Home Run Hires

Mario Cristobal, University of Miami's 26th head football coach

Home Run Hires

Home runs have very little to do with the employment process. But in the case of the University of Miami’s hiring of Mario Cristobal as its 26th head football coach and Dan Radakovich as vice president and director of athletics, the phrase—arguably the most familiar in baseball vernacular—couldn’t be more appropriate.
Home runs have very little to do with the employment process. But in the case of the University of Miami’s hiring of Mario Cristobal as its 26th head football coach and Dan Radakovich as vice president and director of athletics, the phrase—arguably the most familiar in baseball vernacular—couldn’t be more appropriate.

AT LEAST, THAT’S HOW RUDY FERNANDEZ, THE UNIVERSITY’S EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT FOR EXTERNAL AFFAIRS AND STRATEGIC INITIATIVES AND CHIEF OF STAFF TO PRESIDENT JULIO FRENK, PUTS IT. “In both cases, we swung for the fences and ended up hitting back-to-back home runs,” says Fernandez, who, along with University CEO Joe Echevarria, B.B.A. ’78, helped guide the process to bring Cristobal and Radakovich back to Miami.

The two hires, announced only days apart in early December 2021, have been hailed by many as being transformational for University of Miami Athletics. “A commitment to our student-athletes to provide them with a great education and an opportunity to develop their special talent to the very best of their ability, a recognition of the impact our sports teams have on the University’s brand, and an understanding of how football is so vitally important to the long-term sustainability of our athletics program were all deciding factors in bringing Mario and Dan here. And each of those three principles will be greatly impacted by their presence,” Fernandez explains.

In this issue: We profile Cristobal and Radakovich, both University graduates, who have arrived at what could be the most critical period in Miami athletics history.


Mario Cristobal


Mario Cristobal, B.B.A. ’93, M.A.L.S. ’99, never needed a playbook to learn tenacity or the value of hard work.

Long before he ever strapped on shoulder pads for the Miami Hurricanes, he embraced such qualities just by watching his Cuban-born mother and father, who were working two jobs to put food on the table, attending night school to learn English, and studying American history and government to become citizens of the United States.

“Being removed from their homeland and their families, not knowing the language, having to start from scratch in another country—they faced it all. And all they did was just buckle up, grind, go to work, and make absolutely zero excuses,” Cristobal recalls of his late parents. “They held themselves to the highest of standards, then demanded nothing short of excellence from us,” he says.

The ’Canes faithful are hoping Cristobal, who won two national championships as a starting offensive lineman for the Miami Hurricanes, can impart some of that no-excuses ethos on a program that has been mired in mediocrity for most of the past two decades. When he was introduced as Miami’s 26th head football coach last December, expectations for the program soared— and for good reason. With two Pac-12 championships, a Rose Bowl victory, and top-10 picks in three straight NFL Drafts under his belt during a four-year stint as head coach of the Oregon Ducks, Cristobal brings a high-powered resume to Miami, one that also includes time spent under the coaching tutelage of Alabama’s Nick Saban.

So far, Cristobal hasn’t disappointed. Almost immediately he gave fans a glimpse of just how hard he will work, hitting the recruiting circuit with only eight days left until early signing day and salvaging a 2022 class that’s now been ranked 15th in the nation and third in the Atlantic Coast Conference by 247Sports.

“Mario’s the best recruiter in the country,” says Fernandez. “He was recruiting talented student-athletes to Oregon, and there are no direct flights to Eugene. It’s a beautiful part of the country, but it’s hard to get to.”

“We envisioned what Mario could do if he were here in South Florida, which is a hotbed for college football talent,” Fernandez continues, “So, when the opportunity presented itself to bring someone of his experience and talents back home, it was too good to pass up. And everything he’s done since arriving has exceeded our expectations. He’s going to be transformational for our program.”


Cristobal grew up in Miami, playing football at Christopher Columbus High School. His father, Luis, who was a political prisoner under the Castro regime, met his wife, Clara, in South Florida. And together, the two instilled lifelong values in Cristobal and his older brother, Lou.

