Mario Cristobal is in his fourth season on the Alabama coaching staff as the assistant head coach and offensive line coach, after joining the Crimson Tide in February of 2013. He had been the head coach at Florida International University (FIU) for six years (2007-12).
Cristobal’s 2015 unit proved to be the best in the nation, winning the inaugural Joe Moore Award, which is given to the toughest, most physical line in the nation. Senior captain Ryan Kelly, a first team All-American, was also honored with the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center. The line, along with Kelly, consisted of LT Cam Robinson, LG Ross Pierschbacher, RG Alphonse Taylor and RT Dominick Jackson, averaged 199.9 rushing yards per game and pass protected for another 227.1.
He engineered another productive offensive line in 2014 with a group adept at opening holes on the ground while providing first-year senior quarterback Blake Sims ample time to throw the football. Led by first team All-American Arie Kouandjio, the Tide ranked 14th nationally and second in the SEC in fewest sacks allowed, surrendering an average of 1.14 per game, while rushing for 206.6 yards per game on the ground. Senior Austin Shepherd allowed just one sack at right tackle and Kelly developed into one of the country’s best centers. Cristobal also tutored Robinson, who became only the second player in school history to start at left tackle as a true freshman (Andre Smith, 2006) and earned Freshman All-America honors.
The Alabama offensive line faced many challenges at the start of the 2013 season, replacing three starters from the 2012 season who departed to the NFL. Cristobal’s leadership melded together the 2013 line and produced another in a long line of outstanding Tide offensive fronts. Cyrus Kouandjio and Anthony Steen anchored the unit while Kelly (center), Arie Kouandjio (left guard) and Shepherd (right tackle) joined the starting lineup. Cyrus Kouandjio was a consensus first team All-American and garnered first team All-SEC honors along with Steen. As the season progressed, the group’s chemistry became apparent, surrendering just 17 sacks on the year to rank 23rd nationally in sacks allowed (1.31 per game). The Tide ranked 25th nationally in rushing offense (205.6 ypg), as the offensive line helped propel the Tide to an average of 454.1 yards per game (33rd nationally). UA averaged a school-record 7.15 yards per play, the fifth-best average per play in the FBS and ranked 17th nationally in scoring offense (38.2 ppg).
During his six years at the helm of the FIU program, Cristobal was regarded as one of the country’s top young college football coaches and was the architect of a successful program that went to back-to-back bowl games in 2010 and 2011. The 2011 season was the most successful year in program history with the school capturing a program-record eight victories during the regular season, along with milestone wins on the road at eventual Co-BIG EAST Champion Louisville and at home against Conference USA power Central Florida.
FIU began its historic run during the 2010 season, when Cristobal led FIU to its first Sun Belt Conference championship and a bowl victory over MAC champion Toledo. For his efforts, Cristobal was named the Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year. He implemented his philosophy of hard work and dedication that paid quick dividends both on the field and in the classroom. During his time at FIU, Cristobal also proved to be an effective recruiter, with consecutive recruiting classes in 2011 and 2012 that were regarded among the best in the Sun Belt Conference. Cristobal’s teams at FIU produced such NFL talent as third-rounder T. Y. Hilton, second-round pick Jonathan Cyprien and Anthony Gaitor.
Prior to accepting the head coaching job at FIU, Cristobal coached at the University of Miami for three years under head coach Larry Coker. The Hurricanes compiled a 24-12 record in that time, with appearances in the 2004 and 2005 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowls and the 2006 Micron PC Bowl. Cristobal coached Miami’s tight ends in the 2004 and 2005 seasons, tutoring 2005 Buffalo Bills third-round pick Kevin Everett, 2006 free-agent signee Buck Ortega and 2007 Chicago Bears first-round selection Greg Olsen.
In 2006, Cristobal took over a Miami offensive line that featured four new starters, including a true sophomore at left tackle and a true freshman at right tackle. Despite coaching a unit wrought with inexperience and riddled by injuries throughout the season, the Hurricanes offense saw a 39 percent decrease in sacks allowed from 36 to 22, only seven of which Cristobal’s line was deemed responsible. Following that season, junior guard Derrick Morse was selected honorable mention All-ACC and true freshman tackle Jason Fox was named a second team Freshman All-American by Rivals.com. Fox was a fourth-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions in 2010.
While coaching at Rutgers from 2001-03, Cristobal helped set the table for one of the biggest success stories in the past 30 years of college football. Cristobal worked under head coach Greg Schiano, coaching the Rutgers offensive tackles and tight ends for two seasons before shifting his focus solely to the offensive line in 2003.
Cristobal was a critical factor in Rutgers’ resurgence to competitiveness and helped lay the foundation in recruiting and coaching for a program that went from obscurity to college football’s upper echelon in a matter of five years. During Cristobal’s tenure at Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights improved from records of 2-9 and 1-11 to a 5-7 mark in 2003, the school’s best record since 1998. One of Cristobal’s most accomplished pupils was tight end L.J. Smith, the Philadelphia Eagles’ second-round pick in the 2003 NFL Draft and an eventual starter.
Cristobal began his coaching career in 1998, when he joined the Miami staff as a graduate assistant, working with the Hurricanes for three seasons (1998-2000) under head coach Butch Davis. He helped his alma mater compile a 29-8 record while winning three bowls and a pair of BIG EAST Conference championships in that time.
A four-year letterwinner for the University of Miami from 1988-92, Cristobal played for Hall of Fame coach Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson. During his four years, the Hurricanes won a pair of national championships (1989 and 1991) while playing in two Sugar Bowls, one Cotton Bowl and an Orange Bowl. Cristobal was a first team All-Big East selection as an offensive tackle in 1992.
Following his college playing career, Cristobal signed a free-agent contract with the Denver Broncos in 1994. He played for the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe in 1995 and 1996.
The Miami native was a prep standout at Christopher Columbus High School. He graduated from Miami in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and later earned a master’s degree from Miami in 2001. Cristobal and his wife Jessica were married in June of 2006 and have two sons, Mario Mateo and Rocco.