Mario Cristobal has known Alex Mirabal for 34 years, since they were freshmen at Christopher Columbus High in Miami and likely wearing a variety of pastel colors and loafers without socks to school.
“What was the old show, Miami Vice, like Sonny and Crockett playing side by side,” Cristobal said. “We go back a long way. … I can’t put into words how excited and happy I am to have Alex here with us.”
Cristobal meant to reference James “Sonny” Crockett (played by Don Johnson) and Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs (played by Philip Michael Thomas) in the analogy, but 1984 was a long time ago.
After being promoted following Willie Taggart’s departure in December, Cristobal said he planned to continue coaching Oregon’s offensive line because he didn’t trust anyone else to do it.
But that changed when Mirabal, who had also worked for Cristobal at Florida International, was added as the program’s 10th assistant in February.
“It means a lot to me because my relationship with him goes beyond football and my sole purpose is to see him be successful,” Mirabal said of being reunited with his childhood friend on the West Coast. “I will do anything in my power to try to help our head football coach be known as a champion.”
Mirabal’s official title is the centers and guards coach. Graduate assistant Cody Woodiel primarily works with the tackles.
With Cristobal remaining heavily involved in coaching the offensive line, there is an interesting three-man weave being executed around the players during drills.
“However he wants it. He’s the boss and he’s the head football coach. It’s a feel thing,” Mirabal said of his role. “If I see him on the right side of the offensive line, I’ll just slide over to the left. If I see him on the left, I’ll slide over to the right. It’s really my job to play off of coach Cristobal.”
Mirabal spent the last five seasons at Marshall, where his offensive line allowed the fourth-fewest sacks (11) in 2017. He coached tight ends and offensive line at FIU, his alma mater, before Cristobal was fired and moved on to work for Nick Saban at Alabama.
“We have like a three-headed monster with Cristobal, Mirabal and Woodiel,” starting left guard Shane Lemieux said. “Now that coach Cristobal is the head coach he has other responsibilities, so he has to tend to recruits and special teams and stuff like that. He’ll walk around during practice, and that’s when Mirabal and Wood really take over.
“But it’s kind of interesting seeing how Cristobal acts towards us and the entire team because he can’t be so one-sided and go, ‘The offensive line, we never hold.’ Sometimes he has to say, ‘OK, yeah, maybe that was a sack.’”
The Ducks return four starters on the offensive line and will welcome in a beefy group of true freshmen to the competition for fall camp.
“I don’t see it as me taking over a position group. Coach Cristobal is still here and obviously he did a tremendous job in reshaping the culture the way he wanted it,” Mirabal said. “Honestly, it’s me coming in, not trying to mess anything up.”
On first glance, Mirabal’s diminutive stature stands out when he’s instructing 6-foot-7 Brady Aiello or 6-foot-6 George Moore, two players listed at 312 pounds.
But commanding others is something Mirabal mastered as a high school social studies teacher and football coach in Miami for 16 years before joining Cristobal at FIU.
“I wouldn’t recruit myself to play O-line, but to me your job is to teach and to coach,” Mirabal said. “It’s not to go out there and play. I think once you teach these guys, hey these are the techniques you use, and they work, then they understand, they believe in you. …
“My wife had two children, we had two sons, and the doctor that delivered them was a man and he never had a child. So to me you don’t have to be 6-foot-6 to teach a 6-foot-6 person how to do something.”
Cristobal is counting on Mirabal to help get the Ducks’ offensive line firing on all cylinders.
Before Thursday’s spring practice, Cristobal said he was upset that Mirabal’s taillights were already in the parking lot at 4:37 a.m. when he arrived at the Hatfield-Dowling Center.
“If you watch our practice closely you’ll see at every single position we have a high level of expertise type of teacher. Certainly Alex is that and then some,” Cristobal said. “I’m very particular about the offensive line. I just don’t trust offensive line work with anyone.
“To me, you have to know someone for over 30 years to trust them with the offensive line. We’re glad to have him here, he’s doing a heck of a job with those guys.”