Alex Mirabal lived his whole middle-aged life in Miami. Mirabal worked as FIU’s offensive line coach and associate head coach under his best friend, Mario Cristobal, until Cristobal’s shocking firing last December.
So, you might find it hard to believe Mirabal, now Marshall’s offensive line coach, when he gives you a “just another game” verbal shrug about Saturday’s Marshall-FIU game.
Except, when he explains it.
“It would be different if I knew any of the coaches on staff,” Mirabal said. “I don’t take any joy in playing coaches I know. When we played Texas-San Antonio, where [former FIU defensive backs coach Jeff Popovich] is, I was miserable playing him. It’s a business and every win and every loss could cost someone their job.”
So, for Saturday, “There’s a disconnect there that helps me as far as focusing on the game.”
Of course, Mirabal knows FIU’s players, particularly the offensive linemen. He recruited most, if not all, of the linemen.
After the firing, “I reached out to the offensive linemen,” Mirabal said. “I told them, ‘You owe it to the coaching staff coming in there to listen to them and do the best you can.’ And, on my kids, I have not spoken to one of the players since that time. I don’t think that’s professional, and I don’t think it’s fair to the current staff to continue that relationship.”
He stayed in contact with former starting left tackle Caylin Hauptmann, now a backup with Seattle, and Rupert Bryan, who was in Dolphins camp briefly as a fullback before being cut.
Jettisoned from the program he helped Cristobal build, Mirabal figured he would just return to what he considered the purest form of coaching — high school football — somewhere in South Florida. Then, came the offer from Marshall.
This was no layup. Mirabal is a Miami native. He graduated from Miami Dade College and FIU. He coached at Braddock and Columbus High. His mother, father and most of his five brothers remained in town.
“Cubans don’t travel too far from the nest,” he said with a chuckle.
But his wife, Berta, said about the Marshall offer, “Let’s go with it.”
So, Alex, Berta and their two sons headed for Huntington, W.Va.
“It’s been an awesome experience for me,” Mirabal said. “Things happen for a reason. I’m glad I’m here. I’m exposed to a different way of life, exposed to a different culture. I’ve gotten to expose my kids to something different years earlier than I was.”
Though Huntington is close enough to state capital Charleston to form a single TV market and the Huntington metropolitan area is the largest in the state, that’s still only 365,000 people as of the 2010 census. Marshall sports, especially the football team, reigns as the big local entertainment deal.
Mirabal found out when he got recognized while out doing errands in town.
As for his Miami-based family, he found that distance means you have to make a point of talking with folks that you often assume you’ll see or talk to when you live in the same town. He said he winds up communicating with them more now than when he lived down here.
On Monday, 15 family members will board a plane and head back north with Mirabal for Thanksgiving in Huntington.
“There’s not a lot of false pretenses up here,” Mirabal said. “I miss my family and friends. I don’t miss Miami.”