Fond memories for Cristobal include helping out at the car battery and electric business his father started from nothing in Hialeah. Ted Hendricks, the former Hurricane defensive end who attended Hialeah High School and went on to star in the NFL, would often stop by the shop.

Cristobal bled orange and green long before he donned the split-U, attending open football practices on the Coral Gables Campus as a teenager to watch the Michael Irvins and Jerome Browns of the program. Sometimes, that meant biking or hitching a ride from a friend.

“I’d get there however I could,” Cristobal remarks. “I saw the way those guys stayed after practice, the time they put in, the grinding and the repetitions, the one-on-ones and competing against each other.”

I’m devoted to it, and it’s not just the coaching, but always the University of Miami. I bleed it. Cut me open; it’s orange and green inside.



As a freshman recruit in 1988, Cristobal played as a reserve along the offensive line after a redshirt year. He had always set his sights on cracking the starting lineup.

Always a quick study, Cristobal adjusted to discovering what he calls “the secret sauce” to the Miami program’s success: brotherhood and competitiveness.

“While I saw all this stellar talent around me, I realized that these guys were all about competition. They wanted it, they thrived on it, and they pulled me into it,” he explains. “It didn’t mean they took it easy on me. They made sure I knew how good they were. They competed against you and with you, but they never made it threatening. It was a brotherhood. They understood that competing was the only way to maximize our potential as a football team and as a program, and that was as eye-opening and as enlightening as it could get. I had never, ever seen that level of brotherhood tied into competition.”

For two seasons, Cristobal played side by side on the offensive line with his older brother.

“Growing up, we were always competing against each other,” Cristobal says. “To earn scholarships and eventually be on the same field and play together, which we never got to do in high school, was one of the biggest goals we had set for ourselves.”

Even as Cristobal helped the Hurricanes win the 1989 and 1991 national titles, both under Coach Dennis Erickson, he always kept an important lesson close to his heart: that playing football was not a right but a privilege. “It was not something you were entitled to—it was a privilege that had to be earned.” he asserts.


Cristobal applied that same philosophy when he went into coaching. “Along with that comes an obligation to have a positive impact on those around you,” he says. “It’s a 24/7 thing, man.”

No one knows that side of Cristobal better than Bryant McKinnie, the Outland Trophy winner and All-American offensive lineman who was an integral part of Miami’s 2001 national championship squad. Cristobal served as a graduate assistant coach on that team, often pulling some of the offensive linemen aside after practice to study videotape of the top edge rushers they would face and discuss blocking techniques.

“That was the way coach Cristobal was—always analyzing ways to get an advantage,” McKinnie says. “He always took that extra hour.”

In Cristobal, McKinnie could see an elite coach in the making, one who left no stone unturned. “He taught us that our diets could make us even better,” he says. “Oatmeal and hardboiled egg whites—that’s what he told us to add to our diets. But we told him, ‘We don’t eat that, coach.’ But he was right. He programmed good nutrition into us, and it helped.”

It was a coaching career—which has included stops at Florida International University, where he led the Panthers to a Sun Belt Conference title, and Alabama, where, as the offensive line coach, he helped the Crimson Tide win a national championship in 2015—that almost never took off.

Cristobal and his wife, Jessica, have two sons: Mario Mateo, left, and Rocco.

Cristobal and his wife, Jessica, have two sons: Mario Mateo, left, and Rocco.


After graduating from the University in 1993, Cristobal played two seasons for the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe before retiring to pursue coaching. He latched on as a grad assistant under then-Miami head coach Butch Davis in 1998, but that same year was on the brink of accepting a job with the U.S. Secret Service. He had said his goodbyes to the Hurricanes, but at the last moment, he had a change of heart.

“I had become addicted to teaching, addicted to making an impact on the lives of student-athletes,” Cristobal admits. “I felt like I was finally hitting stride with what I wanted out of life, and that was to make a difference. I’m devoted to it, and it’s not just the coaching, but always the University of Miami. I bleed it. Cut me open; it’s orange and green inside.”




