“This past month has been a hell of a year.”
In less than a week, Manny Diaz has gone from the head coach of the Miami Hurricanes to unemployed to Penn State’s defensive coordinator. On Wednesday, Diaz addressed the media for the first time in his new job, and here are some notes from what he had to say.
HOW IT HAPPENED
When Diaz was officially let go by Miami Dec. 6, he “had no idea” what the next step was.
Diaz said Franklin reached out to him early last week, and the talks got more and more serious as the week progressed. By the middle of the day Friday, the deal was virtually done, and late Friday night, Diaz walked out of State College airport.
“I’ve always felt like God sort of shows his hand at that time and sort of nudges you a certain way…,” Diaz said. “If you’re talking defensive coordinator jobs and premier defensive coordinator jobs across the country, Penn State has got to be up there with the best of them.”
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE
A big part of Franklin naming Brent Pry’s successor was the scheme. Pry’s tactics produced multiple top-ten defenses, so Franklin didn’t want somebody with a completely different mindset.
Like Pry, Diaz likes to be aggressive, and Franklin concurs. But for Diaz, the Penn State defense is about more than who’s calling the shots.
“I think this is about the Penn State defense,” Diaz said. “I think it’s bigger than any one person… really going back to Coach Franklin’s days at Vanderbilt, I think he’s established a style of play on defense that’s been very aggressive, presented as very multiple to the offense. Trying to create negative plays while at the same time trying to limit explosive plays allowed. Those are all things that are in my background.”
“I think more than anything, it still comes down to the toughness, the physicality, the work ethic, the trust. To me, all of those sort of pillars that you need to have to play great defense. That, no matter how the roster turns over, no matter how coaches turn over, there’s just a style that carries forward.”
REMEMBERING THE GOOD TIMES
Unfortunately for Diaz, people will remember his time in Miami for its unceremonious and controversial ending. At best, people will think of Diaz as a guy who got a raw deal. But Diaz doesn’t want to see things that way when he reflects.
“I’d rather remember my time at Miami for the positives,” he said. “I think we did things the right way. I think we left the place in really good shape, having the second-most wins in the ACC to Clemson in the conference in the three years that we were there, to win 12 league games in the past two years. I think there’s a lot of good things.”
Like Pry before him, Diaz will run an aggressive defense that relies on pressure. Critics of this strategy feel that this increases the risk of big plays, but Diaz doesn’t necessarily agree.
“The Pittsburgh Steelers have always prided themselves on the ability to be very aggressive up front and not give up big plays on the back end…,” he said. “To me, it’s about how you structure your coverages. I mean, look, explosive plays usually happen because, No. 1, a blown coverage that’s a missed assignment, that’s something that should be handled from a preparation standpoint. Missed tackles, a lack of effort getting to the football. Those types of things usually create explosive plays moreso than just being careless schematically.”
PRESSURE FROM WITHIN
Diaz is used to pressure, having been a Power 5 head coach. But for Diaz, the expectations from the outside don’t weigh heavily to him when they aren’t as high as the ones he sets for himself. He hopes his players have the same mindset.
“If you want to coach at a great program where winning is the expectation, or at a program like this one where playing great defense is the expectation, I don’t feel that as pressure, because if you already have extraordinarily high expectations, it’s very difficult for any external expectations to exceed your internal expectations.”
Overall, Diaz loves the idea of getting to work in State College.
“What I’m really excited about is coaching defensive football at Penn State University,” he said. “That’s fun to say out loud.”