The timing couldn’t be worse.
As Oregon prepares to face Michigan State in the RedBox Bowl on New Year’s Eve, the biggest battle the Ducks are facing is lurking 3,000 miles away.
When Mark Richt, the head coach at the University of Miami, suddenly announced his retirement from coaching on Sunday morning, the rumor mill began to churn faster than Oregon’s offense executes. The irony stems from the fact that the man at the head of the Ducks’ offense is also the expected front-runner to land the head gig at Miami —head coach (and Miami graduate) Mario Cristobal.
Cristobal has led the Ducks to an 8-4 record in his first season at the helm, helping drag Oregon from the underbelly of the Pac-12 to a title contender in one year. While he’s proven to be a valuable coach who makes halftime adjustments (a big deal in college football), Cristobal has received the most praise for his recruiting prowess.
After getting the Oregon job last year, he helped keep together the Ducks’ incoming recruiting class, finishing No. 13 in the nation. With a year under his belt and stability in his contract, Cristobal and his staff really showed off by getting the nation’s No. 5 class this year, the highest Oregon has ever achieved.
Adding to his haul was the commitment of Kayvon Thibodeaux, the nation’s No. 1 player. Cristobal beat out recruiting blue blood Alabama for Thibodeaux’s commitment, proving that Oregon is much closer to being a national powerhouse than expected.
In his opening press conference after being named Oregon head coach last year, Cristobal was adamant that Eugene was the place for him.
"We felt all in with Oregon after being here just a short amount of time — we want to be here until you got to drag me away kicking and screaming,” Cristobal said, referring to his family (wife Jessica and two sons).
“In talking with Rob (Mullens), I wanted it to be known, wanted it to be put in writing, whatever had to be done so there is no chatter, there is no, ‘Hey, we’ve seen something like this.’”
Even the players vouched for Cristobal, signing a petition that was delivered to Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens.
"It is true that many of our team members supported his hiring, but that would be an easy excuse to hire Mario," Mullens said a year ago. "I would not be doing my job, acting in the best interests of this university and our football team, if I hired a new coach based on emotion or familiarity — that is exactly why I am confident of this decision because it's so much more than that."
"We went from extremely sad and disappointed just a few days ago to really excited and we're looking forward to the future," Oregon center Jake Hanson added last year. "It's weird, but it's really the best possible situation."
With the support of the community, the players themselves and a happy home for his family, Cristobal appeared to be in the perfect situation. Given the incoming recruiting class and the return of star quarterback Justin Herbert among potentially 18 of 22 starters to next season, the Ducks and Cristobal seem primed to take the next step forward to national prominence.
But at the end of the day, the opening at Miami is a dream job for Cristobal. Not only did he win two national championships as an offensive lineman with the Hurricanes, Cristobal was raised in Miami, where he attended Christopher Columbus High School.
For all intent purposes, Miami is home and the job opening is one he should strongly consider. It’s not what Duck fans want to hear, potentially going on their fourth head coach in four years. But this decision isn’t about them — it’s about a coach being a coach and making a decision that’s best for him and his family.
Numerous media outlets have said that Cristobal is a top candidate, with CBS’s Dennis Dodd even saying that “Miami is Cristobal’s to turn down.”
But, if that were to happen, the buyout for Cristobal is $10 million if he were to leave by January 31, 2019 — it drops $2 million if he is to leave after the 31st.
The media will get the opportunity to talk with Cristobal following the bowl game, where he will undoubtedly be asked about the position. Cristobal has been a man of his word, never hiding or shying away from the truth — there’s no reason to expect anything different.