Cristobal knew that taking the easier route was by no means to achieve goals in even a city like Miami. Still, almost 30 years after winning a second title, it’s evident his mentality begins with disciplined people, those who battled on the offensive line alongside him and his now new-look staff on the sidelines, for the Hurricanes to deliver consistent results in the grandest stages of college football, in addition to the classroom and the community.

“Home is home, and this home is special,” Cristobal said. “It’s the most culturally diverse, vibrant, energized destination in the entire world. The location is awesome, right? It’s always what they tell you in the [classroom] in business management: location, location, location. But there should be a line underneath that says the people, the people, the people … Once you’re a part of the community down here, you’re a part of it forever.”

Cristobal believes he is as much a part of the Miami family as it is to his loved ones. That concept is not mutually exclusive from promoting the demanding and accountable environment that once served as “a game-changer” in his younger life.

“All in is all in, there’s no in-between. There’s nothing, and that’s what’s it’s going to take from all of us,” Cristobal said. “I hope you’re excited. I hope that you truly are feeling like the season’s starting again because it’s go-time, and there’s never a time to stop.”