Mario Cristobal Made the Worst Coaching Decision of the Year

From a Washington Post story by Cindy Boren headlined “The worst coaching decision of the year belongs to Miami’s Mario Cristobal”:

The options for Miami Coach Mario Cristobal were as clear and simple as football coaching decisions go.

With the Hurricanes facing third down and holding a three-point lead with 35 seconds left in Saturday night’s game against Georgia Tech, which was out of timeouts, Cristobal’s best move was to have his quarterback kneel. Easy, right? Take the knee and the win.

But Cristobal instead called a play, with running back Donald Chaney taking a handoff up the middle.

And then? Catastrophe.

Chaney fumbled. Georgia Tech recovered. And the Yellow Jackets followed that up with a 24-second, 74-yard drive, ending in quarterback Haynes King completing a 44-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Christian Leary with one second remaining, giving Tech a 23-20 victory.

“It needs to be said: That’s one of the biggest coaching mistakes at this level I have ever seen in my lifetime,” ESPN’s Tim Hasselbeck said on the broadcast.

Cristobal’s team had done a great deal right to that point, outgaining the Yellow Jackets 454-250 and putting up 23 first downs to Georgia Tech’s 12. When it all began to go south with Chaney’s fumble, Miami argued to no avail that he had been down before losing the ball.

“Not going to make an excuse for it, say we should’ve done this or that,” Cristobal said of his decision. “That’s it. We should’ve done it. Sometimes you get carried away with just, finish the game and run it. I should’ve stepped in and said, ‘Hey, just take a knee.’”

Georgia Tech Coach Brent Key expressed surprise, too, after his team pulled out the most improbable win of the season. “I usually have a pretty good recollection of the game, but what does Will Ferrell say in ‘Old School’? I think I just blacked out,” Key said. “That’s what I felt like right then.”

What’s even more odd about the ending that dropped Miami to 4-1 is that Cristobal should have had an itchy, déjà vu feeling in the moment. Saturday night wasn’t the first time the 53-year-old coach made such a head-scratcher of a decision.

When he was the head coach at Oregon in 2018, his Ducks similarly turned a victory over Stanford into a loss. With under a minute left, Oregon had the ball in a second-and-2 situation with a three-point lead when running back C.J. Verdell reached for a first down that would have sealed the game. Like Chaney on Saturday night, Verdell fumbled. Stanford recovered, went 46 yards in six plays and kicked a field goal that sent the game to overtime.

The Cardinal scored on its first OT possession on a 23-yard pass from K.J. Costello to Colby Parkinson. The Ducks picked up a first down on the ensuing possession, but on fourth-and-10, Justin Herbert’s throw to the end zone was tipped and intercepted by Alameen Murphy.

In Saturday night’s aftermath, Miami center Matt Lee, exasperated and exhausted, was caught by cameras repeating, “What the f— are we doing? What the f— are we doing?”

Cristobal’s latest decision baffled other observers, too, some of whom questioned his future in Miami. “Not sure how Mario Cristobal faces his team today — there is coaching malpractice and then there is ‘coaching malpractice squared,’” Michael Lombardi, the former football executive and analyst for the NFL Network, wrote on social media. “This one will go down as an all-timer. You cannot cure this.”

And there were plenty of other reverberations Saturday night, with repercussions figuring to continue into the week ahead.

Cindy Boren arrived at The Post in 2000 as an assignment editor in charge of baseball and NFL/Washington Football Team coverage. She switched to full-time writing, focusing on national sports stories and issues, when she founded The Early Lead blog in 2010.

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