Manny Diaz’s UM Future
Diaz the Prodigal Son of Miami
Diaz’s rise to head coach of his hometown team is one fictional stories are based on. The son of Cuban immigrants, Diaz was born and raised in Miami, eventually attending university at Miami’s most prominent rival, Florida State. Diaz would begin his coaching career at FSU as a graduate assistant. Rising through college Diaz’s ranks would learn from some of the greatest coaches in college football history, such as Bobby Bowden, Chuck Amato, Dan Mullen, and Mack Brown.
To get to why Manny Diaz will be the head coach at Miami for a long time, we must take it back to his arrival at Miami. Manny Diaz first came to the University of Miami as the defensive coordinator under Mark Richt in 2016, installing a base 4-3 defense that blitzed heavily and forced teams into turnovers. Diaz was tasked with overhauling a porous defense that continually ranked in the bottom of the FBS under previous head coach Al Golden.
In his first season at Miami, Diaz was a nominee for the Broyles Award, given to the top assistant coach in college football. Diaz’s defense ranked No. 20 nationally in total defense, No. 9 in yards per play, No. 12 in scoring defense, No. 5 in tackles for loss, No. 22 in team sacks, and tied for No. 8 in defensive touchdowns allowed.
2017 would be the year Miami was put back on the national stage. In the first game of the season cornerback, Malik Young would pick off a Bethune Cookman quarterback pass. When he returned to the sideline, Young donned an enormous Cuban link chain made by famous Miami jeweler, AJ The Jeweler; the first edition turnover chain with the encrusted “U” featured 900 orange and green sapphire stones, was 5.5 inches and weighed 4.4 pounds. The turnover chain was the brainchild of Manny Diaz to incentivize and reward defensive players for forcing turnovers.
In 2017 Miami’s defense would rank first nationally in team sacks, third nationally in tackles for loss, third in forced turnovers, and ninth nationally in opponent yards per play. Since its inception in 2017, the Turnover chain has become synonymous with University of Miami football and has done its intended job. Between 2017 and 2020, the Hurricanes rank 15th in defensive efficiency, 4th in yards per play.
Just when it seemed that Miami had returned to their powerhouse status, it all came crashing down in 2018. A number of variables contributed to a disappointing 7-6 season in 2018. Like past head coaches, the downfall of Richt came from his unwillingness to adapt his scheme and fire underperforming coaches. Another factor was failed development of quality players. In my opinion, the most egregious act was Richt’s nepotism. Richt hired his 26-year son Jon to be the quarterback coach. Jon played college football at Mars Hill University, a Division II school, where he started only one season.
How could one expect these college athletes to take anything Jon Rich said seriously? He was only a couple of years older than them and played at Division II school. My issue isn’t so much about the level Jon played at but the fact that he only started 1 year and was coaching for less than 3 years before being handed the task of coaching one of the most important positions in football. All these mishaps and pressure from the athletic department to make coaching changes culminated in a surprise retirement from Mark Richt following Miami’s loss in their bowl game.
Let’s take a look to see what Manny Diaz’s UM future is looking like.
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Why Manny Diaz Will be UM’s Head Coach for a Long Time
When Mark Richt abruptly retired on December 30th, 2018, the University of Miami was scrambling to find a new head coach. Almost all of the desirable coaches had already been hired, and the clock was ticking to get a new coach hired so they could set up staff.
Looking back, it seems like athletic director Blake James always knew he wanted Diaz to become the head coach at Miami one day eventually. That day came a lot sooner than anyone could have expected. Speaking at Diaz’s inaugural press conference, James had this to say;
“I got to watch him in action with half the team and see the success that half of the team was having. And so, when that conversation with Mark and I ended on that Sunday morning, and he let me know his decision, my thought right away went to seeing if Manny was still in town. … Fortunately, he was still in town.”
Temple two weeks before being their head coach, Diaz had been hired but remained on the Miami staff through the bowl game. In his introductory press conference, he stated that the only team he would have left Temple for was Miami.
