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‘We’re Teachers’: Penn State’s Manny Diaz Thrilled to be Coaching Linebackers Again

Photo courtesy of Penn State Athletics: Manny Diaz

Penn State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has undergone many changes over the past eight months.

After three seasons as the University of Miami’s head coach, the school fired him Dec. 6.

Diaz’s unemployment lasted just five days. Penn State announced the hiring of Diaz as its defensive coordinator Dec. 11, returning him to the role that made him a big name amongst college football assistant coaches.

When Penn State fans think of Diaz, they think of the man calling the shots on defense.

But defensive coordinator isn’t Diaz’s only title.
Diaz is also Penn State’s linebackers coach, and because of that, he can bond with a position group in a way he wasn’t able to when he was the boss at Miami.

Diaz loves having the chance to develop those connections again.

“It’s not just about being a coordinator; it’s about having a position group again,” Diaz said Saturday at Penn State’s media day. “A head coach has a connection with everybody on the team; that’s one of the differences. But, you don’t really have that depth and that everyday bond like you do when you’re in a room and you’re directly responsible for a position group.”

Penn State’s linebacking corps is a group in transition.

Curtis Jacobs is the only returning starter, and others, such as Tyler Elsdon and Kobe King, who are fighting it out for the starting MIKE position, have yet to make names for themselves.

The lack of experience is a concern that head coach James Franklin addressed in his Media Day presser, but Diaz’s first linebacking group at Penn State has promise.

One promising young linebacker that Diaz will be developing is Abdul Carter.

The 6-foot-3, 235-pounder from La Salle College High School in Philadelphia received praise from Diaz the day he signed with Penn State.

Diaz told Carter that his film was the first tape he watched after taking the Penn State job days before early signing day.

“After about four plays,” Diaz said, “I said, ‘heck yeah.’ This is exactly why I came to coach linebackers and defense at Penn State.”

Carter arrived on campus this summer, and after the first week of training camp, Diaz is still singing his praises.

“I’m still very highly complimentary of Abdul Carter,” Diaz said.

“It’s early. They’re only two shoulder-padded practices into it, and they’re swimming a little bit. But what you always want your young guys to do is, at some point during the practice, to make some sort of flash play to let you know, ‘ok, yeah, I see it.'” And they’ve done it. Abdul, he’s had some on back-to-back days.”

Another true freshman impressing Diaz is another Philadelphia product, Keon Wylie.

Wylie, a 6-foot-2, 218-pounder who played defensive end at Philadelphia’s Imhotep Charter High School, has been transitioning to inside linebacker in his brief time at Penn State.

“Keon Wylie is doing a nice job of after being a guy with his hand in the dirt, playing defensive end to standing and playing MIKE linebacker,” Diaz said.

Wylie, Carter and the rest of Penn State’s freshmen are entering a different, faster football world, and for Diaz, the ones who can adjust to the speed will separate themselves.

“The enormity of the pace, it will catch up to them, and the ones that can fight through that, that’s the part you don’t ever know in recruiting,” Diaz said. Do they have the maturity, that first August, September, to fight through it?”

Every year, Diaz looks for his player to have a “Matrix Moment,” referring to the scene in the 1999 film where the film’s main character, Neo, stops a barrage of bullets with his hand.

Neo slowed everything down, and that’s what Penn State’s linebackers must do to adjust to the college game successfully.

“When that game starts to slow down, usually first, it slows down on the practice field, then it slows down in the scrimmage setting and then finally it slows down on game day,” Diaz said. “And that’s what’s fun as a teacher to help them along in that progression.”

The way Diaz’s time ended at Miami left a sour taste in his mouth.

But the chance to get close to a particular group of players is something that, for Diaz, is sweet.

“I bet if you asked coach Franklin, I bet if you asked any coach around the country, that’s probably the thing you miss the most, is having your guys,” Diaz said. “They’re all your guys, but let’s be honest, it’s hard to really get that deep and that intense with 110 kids. To have a room again, to really be a teacher, that’s what we all are. Our name says coach, but really, we’re teachers. So to get back into that teaching-type environment, that’s been really rewarding.”

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