HUNTINGTON — Alex Mirabal’s kids were hoping for a snow day, a couple of them in fact. The catch is they were already out of school, so that wasn’t the reason.
Alejandro and Nicolas, along with Mom Berta, were visiting from Miami, spending the weekend in Huntington. Palm trees and 80 degree temperatures greet you every day in South Florida. They wanted to feel the cold, and see some snow.
Good thing for the family that Alex Mirabal’s visits have been a pretty good harbinger that bad weather is in the offing.
“Doc’s a helluva recruiter and so is Coach (Bill) Legg,” Mirabal said, “and they’re telling me the weather up here’s not that bad. When my wife and I got here for the interview, they had to divert our plane to Lexington (Ky.), they’d gotten the most snow they’ve had all year.
“When I officially took the job, when I came back up here it started snowing again. Everybody on the staff said, ‘We’re going to stop bringing you up here because it’s snowing again.’ But it’s good, it’s an adventure for our family.”
Mirabal’s journey to Huntington is the first time in his life he’s lived away from the Miami area. He grew up there, and coached 16 years of high school football in Dade County before becoming an assistant at Florida International University.
When Mario Cristobal was let go as FIU head coach after the 2012 season, it was time for Mirabal to reassess where his career was going.
He had a couple of connections with Marshall. He’d built a friendship with Legg, the Marshall offensive coordinator who was an assistant at FIU with Mirabal. Plus, the Marshall name resonates in south Florida in recruiting season.
“Coach Seider (Marshall assistant JaJuan Seider) and I used to chase each other down in south Florida,” Mirabal said. “He’d be in a school and I’d be right behind him in a school. The state of Florida is part of the state of Marshall in terms of recruiting. Doc Holliday really is a recruiting legend down there.”
So when the opportunity to join the Marshall staff came along, Mirabal and his family bought some warmer clothes and headed north to Huntington. Something they immediately noticed on their visit, there were things Huntington offered that Miami doesn’t.
Just like the weather, the town’s passion for the program, was a welcome change of pace.
“It’s incredible,” Mirabal said. “You go to any local restaurant and the stores — they’re all ‘Marshall-ed’ out.”
(He may have invented a new verb in Huntington.)
“The fire hydrants are green and white. There are so many other things to do and distractions in Florida. You can tell there’s a very high care factor here for Marshall and its football program. To me that’s awesome.”
The offense coming back for the Herd certainly got Mirabal’s attention. He’s aware of Marshall’s jaw-dropping offensive numbers from last season. As the new line coach, he knows the skill returning on that side of the ball. He’s excited about what this year can bring. He noted that that in a recent conversation with his former coach at FIU.
“I told Coach Cristobal the two biggest differences I noticed (between FIU and Marshall) is the wide receivers and running backs do a tremendous job of making people miss, and No. 2, the ridiculous accuracy of Rakeem Cato at quarterback. We’re gonna work our tails off to keep him clean.”
There’s a side benefit to Mirabal coaching in Conference USA at Marshall. The Herd will take two trips to South Florida this year, visiting Florida Atlantic (Boca Raton) and Florida International (Miami). That’s good for him and Marshall’s large contingent of Floridians, who get to fly south for a couple of weekends.
“These kids get to back home and play in front of family and friends,” Mirabal said. “We’ll be taking Marshall University down to these areas for both these weekends. Hopefully, Herd Nation follows us down there and that way the kids can see what a backing and following that this university has and that will help in recruiting tremendously.
“They’ll play on Friday night and jump on over and watch us play right in their own backyard.”
That’s Mirabal showing his sunny outlook, regardless of his zip code.
Herd Insider columnist Keith Morehouse, the 2012 West Virginia Sportscaster of the Year, has covered Marshall athletics for years as the veteran sports director at WSAZ Newschannel 3.