MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Mario Cristobal does not want this game, or any game, to be about him.
Good luck with that, especially this weekend.
He’s from Miami, he played at Miami, he won national championships at Miami, he was an assistant coach at Miami — and now, he is the head coach at Miami. Backed by more money and support than the university has ever thrown at football, Cristobal makes his debut as the man in charge of the Hurricanes on Saturday when the nation’s 16th-ranked team opens against Bethune-Cookman.
“Oh, I think I’m like the smallest part of this thing, as small as it could be,” said Cristobal, who was lured home from Oregon and agreed to a 10-year, $80 million deal. “It’s about everything else. It’s about making sure that I’m doing all the things to make sure our players, our coaches, our administrators, our recruiting department, development department, you name it, our analysts, our GA’s, everybody can do their job at the maximum level.”
Cristobal loves this saying: “How you do anything is how you do everything.” It has been preached to Miami players since his arrival on campus eight months ago or so, the bedrock for everything he’s trying to teach, change and build at his alma mater.
His players have gotten the message. Many of them use the quote liberally now, proof that Cristobal’s core beliefs have already started sinking into the psyches of his 110 new players.
And Saturday provides the first look at how it has translated to the field. Quarterback Tyler Van Dyke confessed that he and his teammates still sometimes get the quote wrong — flipping the “everything” and “anything” parts — but he insists that they’ve gotten the point.
“You’ve got to always do everything on the field right, off the field right,” Van Dyke said. “Just the discipline aspect to things and the way we’re coached and the way we go about our day is just different than it was last year.”
The Wildcats have 18 players who graduated from high schools in the Miami area — meaning Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties — and 51 players who started college elsewhere.
The Hurricanes are 5-0 all-time against Bethune-Cookman, winning 63-0 in the teams’ last meeting in 2019.
Bethune-Cookman is an HBCU, didn’t play in 2020 because of the pandemic and went 2-9 last season.
“We’re here to work,” Wildcats coach Terry Sims said at SWAC media day. “We’re not guys that do a lot of talking. We let our play talk for us, our play speak for us. But everyone knows the football team that we are. Now it’s just time to show you.”
Miami offensive coordinator Josh Gattis will call the Hurricanes’ plays from the press box. But defensive coordinator Kevin Steele will do his work from field level on Saturday.
“That’s a transition I made over the past two years that I really feel comfortable with,” said Gattis, who won the Broyles Award — as the nation’s top assistant coach — for what he accomplished as offensive coordinator at Michigan last season. “It allows me to be able to see, and I’ve got great coaches on my staff that are able to communicate with the players on the field.”
Gattis said he enjoys the quiet that the press box can provide. Steele said he wants to be able to have more contact with the field.
“It’s actually easier up top,” Steele said. “It really is. It’s hard to see down there.”
AUSSIE, AUSSIE, AUSSIE
Game time Saturday is 3:30 p.m. in Miami Gardens. That’s 3:30 a.m. Sunday in Mandurah, Australia, and 5:30 a.m. Sunday in Viewbank, Australia.
Chances are, people will be watching in those locales.
Both teams have Australian punters — Miami has Lou Hedley (from Mandurah) and Bethune-Cookman has Benjamin Lennon (from Viewbank). Both are products of the wildly successful Prokick Australia program and are former Australian Rules Football players.
Lennon has kicked against a Cristobal-coached team before. He transferred to Bethune-Cookman from Utah, facing Cristobal and his former team — Oregon — in the Pac-12 title game in 2019. Cristobal and the Ducks won that game, 37-17.
Miami has won 15 consecutive home openers, with 14 of those coming at Hard Rock Stadium.
The Hurricanes said earlier this week that more than 50,000 tickets have been distributed for Saturday’s contest, with capacity of the Miami Dolphins’ home stadium around 65,000.
FIRST OF TWO
There’s another college football game at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday — the Orange Blossom Classic, with Deion Sanders and Jackson State set to take on Florida A&M. The Rattlers opened their season last weekend at North Carolina, then went public this week with their demands to get more help from their school.