The Manny Diaz-to-Temple rumors started flying early last week. Days later, the University of Miami’s third-year defensive coordinator accepted his first head coaching job at 44 years old and third-year head coach Mark Richt found himself having to replace a valuable piece of his staff days before the early signing period—amidst bowl preparations for UM’s rematch against Wisconsin.

Business as usual for a program struggling to find its footing over the past decade and a half. Anytime it appears Miami is taking some type of step forward—the snakebitten feeling somehow returns, always in some new shape or form. All that to say, as the dust has settled on Diaz’s decision—logic and a long-term shift in perspective must come into play.

In the end, the choice to take the Temple job proved not to be about money and 100-percent in regards to opportunity. Diaz was coming off his best season at Miami; his defense ranked second nationally—yet much like his players were snubbed in the all-ACC rankings, Diaz’s phone wasn’t ringing off the hook with big time offers.

Temple was interested, but only offered after their first choice—Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mike Elko—turned down the offer. Unfazed and with ego in check, Diaz still caught a flight north, was diverted to Washington D.C. due to inclement weather, and rented a car to drive to Philadelphia—where it’s a safe bet some soul-searching took place; alone on the open road for hours, with nothing to do but ponder one’s future.

Coaching at the University of Miami was a lifelong dream for the hometown Diaz. In his mid-forties, he grew up in the Decade of Dominance-era—witnessing four national championships from grade school, through his senior year of high school.

It left an indelible mark—and gave him something to chase; coaching, but without any blueprint regarding how to get into the profession, let alone excel in it.

Seventeen years after entering the coaching game as an unpaid graduate assistant at Florida State in the late nineties, Diaz landed at Miami—another second-choice opportunity, after the recently-hired Richt lost out on Dave Aranda, who chose LSU and the bigger payday in Baton Rouge.

The path back to Coral Gables wasn’t an easy one. Some quick backstory.

After graduating from Florida State, Diaz landed a job editing film for ESPN’s NFL Countdown—where his work ethic and tenacity caught the eye of many; most-notably Sterling Sharpe, who mentioned the fiery Diaz to his friend Chuck Amato.

The Seminoles’ then-defensive coordinator took Diaz up on his, “I’ll do anything” pledge—helping him get an unpaid part-time job in FSUs recruiting office.

To help put food on the table, Diaz spent his mornings as a data-entry processor—while his wife Stephanie worked for a catering company. Another twist; the young family took up residence in Burt Reynolds Hall—the Noles’ athletic dorm—for two years, with a newborn son. Future NFL superstar receiver Anquan Boldin was their next door neighbor.

Diaz eventually followed Amato to North Carolina State for a similar no-pay opportunity, which turned into a job coaching linebackers in 2002—proving to be the foot in the door the 28-year old needed to jump-start a coaching career. Two years later, Diaz coached safeties and special teams for the Wolfpack and by 2006, his first stint as defensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee, where he lasted four seasons.

Mississippi State was next on the coaching carousel, and after a successful season Mack Brown called and Diaz would spend the next three years in Austin coaching the Longhorns’ defense—fired two games into his third season after a historically-bad outing for UT. Brown stepped down at year’s end; the program nowhere near what it was when reaching the national title game four years prior.

The scapegoated Diaz was forced to rebuild, taking a step back and accepting an offer to coach-up Louisiana Tech’s defense. A year later, a second stint at Mississippi State—where he found success that led to Richt tapping him for the Miami job. The rest, as they say, is history.

Diaz took over a Hurricanes defense that was in shambles both scheme- and culture-wise. Five years under Al Golden and an awkward 3-4 game plan implemented by coordinator Mark D’Onofrio—the only thing that looked like Miami were the uniforms and “U” logos on the helmets. The style of play was beyond off; as proven by the 58-0 beat down suffered at the hands of Clemson late October, costing Golden his job and ushering in a new era at “The U”.

Diaz turned things around relatively quickly—while tapping into his hometown DNA year two when creating the legendary, trendsetting Turnover Chain. The motivational tool proved to be the biggest story in college football last season—as Miami burst out the gate with a 10-0 start, reaching No. 2 in the College Football Playoffs rankings by late November.

While 2018 proved to be a setback for the Canes; the missteps were all on the offensive side of the ball. Diaz’s defense remained as disruptive as ever—and with a little offensive help, could’ve easily paved the way for Miami to pick up a few more wins, returning to the ACC Championship game for a second year in a row.

This defensive success is precisely why Richt acted swiftly when promoting safeties coach Ephraim Banda and Jon Patke co-defensive coordinators, while elevating defensive line coach Jess Simpson to associate head coach within a day of Diaz’s presser in Philly.

As expected, the move played out quickly amongst a divided fan base—the logical understanding precisely why this was the only option, while the over-emotional, deluded segment was again up in arms, reinventing ways to pin blame on Richt.

These are the same bunch who immediately blamed Diaz’s departure on either (1) Miami not ponying up enough money to keep him—refusing to believe he left for the opportunity, as well as (2) the inference the Canes’ defensive coordinator saw the program as a sinking ship and wanted to get as far away from Richt as possible.

Hardly sounded the case when Diaz went over the top at his Temple presser to praise Richt, as well as the direction the University of Miami is headed—when he could just as easily have shared quick pleasantries and brought the focus back to the Owls.

“Mark Richt is a great man who’s going to win big at the University of Miami. There’s a lot of great players in that locker room. This program established is bigger than any one person,” Diaz shared. “Myself and the guys on the defensive staff were humbled we had an opportunity to play defense at the University of Miami standard. It’s nothing we invited. It’s been going there since I got into coaching. I know those guys will be fine in the future.”

