- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama went to the well once more when it hired offensive line coach Mario Cristobal. Two years ago, coach Nick Saban stole Jeff Stoutland away from the University of Miami, and with Cristobal he did the same. He can only hope the move pays off as well the second time around.
On the face of it, it should. Cristobal is already being hailed as a home-run hire, and with good reason. The former Florida International head coach has a strong resume and well-rooted ties to the South Florida recruiting scene, an area Stoutland patrolled for two years at UA. Cristobal is young (42 years old), ambitious (he all but built the FIU program from nothing) and energetic. He was hired by Miami as its tight ends and assistant head coach on Jan. 11 and some of the first words out of his mouth were about hitting the recruiting trail hard.
"With three weeks to go in recruiting, it’s about attack mode," Cristobal told reporters at his introductory press conference."Wherever I need to go, wherever I need to be sent, whatever I need to accomplish, anything involving 2014 or ’15, it’s ‘,Go!’ There’s no time to rest."
Said Miami coach Al Golden at the time: ""Clearly his expertise as an O-line coach, a tight ends coach, a guy that has coached many positions and obviously has cultivated talent and recruited in this area, it was just too good a package for us to pass up."
It was too good for Saban to pass up as well. That type of aggressiveness is music to the 61-year-old head coach's ears. Enthusiasm goes a long way on the recruiting trail and in the UA football offices. Cristobal helped the Hurricanes have the 21st-ranked recruiting class in the country, according to ESPN. Four-star receiver Stacy Coley surprised many by choosing Miami on signing day.
Saban praised Cristobal in a news release on Wednesday, calling it "an important hire in terms of working with our offensive line and we feel fortunate that we were able to hire a coach of Mario’s caliber."
"He has an outstanding reputation as both a coach and a recruiter. He will be a great fit in our organization and I think our players will respond to his positive attitude and energy."
Boyd Anderson (Fla.) High coach Wayne Blair knows Cristobal well from his time in Florida. Blair, who sent 2013 signee Eddie Jackson to Alabama, said the Crimson Tide are getting "one of the better offensive line coaches in the nation" as well as a great recruiter.
"He can comb through Palm Beach, Dade and Broward County," Blair said. "He has connections he can call on. He's a Miami guy. He has a knack and can build a relationship with a kid.
"He's an intense coach. He's going to maximize the talents of the players around him."
But Cristobal is more than a recruiter. He walked into a mess at FIU and turned the ship around. Don Stock went 0-12 with the Panthers in 2006. Cristobal came in and built a foundation, wining five games in 2008 and eight in 2011. He took FIU to back-to-back bowl games before being unceremoniously and unexpectedly fired after a two-win season in 2012.
"Look at where the program was when he took over and the scholarship restrictions he had," said ESPN National Recruiting Director Tom Luginbill, who praised Cristobal's skill evaluating talent. "He did an unreal job. If you dig on how bad that program was it was quite remarkable what he was able to do and he had to make difficult projections on lightly recruited players. He and his staff were right on guys an awful lot in order for that team to grow and improve the way they did."
Cristobal knows the game of football. He was a two-time national champion and All-Big East offensive tackle at Miami, enjoyed a brief career with the Denver Broncos and then coached under the likes of Butch Davis, Greg Schiano and Larry Coker before landing the FIU coaching job.
That experience will come in handy this spring when Alabama tries to replicate the success of its offensive line from a season ago. Three starters are gone and few experienced players are waiting in the wings. Though Cyrus Kouandjio and Anthony Steen are both solid building blocks, the development of center Ryan Kelly and others will be paramount to Alabama's success on offense in 2013.
With the hiring of Cristobal, Alabama has added two former head coaches to its staff this offseason, the first being new director of player personnel Kevin Steele. Both come to Tuscaloosa with strong resumes in the world of recruiting. Steele was considered one of the top recruiters in the Southeast during his time at Florida State, Alabama and Clemson.