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Opinion

The Walker Report: First Step to Being Elite, Keep Manny Diaz Long-Term

Manny Diaz November 12, 2022 David Hague/NSN

In the past three weeks following Penn State’s 44-31 loss to Ohio State, Nittany Lion fans alumni, and media have wondered how they can become an elite program again. What will it take to get over the hump against Michigan, Ohio State, and USC starting in 2024?

Well, there are a few steps that they can take that will give them a chance to be an elite team, which not just Penn State, but most teams would like to be. Over the next few installments of the Walker Report on Nittany Sports Now, I will go over the steps Penn State can take to become so.

The first thing is to keep defensive coordinator Manny Diaz for as long as possible. Diaz was the head coach for Miami from 2019-2021 and the Frank Broyles Award nominee has turned a defense, that has young talented players, into a borderline elite defense that can not only get pressure on the quarterbacks but also get home.

Penn State’s defense also gets timely turnovers, such as the forced fumble by Zakee Wheatley near the end of the first half against Purdue that Joey Porter Jr. recovered, which led to a Brenton Strange touchdown. Other than ten minutes against Ohio State and one half against Michigan, Penn State has been a lockdown defense. The good news is that most everyone should be back in 2023.

The main pieces that will be departing are PJ Mustipher and Ji’Ayir Brown, who will be out of eligibility, and Porter, who will most likely enter the NFL Draft. With the latter two losses, Penn State has the depth to absorb those losses, but Mustipher will be the hardest to replace because they need bigger bodies for run defense, specifically for games against Michigan. Penn State does have freshman Kaleb Artis, who is listed as 6-foot-4, 315 pounds, but no other returning lineman is listed at over 295 pounds. That is an issue that will most likely have to be addressed in the transfer portal since all the top recruits on the defensive line have already committed to other schools unless Penn State finds a way to flip a recruit.

But back to Diaz, when I went to Penn State media day back in August, I asked every defensive player what the difference in Diaz’s defensive scheme is and what he brings to the table compared to previous defensive coordinator Brent Pry. Every player unanimously said one word: Energy.

Penn State’s defense has been nothing short of dominant these past two games, and with even more talent in the secondary, linebacker, and edge rushers on the way, the 2023 defense looks scary good. Imagine a fresh infusion of talent to go alongside Abdul Carter, Curtis Jacobs, Dani-Dennis-Sutton, Kalen King, Chop Robinson, Hakeem Beamon, Coziah Izzard, Jaylen Reed, Zakee Wheatley, and personnel that can fit into his system in the future this will become an elite defense.

Now there is an elephant in the room. How long until Diaz has his next opportunity to become a head coach? The answer is we don’t know. Everything I hear is that he loves being at Penn State, and at Penn State’s Media Day, Diaz said that he enjoys coaching linebackers again. Another factor if he leaves Penn State, he wants to choose the right fit for him as he just left a meat grinder of a job that was Miami and may not want to rush to go back into that fire.

I came to this conclusion when I listened to the latest episode of the Lashing Out podcast on Nittany Sports Now starring my colleague Jarrod Prugar and Kevin Quigley, and Prugar said if Penn State has to pay Daiz up to $5 million to stick around for three to four years, then they should do it, especially for recruiting purposes. If he happens to stay, this will be the first recruiting cycle that Diaz will be fully involved in, and he will only help bring in recruits from the south with his name recognition and his defense’s performance this year.

After all, how did Alabama, Georgia, and Michigan get back to elite status? What was its foundation? Elite defense and Penn State’s defense becoming elite will be the first major step in Penn State becoming an elite program as soon as next year.

Twitter: @bwalkerdadon

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