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Pinstripe Bowl: Rutgers football's Greg Schiano, Miami's Mario Cristobal have long history

Mario Cristobal was a young graduate assistant more than two decades ago when he drew the assignment of going to the airport to pick up a candidate for Miami’s vacant defensive coordinator position.

That candidate, Greg Schiano, had just spent three seasons working on the defensive staff with the Chicago Bears. He soon was hired by then-Miami head coach Butch Davis for that open coordinator position.

That began a longtime friendship between Schiano and Cristobal, who will be coaching against each other when Rutgers and Miami play in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 28 at Yankee Stadium.

“Instantly he was the hardest worker in the building,” Cristobal, in his second season as the Hurricanes' head coach, recalled Tuesday during a virtual news conference. “It's someone I patterned my habits after. Someone that was a rising star in the profession.”

Schiano worked as Miami’s defensive coordinator for two seasons – the Hurricanes had one of the best defenses in the nation both years – before being hired as Rutgers’ head coach in December of 2000.

One of the first decisions Schiano made?

Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano, front, reacts in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Maryland, Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023, in Piscataway, N.J. (AP Photo/Corey Sipkin)
Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano, front, reacts in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Maryland, Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023, in Piscataway, N.J. (AP Photo/Corey Sipkin)

Bringing Cristobal, a Miami native who was an elite offensive lineman with the Hurricanes, with him to Piscataway.

“It wasn’t easy prying him out of there,” Schiano said.

Cristobal coached Rutgers’ tight ends and offensive tackles for two seasons, then became the offensive line coach for the 2003 season.

That young graduate assistant who picked Schiano up from the airport soon became a vital member of his coaching staff.

“Truth be told, he laid a huge part of this foundation,” Schiano said. “You look back at what he did in the three years he was here, my goodness. He was relentless. He was my partner. He was a guy that, again, I trusted with anything.”

Their careers have veered in different directions since then.

Cristobal returned to Miami, then became the head coach at FIU before working on Nick Saban’s coaching staff at Alabama for four seasons. He later became the head coach at Oregon before returning to Miami two years ago.

Oct 14, 2023; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; Miami Hurricanes head coach Mario Cristobal stands on the field during a timeout as the Hurricanes play against the North Carolina Tar Heels in the second half at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 14, 2023; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; Miami Hurricanes head coach Mario Cristobal stands on the field during a timeout as the Hurricanes play against the North Carolina Tar Heels in the second half at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

Schiano stayed at Rutgers through 2011 before becoming the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two seasons. He then worked as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator from 2016-18 before returning to the Scarlet Knights in December of 2019.

“We've kind of grown together,” Schiano said. “We've been through some tough times, some good times. I knew when I got him, he was the best coach on my coaching staff. Whatever he was, 25 years old, 26 years old. I trust him blind. There's not a lot of people I trust in this world. That to me is the biggest thing.”

Cristobal said his time working for Schiano, whom he considers "the best mentor mentor I've had in this business," was pivotal for his own coaching career. He also said Schiano and his family helped make Cristobal feel comfortable being away from Miami and in the northeast.

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“He always found a way to teach,” Cristobal said. “When you're a head coach, you're really, really busy, you sometimes forget one of your major obligations is to develop the people under you. He always just found a way to push and challenge me, to help me develop. Never held back. I appreciated that.”

Both coaches are now in the middle of trying to bring their respective programs back to prominence.

Rutgers is 6-6, its best season since 2014. Miami is 7-5, back in a bowl game after going 5-7 last season.

Once the game starts, Schiano and Cristobal will put their friendship to the side for a few hours.

But they’ll still share a mutual respect that goes back more than two decades.

“I know on game day we'll be trying to knock each out,” Cristobal said. “Aside from that, certainly him and his family from the moment I got in the coaching industry, he was a reason why it was able to actually happen.”

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Pinstripe Bowl: Rutgers' Greg Schiano, Miami's Mario Cristobal have long friendship