Those eight-hour days spent working in an Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, steel mill taught Dan Radakovich, M.B.A. ’82, the value of hard work.

He grew up in the Beaver County borough of Monaca, about 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, and would work in the plant during summer recess from college, pouring liquid metal into molds and performing a variety of other tasks. “At the time, the steel industry was booming, and a lot of my relatives and friends all depended on it to make a living,” recalls Radakovich, the son of a steel worker.

“But athletics was also very important in that part of the country. In the neighborhood where I grew up, we understood what it meant to compete at a high level. And I knew that if ever I got the opportunity to make a living in that area, I promised myself I’d take advantage of it.” It was pledge he would keep.

Ever since earning a master’s degree from the University of Miami, Radakovich has thrived in the field of sports administration, elevating collegiate athletic programs to new heights.

From Long Beach, California, to Columbia, South Carolina; from Washington, D.C., to Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and from Atlanta, Georgia, to Clemson, South Carolina, Radakovich has upgraded facilities, ramped up ticket sales, increased revenue, and helped win national titles at universities across the country.

His latest challenge: Make Miami relevant again on the competitive playing field.

The University lured the 63-year-old away from Clemson last December, hiring him as the 14th director of athletics in its history and taking another quantum leap in its quest to restore the luster to an athletics program legendary for its national championship football teams.

He comes to Miami with extensive credentials. During his nine years at Clemson, Radakovich helped spearhead the most successful stretch in Tigers football history: two national championships (2016 and 2018), six Atlantic Coast Conference titles, and six appearances in the College Football Playoffs. He also added softball as the school’s ninth women’s sport. Not bad for someone who had intended to use his master’s degree in health care administration to run a hospital.

“I found my passion in athletics, where there’s an awful lot of parallels to what you’d face operating a hospital,” he says.

Two and half months before the University won its first national title in football in 1983, Radakovich left an accounting firm to take a job as the Hurricanes’ director of financial affairs. He worked in that role for two years.

His Miami past proved influential in convincing him to return to where it all started. “Going to school here, working at Miami, and living in South Florida for a good part of the ’80s, I came to enjoy this part of the country,” he says. “Miami was ready to make the type of investment that is necessary in today’s collegiate environment for student-athletes to be successful. The leadership here wanted to send the message that athletics is important at the University of Miami. Not that it hadn’t been before, but they were committed to taking the next step. And they certainly did that with their hiring of Mario [Cristobal].”

Radakovich arrives at Miami at a time when the NCAA landscape is drastically different than it was when he started in athletics administration nearly 40 years ago. Last year, a Supreme Court ruling opened the door for greater compensation for student- athletes, who can now profit from name, image, and likeness opportunities. The emergence of the transfer portal also changed how college programs recruit athletes and manage their rosters.

Such changes have made the jobs of athletic directors that much more challenging, Radakovich believes. “There’s never been a time when so many life-changing and business-changing elements have occurred all at once or within a very short period,” he says. “It’s a much more dynamic time than it had been in the past, not just for athletic directors but also the fans. It’s generating more buzz, and it’s keeping college athletics on the minds of our fans, which I think is good.”

He once competed on the playing field as a tight end at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. “We were a couple of steps up from leather helmets back in those days,” he jokes. “But the friendships made on those teams will last forever.”

But however long ago it was, his experience of balancing the books with college sports has provided him the perspective that is so often required among athletic directors to appreciate the demands and challenges faced by today’s NCAA student- athletes. “I understand how difficult it is from a time management standpoint and what it’s like trying to accomplish certain goals academically and athletically,” he says. “It’s a great balancing act.”

It is important, Radakovich says, for student-athletes in every sport to succeed.

“The goal is always to achieve success throughout your program,” he says. “We want our student-athletes, whether they are tennis players, golfers, track and field stars, rowers, swimmers, divers, or football, basketball, soccer, or volleyball players, to know they’re supported here. They have decided to come to the University of Miami for their collegiate experience, and we want to make it great for them.”

The goal is always to achieve success throughout your program.


University of Miami football helmet