In the 1980s, Coronel began his criminal career as the leader of the Juarez Cartel in the state of Zacatecas. He worked at that time under the shadow of Amado Carrillo Fuentes “the Lord of The Skies” and Eduardo González Quitarte “El Flaco”. After the death of Carrillo Fuentes, Coronel, Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno “El Azul” and Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada broke away from the Juarez cartel and joined the Sinaloa cartel, which regained its status as Mexico’s top cartel in 2001 after El Chapo Guzman’s escape from prison in Puente Grande, Jalisco. At that time Coronel was associated with Luis Valencia Valencia, head of the cartel del Milenio and the Beltran Leyva brothers. Years later, when the Beltran Leyva brothers broke away from Guzman, Coronel stood firmly with the Sinaloa cartel. Coronel was responsible for moving multi-ton quantities of cocaine via fishing vessels from Colombia to Mexico and on to the United States states of Texas and Arizona during the early 2000s. His influence and operations penetrated throughout the United States, Mexico, and several other European, Central American, and South American countries. In Mexico, he was known as the "King of Crystal" for his domination of crystal methamphetamine production and trafficking.
Both the governments of the United States and Mexico had an outstanding arrest warrant for Coronel; in addition, the United States Department of State was offering a reward of up to $5 million USD for information leading to his capture.
On 1 June 2005, the United States Department of the Treasury sanctioned Coronel under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (sometimes referred to simply as the "Kingpin Act"), for his involvement in drug trafficking along with seven other international criminals and one entity. The act prohibited U.S. citizens and companies from doing any kind of business activity with him, and virtually froze all his assets in the U.S.
Coronel was killed on 29 July 2010, in Zapopan, Jalisco, during a shootout with the Mexican Army. During the raid, Coronel killed a soldier and wounded another. A statement from the federal Attorney General's Office says soldiers found jewelry, luxury watches, guns, two hand grenades and three vehicles and US$7 million in cash in the house where Coronel was killed.
On 3 April 2010, alleged gunmen of Los Zetas abducted and killed Coronel's son, Alejandro Coronel (aged 16), in Bahía de Banderas, Nayarit. Ignacio sought vengeance and responded three days later by sending over 100 of his henchmen to kidnap and kill 14 people.