Regarding that humbled defensive staff, Diaz had tapped both Banda and Patke—who he had history working with in Starkville—to follow him north, which would’ve gutted Miami. Diaz leaving was a big enough blow, but to lose the others—especially Banda, as a recruiter—would’ve been catastrophic for the one side of the ball that has the Hurricanes “back”. UM needs stability and consistency with this successful defense; making the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage perfect and timely.

Also lost, when throwing around the standard pie-in-the-sky potential coaching hires—the fact that, (1) quality coordinators aren’t growing on trees and (2) an outside coach would most-likely bring in his own staff, a new philosophy and there would be a transitional period that Miami football simply can’t afford going into year four.

The co-defensive coordinator title will keep Banda and Patke from getting that next-level DC money—while empowering both to take a business-as-usual approach, running the defense they built with Diaz. Retaining these two also keeps Miami’s 2019 recruiting class from completely falling apart at the final hour—while potentially luring players like Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney to return for their senior seasons (as talk weeks back had both leaning towards coming back.)

The lack of another defensive coach also opens Richt and Miami up to making a necessary hire on the offensive side of the ball—which could have Diaz’s departure a blessing in disguise, should Richt decide to make an addition.

An recent article in the Miami Herald had an unnamed Board of Trustees member stating that there would be an off-season push for the addition of an offensive coordinator—with a budget north of $1M annually for this hire. Unfortunately, Richt hasn’t tipped his hat one way or another regarding what direction he’s leaning—putting the veteran head coach at a true crossroads with year four on the horizon.

Richt ran a pro-style offense over 15 seasons at Georgia, behind solid offensive lines and with the support of a power rushing attack, which lead to two SEC Championships and six division titles. Richt was 145-51 in Athens—including a 9-5 bowl record—but entering year four at his alma mater, it’s a good time to reassess what’s taken place, a where as where things can realistically head.

Can Richt recruit the same caliber of player at both quarterback and on the offensive line to make that preferred pro-style offense work; the type of offense tailored to his play calling? Offensive tendencies are forever changing—and while that doesn’t mean head coaches nationwide need to abandon their schemes, chasing trends and reinventing themselves—there’s something to be said for working with the personnel one has, while adding new wrinkles and layers that not only enhance the current scheme, but also attract recruits looking to be utilized in modern ways.

Six years back Richt’s Georgia squad came up a few yards short of knocking off Alabama in the SEC Championship, which would’ve delivered a berth in the 2012 national championship game against Notre Dame.

The Crimson Tide was your typical ground-and-pound type squad for Nick Saban—though Saban has made sure his offense has grown with the times, turning the keys over to Lane Kiffin; who ran a pro-style at Southern Cal, but transitioned towards the spread with the Tide.

When Brian Daboll took over for the Florida Atlantic-bound Kiffin last season, elements of the spread were still there—thought the first year co-offensive coordinator put more of an emphasis on the run that his predecessor. Still, the scheme-related decisions proved more rooted in the replacement of Jalen Hurts by Tua Tagovailoa—on full display in last season’s national championship game when Tagovialoa entered in the second half and started throwing deep.

The point in that depressing hijack in regards to Alabama’s next-level success; the point that the game’s most-successful head coach is constantly evolving and scheming around the talent he has—opposed to remaining steadfast to a system that worked for him in the past.

Richt stopped calling plays at Georgia in 2006, handing the keys over to Mike Bobo and taking on that CEO-type role massive programs need. He remained hands-off with the offense over the next decade at Georgia, before getting the itch to try again at Miami in 2016—though doing it with the Hurricanes without solid quarterback play has proven lackluster.

Malik Rosier overachieved last season and bottomed out this one—while neither N’Kosi Perry or Cade Weldon took advantage of their true freshman to learn the ropes last year. The fact neither beat out Rosier in spring 2018; the first sign it was going to be a long season offensively for the UM.

All signs point to Jarren Williams being the guy next year; noticable for any who have paid attention to Richt’s comments about the immaturity of his two redshirt-freshmen, in comparison to the promise he sees in No. 15.

Promising as Williams might look, his success will come down to Richt’s personal life and coaching philosophies.

Fundamentally, we’re all wired one of two ways; either believing that growth and change are doable at any life-phase, allowing individuals to evolve, get better, improve and try new ways—or subscribing to the belief that we are who we are and once reaching a certain point, we’re done learning anything new. We’re sticking to our guns and doubling-down on what worked in the past, hellbent on proving it can still work today. While there’s no true right or wrong in individual philosophies—one will ultimately prove situationally correct and the other wrong.

Miami received a bit of a blessing-in-disguise for the season finale against Pittsburgh, as the lack of any available scholarship tight ends forced Miami’s offense out of the standard pro-style and into a spread that ultimately gave the Panthers defensive fits. (The 24-3 score could’ve easily have been 41-3 had Hurricanes’ receivers actually held onto the football.)

Could the departure of Diaz also prove fortuitous for Miami? Aside from the successful defensive coordinator getting the much-needed head coaching experience he’ll need, when chasing the opening at UM when Richt retires—the Canes have the room and budget to bring on an offensive mind that might not have been as seamless, weeks back.

A bowl game against Wisconsin in New York City remains the final hurdle for 2018. From there, here’s hoping for a little self-reflection for Richt. 2018 proved to be a bit of a stumble, but there are some clear-cut ways to right the ship for next year, barring the veteran head coach subscribes to the fact that old dogs can be taught new tricks.

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