There’s a little shock and awe around the Miami Hurricanes social media stratosphere this winter. Mario Cristobal’s first two coordinators (offensive and defensive) have both left the program after one season in Coral Gables. Josh Gattis, Cristobal’s highly paid OC- was fired. Kevin Steele, Cristobal’s veteran DC- has left for the same position on Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide coaching staff.
While I was surprised at the neither making it past year one, I’m not surprised that both were short-term “rentals” in Coral Gables. Good coordinators are bound to be snatched up for either better (yes, Bama is a better gig) horizontal moves or into head coaching roles or even to the NFL.
If Gattis lived up to his Broyles Award, the assumption is that he would’ve been interviewing for head coaching jobs this winter. If Steele “worked out” many felt he would stay put at Miami. However, Cristobal is known for a grinding mentality that a sexagenarian, four-decade coaching veteran might not have wanted to stick around for.
Steele has to see the writing on the wall that if he’s going to finally get another shot at a head coaching gig, he needs to win NOW. Miami is in a complete rebuild mode after a 5-7 season that saw no bowl game invite for The U. Alabama is Bama- they’re coming off of a down season that was capped with a blowout win of Kansas State in the Sugar Bowl.
Kevin Steele has been a journeyman since his four season run at Florida State as linebacker coach. Steele is signing the papers on his 8th job in the past 17 seasons. That’s just over seasons per job.
Steele’s longest tenured positions were his four year run at Auburn which was capped off with an attempted coup d’état of Gus Malzahn. Then another attempted coup at Tennessee with the Volunteers (he was named interim head coach for a hot minute) landed Coach Steele in exile.
Prior to his four years Auburn, Steele spent three years with another Tiger at Clemson under Dabo Swinney. Dabo’s fired like two coaches ever: Steele (2011) and Brandon Streeter (2023).
Steele could use the Nick Saban finishing school once again. He’s had two previous runs in Tuscaloosa from 2007-2008 and 2013-2014. If he does want to be a head coach again, Saban might be the right pathway. Steele’s previous HC experience was a disastrous four year run at Baylor. While with the Bears, Steele finished 9-36 overall and 1-31 in the Big 12.
Steele knows that his time is running out on attaining a head coaching gig. Nick Saban is the ultimate pathway to a head coaching gig. He’s done wonders for the advancement of former assistants such as Locksley; as well as- Steve Sarkisian, Lane Kiffin, Jeremy Pruitt, Jim McElwain, etc.
Josh Gattis came to Miami from the same role at Michigan. Gattis had been more stable than Steele over his career, having followed James Franklin from Vanderbilt (two years) to Penn State (three years) before taking on the title of co-Coordinator instead of passing game coordinator at Bama.
Gattis lasted one season in Tuscaloosa, before spent three years at Michigan as a co-OC, and one season at Miami as the OC and Wide Receivers coach.
Gattis reputation is as both a Broyles Award winning assistant coach, but also as someone that burned bridges at former stops- including a public disagreement with Mike Locksley (current Maryland head coach) after their time as co-OC’s at Alabama.
Gattis had his sights on becoming a head football coach, and it’s rumored he left Michigan (and publicly burned bridges in Ann Arbor) because he wasn’t a viable option to replace Jim Harbaugh at the other UM.
If Gattis had an excellent season (he had a horrible one), he was destined for a head coaching gig. If he had an average season he would’ve returned to Miami for another year, but not a third unless things changed. Instead, Coach Gattis had an historically bad season on offense for Miami and was fired after only one season in Coral Gables.
The next hires
Mario Cristobal’s next OC and DC hires have to be A+ hires. Cristobal needs his Rhett Lashlee (Manny Diaz) or Dave Wannstedt (Jimmy Johnson). He can’t afford another Dan Enos (Diaz) or Mark D’Onofrio (Al Golden). Miami needs a “run em’ up” OC but I’m sure will hire a “fill ‘em in” type because that’s the offense Mario Cristobal wants to run.
But regardless of who the hire is you want them to leave, because of success, not failure. If Mario Cristobal hires right, he’s hiring assistants with coordinator dreams and coordinators with head coaching dreams. Coaches like Wannstedt, Lashlee, Butch Davis, Sonny Lubick, etc that have had success as coordinators at The U, and/or in the NFL, and have become head coaches in their own right.
In any hiring manager role, in any field, you want someone with ambition. You want someone that sees themselves at a step, or two, above their current situation in the near future. Someone with a timeline in their head that they want the next thing in two to three years.
Marcus Arroyo would fit that mold on offense. Arroyo was just the head coach at UNLV, and I would assume he wants another crack at being the top guy after two seasons as an OC again. If Arroyo can fix Tyler Van Dyke and the desperate Miami offense- he’ll be inline for another HC position soon. Cristobal can’t go after a ‘career assistant’ like Doug Nussmeier.
On defense, Charlie Strong is not the guy. Miami needs to hire someone with head coaching desires that isn’t an old re-tread who bottomed out at USF. Jim Leonhard would be the ideal choice. He wanted the head coaching job at Wisconsin, and he would be a great two season hire at Miami. Leonhard is young, can coach, can call a defense, and has head coaching ambition.
Coach Cristobal seems to want a ‘head across’ tackling DC. Someone that hasn’t adapted to the newer “rugby tackling” or ‘head out of the play’ model that Pete Carroll made famous at Seattle with the NFL’s Seahawks. In my pieces called, “The Art of Tackling,” (part 1 and part 2) I explain the different tackling styles and drills. Cutting down on injuries should be a priority for The U, and head behind tackling would be a starting point.
No matter who the hires are- let’s hope they’re not here for long, but in the good way.