Mario Cristobal knows Rutgers. The Florida International head football coach spent three seasons in Piscataway under former boss Greg Schiano.
He coached the offensive line and tight ends for two years before focusing solely on the o-line. One of his pupils, tight end L.J. Smith, emerged as a second-round pick in 2003, eventually appearing in a Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Schiano said he saw Cristobal as a future head coach, and he earned the chance in 2006 with FIU. Schiano and Cristobal faced off twice, in 2009 and again in 2010, both narrow Scarlet Knights victories.
Since then, Cristobal’s name sprang up in numerous head coaching vacancies, but he ultimately never left South Florida. The 1993 Miami (Fla.) graduate returned to the Hurricanes in 2006 as an offensive line coach.
He was part of a coaching staff that produced first-round pick Bryant McKinnie, a left tackle from Woodbury, N.J. He also mentored tight ends Greg Olsen, from Wayne Hills High School, and Kevin Everett, both future NFL players.
But Cristobal is also a major recruiter, signing FIU’s first ESPN top-100 player in 2010. He may need to be.
Still, Rutgers returns plenty for a Big East title run in 2012, including Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year Khaseem Greene.
“I’m excited about my senior year,” Greene said. “I’m excited about what we have here in this family and all the guys we have coming back and hopefully all the guys we can get to be additions to the team.”
The Knights’ 2012 recruiting class ranks No. 32, according to Rivals.com. But several members continue to re-evaluate their options, and currently un-committed players may weigh other destinations until National Signing Day.
“Understanding and being able to have your arms around the culture of the tri-state area I think is critical to being successful at Rutgers,” said Athletic Director Tim Pernetti. “So much has been built in this program around being able to recruit on a somewhat regional level.”
But Cristobal could also maintain Rutgers’ pipeline in Florida.