As soon as his press conference was over, Manny got right to work. His first order of business was clearing house on the offensive side of the ball. Diaz fired running backs coach Thomas Brown, wide receivers coach Ron Dugans, quarterbacks coach Jon Richt, tight ends coach Todd Hartley and offensive line coach Stacy Searels. Diaz didn’t feel good about firing his former colleagues, but he expressed,
“There has to be accountability. The U of M cannot rank second to last in anything.”
Diaz was once on the other side of the table when he was fired from Texas while working under Mack Brown. Following a loss to BYU where his defense gave up 550 rushing yards, Diaz was let go. He said that moment was life-changing and helped form him into the coach he is now. Diaz realized that it wasn’t his scheme that was the problem; it was the culture unbeknownst to him he had allowed to develop. At Miami, Diaz wanted to make sure he developed a culture of accountability across the program from the coaches down to the players.
As the son of a politician, Diaz knows how to speak to rally people to his side. His first off-season as head coach was full of it. Diaz was recruiting stars from the transfer portal in order to bolster his team, showing up to fundraising events on yachts, taking to Twitter to interact with high school recruits, and hired high-profile offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Dan Enos from Alabama. In short, he had the braggadocious and swag attitude Miami football had been known for since the 80s.
All the hype that Diaz had garnered in the offseason came crashing down upon the Miami football team a year later. Diaz would go 6-7 in his first year, the offense improved only slightly, and the team ended the year on a three-game losing streak to FIU, Duke, and a shutout bowl loss to Louisiana Tech.
Diaz would face his first significant crossroads as a head coach. Would he make the same mistakes as previous coaches and deny he messed up, or would he practice what he preached and hold himself accountable?
A quick pause to return to the prodigal son’s parable and how it relates to Manny Diaz. In this parable from the Bible, a son takes his inheritance from his father and runs off to live a life of wild living but squanders it. The son returns home broke, embarrassed, and apologetic to his father, pleading to take him in as a servant, not as his son.
The father recognizes his son’s genuine sorrow and, instead of scolding him, welcomes him back with open arms “for he was lost, but now he is found.” The point of this parable is the son recognizing his faults and holding himself accountable. Diaz is the son in this story; he got the keys to the Miami team and went wild, and like the son, it all came crashing down.
Diaz went back to the drawing board to fix his first-year mistakes. Rhett Lashlee was hired from SMU to replace offensive coordinator Dan Enos. Offensive line coach Garin Justice came from UNLV to replace Butch Barry. After wide receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield left for the same position at Penn State, Diaz hired Rob Likens from Arizona State to replace Stubblefield.
2020 gave Miami fans the excitement they had long been waiting for. An 8-3 record with the offense finally transitioning to the spread bolstered Miami into the top 20 offenses in the nation. Miami ended the year in tough fashion with a loss in their bowl game and an injury to star quarterback D’Eriq King. While the defense took a step back under Blake Baker, Manny again corrected his mistake by stating he would take over play-calling duties for the next season.
While the injury to King hurts the team, he has stated he will return next year instead of heading to the NFL. King was a fantastic addition to the Miami team this season and proved to be a pivotal part of Rhet Lashlee in achieving the 8-3 record. Players across the team have bought into the culture Manny has built.
Only 4 players from Miami’s 2020 roster entered the 2021 NFL draft. Retaining draft-eligible players has been a struggle for Miami for years. The leadership and experience these players bring are immeasurable, and I credit Diaz and the coaching staff for convincing these players to stay.
Diaz’s accountability for himself and the coaching staff is the foundation of his culture at Miami. This is what separates him from previous coaches Mark Richt and Al Golden and why I believe he is the right man to lead Miami back. When faced with holding themselves accountable as coaches Richt and Golden chose not to.
They would not make the changes necessary to succeed, for they feared it would affect how the team responded to their leadership. Diaz’s inexperience as a head coach was the biggest knock on him when he was hired, but it has proven to be one of his best attributes as he recognizes his mistakes as learning experiences.