The Miami Hurricanes started Sunday morning with the news Mark Richt was stepping down—days after year three had drawn to an ugly close. By evening, former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz had been turned back over and recovered by “The U”. Barely two weeks after accepting the head coaching opportunity at Temple University, Diaz was officially named the 25th head football coach for the University of Miami—followed by a highly-anticipated introductory press conference Wednesday morning.

One week ago today; the eve of the Pinstripe Bowl—which now feels a lifetime ago based on the unfathomable events that have taken place in less than a week.

To go from the lowest of lows on the heels of a six-loss 2018 campaign and post-season whipping to colossal change; it’s beyond surreal. Conversations down the stretch about position coach changes, Richt giving up play-calling, the hopeful addition of an offensive assistant—while digesting the loss of Diaz to Temple and coming to terms with two of his assistant morphing into a co-defensive coordinator role—to all of this? It’s beyond the wildest dreams of all parties involved.

There’s so much to unpack regarding all that’s going on; both in regards to Richt’s departure and behind-the-scenes efforts at Miami over the past three years—as well as Diaz short “stint” at Temple and quick return to South Florida. With the present more pressing than the past, the open letter to Richt can wait—the launch of the Diaz era and how things got here are first and foremost.

RIGHT GUY, RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME

If Wednesday’s press conference had a bit of a rushed feel, it makes sense due to the rapid nature of which things unfolded. Both Diaz and athletic director Blake James touched on this during their time at the podium, while local beat writers went as far as to create a timeline of events—starting with Thursday’s showdown against Wisconsin, right up through the announcement Diaz was returning from Temple late Sunday night.

For some, the speed of this hiring was welcomed. Miami acted quickly in the wake of Richt’s unexpected departure—knowing who they wanted, going after him and getting him—while carefully undoing a tricky situation due to said head coach accepting a new job weeks back. If Diaz was that clear-cut choice—James and UM had to expedite the process before Diaz assembled a staff in Philadelphia and got to work.

In short; there was no way to conduct a national search over the next three weeks, landing back on Diaz and expecting him to break the commitment he’d made to Temple. This is a man with high character—as cited by and “unfinished business” approach to Miami’s bowl game and feeling like he owed it to his guys to be there, as well as how much he’s discussed the position he left the Owls in, despite only being under their employ for less than three weeks.

Be it at today’s press conference or Monday’s appearance on ESPN’s College Football Live—Diaz immediately opened with gratitude to Temple for putting their faith in him, as well as their understanding that his dream job called five years sooner than expected.

All of that to say none of this makes the hiring of Diaz “rushed”—nor does it mean Miami was wrong to not go through the act of a long, drawn out, no-stone-left-unturned, national coaching search some were clamoring for. If anything, the laser-focus on Diaz should be seen as a two-fold positive—the fact UM quickly identified their man and got him, as well as the fact UM has learned from past mistakes and wasted efforts, while learning who this university is and where it stands in this day and age.

TAKES A SPECIAL-FIT, NICHE COACH TO LEAD “THE U”

One of the biggest disconnects a portion of Miami’s fan base has displayed over the years—a heightened sense of the national desirability of the head coaching position at UM, versus the understanding this is a niche job in need of the right guy and it isn’t for everybody. If operating from a place of honesty and full transparency, it shouldn’t be that difficult to accept reality.

Small private school in a large, diverse metropolitan city all of transplants—opposed to a small college town with a massive local alumni base, sprawling campus and student body four- or five-times the size of UM’s; not to mention the university’s athletics being the only show in those towns, opposed to multiple professional sports franchises and countless other ways to spend the entertainment dollar, as one can in South Florida.

The pageantry one sees at big-time football schools in the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten—packed on-campus stadiums, versus Miami’s (albeit freshly renovated) borrowed NFL stadium up the road and concrete jungle gameday experience—that will always be a turnoff to many of the men who coach this beloved sport.

As is the Miami lifestyle for many of those not born and bred at the bottom. The masses will mostly choose to bring their wives and kids to these smaller, college-driven, family-friendly, charming college towns for that white-picket-fence life—as well as the built-in community and support one automatically receive when taking on the challenge and becoming the most-visible university employee, as there is no bigger business or brand in these types of places.

Fact remains, the head coaching position at Miami is—always has been and always will be—a niche job for the right-fit guy, which immediately narrows that list of ready, willing and available coaches in any search. Toss in the fact that many would still be “open to listen”—both flattered that a storied program like “The U” would reach out, while using the conversation as bargaining chip for a raise, or another opportunity.

On top of all that, the college football head coaching game of musical chairs isn’t one easy to negotiate, nor does it provide many big winners. Fact remains most guys—even those at what would be deemed a “lesser” program—are happy where they’re at, and if they are thinking about leaving, there are realistically only a handful of programs they’d consider.

FINDING THE GUY IS A FINITE PROCESS, WHERE MANY STRIKE OUT

This precise exercise played out years back with former Boise State head coach Chris Petersen—who finally left southern Idaho and made the 500-mile trek to Seattle to take the University of Washington head coaching position in late 2013, after years of turning down offer after offer.

