Miami’s Mario Cristobal not alone in day full of coaching malpractice

Mario Cristobal was the headliner. The leader of the bonehead brigade.

He was hardly alone. Jedd Fisch, Steve Sarkisian and Jimbo Fisher were right there with him, coaches who made colossal mistakes to cost their teams on Saturday.

There were huge errors, conservative play-calling and plain old bad moves that highlighted the day of college football.

Cristobal, the Miami coach, took the cake, running the ball on third down with 33 seconds left and Georgia Tech without a timeout rather than take a knee. His player, Donald Chaney Jr., fumbled, leading to a catastrophic loss to an ACC also-ran as the Yellow Jackets then went 74 yards in two plays. Afterward, Cristobal admitted the Hurricanes should’ve taken a knee. No kidding. This wasn’t a gaffe or a mistake. It was brain-lock by Cristobal and his coaching staff. What made the decision even more mind-boggling is that Cristobal has done this before. When he was coaching Oregon in 2018, he ran the ball when he could’ve taken a knee in a game against Stanford, and the Ducks wound up fumbling and losing in overtime.

Miami head coach Mario Cristobal during a loss to Georgia Tech on Oct. 7, 2023.
Miami head coach Mario Cristobal during a loss to Georgia Tech on Oct. 7, 2023.
USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

It’s silly to suggest he should be fired over this, as some on social media suggested, but it’s fair to wonder about his future. He may never recover from this. Miami may not. It has to next visit undefeated North Carolina coming off this disastrous loss, and still has Clemson, Florida State and Louisville on its schedule.

The other coaches looked better by comparison, but they were hardly without fault. Let’s start with Fisher. He had a golden opportunity on Saturday, as Texas A&M hosted Alabama with first place in the SEC West on the line. This isn’t the same Alabama. It isn’t nearly as dominant on both sides of the ball. But it is still capable. Twice early in the fourth quarter, Texas A&M had lengthy drives into Crimson Tide territory and twice Fisher punted on manageable fourth downs. They were pivotal choices in a six-point loss.

Coaching scared never works — just ask Arizona’s Fisch. He had two opportunities to pull the massive upset over USC, and both times went the conservative route. Late in regulation of a tie game, Arizona faced a fourth-and-7 From the USC 33-yard-line. The Wildcats had moved the ball at will all game against the Trojans’ Swiss-cheese defense. Fisch opted for a 50-yard field-goal attempt from Tyler Loop, who hadn’t made a kick from over 38 yards all season. Predictably, Loop missed it badly. Then, after scoring in the first overtime, with a chance to win it by going for two — the only decision for a 21-point underdog facing the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Caleb Williams, on the road — Fisch opted to play it safe again by kicking the extra point to send it into double overtime. He deserved to lose. His players didn’t.

Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian during a loss to Oklahoma on Oct. 7, 2023.
Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian during a loss to Oklahoma on Oct. 7, 2023.
USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

A similar sentiment could be made for Sarkisian, who played for a field goal late in the Red River Rivalry, a decision that will haunt Texas if it cannot get a rematch with Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game. He went with a give-up run on third-and-13 rather than try to get a first down, setting up a field goal with 1:24 left that gave the Longhorns a precarious three-point lead. Dillon Gabriel went right down the field for the game-winning score, sending Texas to its first loss.

There was coaching malpractice across the sport in big games, the kind of errors that would lead a player to losing his starting spot. Cristobal drew the headlines, but the others shouldn’t be forgotten, either.

Sooners than expected

There are similarities between this year’s Oklahoma team and the 2000 national champion that came out of nowhere. These Sooners were similarly underrated, ranked 20th in the preseason and picked third in the Big 12. In 2000, it was Bob Stoops’ second season, coming off a 7-5 campaign, just like Brent Venables, who was an underwhelming 6-7 in his first season. Stoops’ group obliterated Texas and never looked back. Maybe the same will happen again. One major difference: Oklahoma doesn’t have to face the gauntlet that team did. It doesn’t have another ranked team on its schedule, clearing the way for a potentially perfect regular season.

Tide not turned yet

There is this notion that Alabama has silenced its doubters, that it is very much a championship contender. It has rebounded from that ugly home loss to Texas with four straight wins and is in control of the SEC West. My take: Slow down. This is the weakest the division has been in several years. Beating overrated foes Ole Miss and Texas A&M is hardly proof that the Crimson Tide are ready to win out — LSU on Nov. 4 in Tuscaloosa looms — and beat Georgia in the SEC championship game. That’s their only path to the College Football Playoff. All that has changed is that this may not be a complete Dumpster fire of a season for Alabama. But a meaningless bowl still feels like the likely scenario.

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