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Smeltzer: Penn State Fans, Enjoy the ‘Manny Diaz Experience’

ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 15: Penn State Nittany Lions defensive coordinator Manny Diaz reacts during a college football game against the Michigan Wolverines on October 15, 2022 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire)

Manny Diaz will be the Penn State defensive coordinator for as long as he wants. 

He’s one of the best in the country at what he does.

 Diaz is so good. So he might not be at Penn State for much longer. Penn State fans should have that in mind when they think about this season.

Before coming to Penn State, Diaz was the head coach at one of the most successful programs in college football history. He didn’t remind anybody of Jimmy Johnson at Miami. But he didn’t stink, either. In three seasons at “The U”, Diaz went 21-15 overall and 16-9 in the ACC. Only perennial power Clemson won more ACC games in that time. Unfortunately for Diaz, Miami wanted to hire Oregon’s Mario Cristobal. It did so at Diaz’s expense. Miami fired Diaz in controversial fashion in December 2021.

Enter, James Franklin.

Within a week of Miami firing Diaz, Penn State hired him to replace Brent Pry— who left for the Virginia Tech head coaching job— as its defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Diaz made an immediate impact at Penn State. The team gave up less than 20 points per game in 2022. It ended the year 11-2, won the Rose Bowl and finished No. 7 in the country. Not too shabby. 

This season has been even better thus far. 

Through five games, Penn State is No. 1 in the country in total defense. Diaz could well be running the best defense in America.

And that could make him an attractive option when coaching search season comes around. 

Diaz has long been established as one of America’s best defensive minds. He doesn’t have anything left to prove as a coordinator to anybody except maybe himself. As seasoned as he is, Diaz is still only 49, which is fairly young for his profession, and his first head coaching stint was successful enough to where Diaz shouldn’t be exiled from running another program. One could conclude that the rotten way Diaz’s first head coaching run ended might make him want another shot even more. 

The fact that Diaz was reportedly a finalist for Florida Atlantic’s head coaching job— which ultimately went to former Texas boss Tom Herman– this past winter seems to indicate that he wants to be a head coach again. 

The good news for Penn State fans is that it might take a much better job than Florida Atlantic for Diaz to leave Happy Valley. 

Toward the end of Penn State’s annual media day this August, Jon Sauber of the Centre Daily Times and I were the only reporters with Diaz. Sauber asked Diaz about the possibility of leaving Penn State for a head coaching job. Diaz did something he does well– answered the question.

“Being the defensive coordinator at Penn State is a better job than being the head coach at a lot of different schools,” Diaz said. “So it gives me the ability to be selective and to make sure I pick the right one in a situation that’s built for winning.”

It sure doesn’t sound like Diaz will just leave Penn State for any DI school that wants him.

So although it shouldn’t come as a surprise if Diaz leaves PSU after 2023, it also shouldn’t come as one if he doesn’t. Right now, Diaz is the second most important coach on the nation’s No. 6 ranked team. Tradition-wise, Penn State’s also a borderline college football blue blood. Diaz has a great job. I don’t think he’d leave that behind for a place like Florida Atlantic. 

But just because Diaz leaving Penn State after 2023 isn’t a sure thing doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. It might take a lot of work for AD Pat Kraft and company to keep him around. Diaz’s  buyout at Miami– reported at between $6.5 and $8.5 million– expires after this year, money could be more of an object. Not that it otherwise wouldn’t be, of course.

I don’t think Penn State fans should wake up every morning thinking about how much longer Diaz will be in Happy Valley. They should have better things to do. But I would recommend occasionally thinking about it. The Diaz era at Penn State is going to be remembered fondly no matter how much longer it lasts. When a good thing goes away, it’s not unusual for people who got to experience it to think ‘Man, I wish I appreciated that more.'”

The Penn State beat should appreciate Diaz, too, because he’s a great interview. 

He’s sharp, cool and a great public speaker. That’s probably due in part to his father, also named Manny Diaz, once being the mayor of Miami.  

There are a lot of good defensive coordinators in the world. Penn State’s had plenty of them. But there aren’t many people like Manny Diaz. 

Whether his remaining tenure at Penn State amounts to several more years or merely the rest of this one, fans should at least occasionally take some time and appreciate how good he is.

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