Petersen’s name was tied to the Florida job after the 2009 season, when Urban Meyer did his best Fred Sanford and left the program hanging—only to return for one final season. Other names tied to the Gators’ opening; Bob Stoops, Kyle Wittingham and Gary Patterson. There were even rumors of a Steve Spurrier return, before UF finally settled on a step-down option in Will Muschamp—whose stock only raised due to his trumped-up coach-in-waiting designation at Texas under Mack Brown.

Muschamp was by no stretch a home-run hire—which is worth noting considering the University of Florida’s hefty athletic budget and passionate persuading from a then-football focused athletic director like Jeremy Foley, who was on a mission to get his man. Despite Gainesville being a stellar college football town and ideal place for a coach to land with his family, none of the post-Spurrier hires outside of Meyer have been the big time names one would’ve expected the Gators to land—Ron Zook back in 2002, Muschamp in 2011, Jim McElwain in 2015 and former assistant Dan Mullen returning last season.

Returning to Petersen, the former Broncos leader turned down a $4M offer to coach the UCLA Bruins at the end of the 2011 season—with an additional $3M budget to build a staff—his decision based on “lifestyle reasons”, as small-town living was instrumental to his family life. Southern Cal and Stanford also came after Petersen hard at the time, but he never buckled—no matter the dollar amount offered.

In the end, family—and big money—ultimately brought Peterson to the Huskies, who signed a five-year, $18M deal, that got bumped up to just shy of $5M annually back in August, making him the highest-paid coach in the Pac-12. Despite growing up 12 hours south of Seattle (in Northern California’s Yuba City) the Huskies were already in the bloodline as Ron Petersen—the family patriarch—was born and raised in the Rainer Valley and was a Huskies fan; something that obviously struck a chord with his football-loving son.

The younger Petersen also spent much of his own youth in Seattle, visiting his grandparents on breaks from school. The Pacific Northwest was in his blood—and the move from Boise a quick jaunt—making it the only “transfer” destination for the 13-year Boise State veteran leader—eight as head coach, five as offensive coordinator—and perfect landing spot for his family to embrace the next phase of their lives.

Sometimes there’s something in the water—or the overall DNA—that makes the ordinary, extraordinary and someplace an ideal fit. Without jumping the gun on where Diaz’s head coaching career will go at Miami—and making no attempt to compare his trajectory to Petersen’s—the point worth highlighting is related to home and that calling that forces a coach out of one place and on to another, a different path that has him staying put and ignoring all suitors.

It’s not as simple as a blank check and brand recognition. These are life-changing decisions that impact so many—and there are only so many stops on the carousel a coach will make in his career. There are also only so many right-fit coaches to go around, so when something passes the eye test and feels right—it makes sense to go with it.

HISTORY WILL PROVE RICHT WAS RIGHT GUY, FOR “WRONG” REASONS

Despite how 2018 flamed out, Richt was absolutely the right call for Miami three years ago—and should Diaz prove to be “the guy” that brings the Canes back, that will forever be tied to his predecessor’s era, as well.

A decade of losing aside, University of Miami football was completely broken and had lost it’s way under Al Golden—the Canes’ third wrong hire in a row, dating back to caretake Larry Coker playing his chaperone-type role when Butch Davis bailed for the NFL abruptly. Coker kept things afloat for a few years and brought home a national title—but that 35-3 start the first three years was 25-12 the next three; including a 7-6 run in 2006 that got him fired.

That season, all the way through Golden’s bottoming-out 58-0 loss against Clemson—Miami was 60-47; unfathomable when you recall this program tearing off a 34-game win-streak that ended three years before Coker’s wheels fell off.

Richt proved to be UM’s first big-money, recognizable name-type hire—which ultimately paid dividends on the back-end. While it’s easy to currently focus on a six-loss season and prehistoric offense that wasted a championship-caliber defense year three—all that gets overridden when looking at the good.

Richt’s time spent in Athens at a big time SEC program and coaching at that level; it had a direct impact when assessing Miami’s shortcomings. The instrumental push for an indoor practice facility—and personal $1M donation—are the ultimate reason the Carol Soffer Indoor Practice Facility is a reality today. Richt also addressed UM’s prehistoric ways in regards to player nutrition—while hammering the administration to create a bigger pool of money for assistant coaches, which directly led to Diaz’s hiring.

Beyond all that, Richt pulled the plug in the most graceful, ego-less, program-first manner when stepping down days after the bowl loss. A man with next-level faith, one would assume the decision had been weighing heavily on him as year-three derailed mid-season. Those who rely heavily on prayer for guidance; there’s usually a bold ask for clarity and answers to be fully revealed.

In short, had Wisconsin rallied—down 20-17 late and punching in a a game-winning touchdown—who knows how the next 72 hours would’ve played out. When it was a 35-3 massacre, with the offense again a full-blown disaster and the program taking another giant step back—one has to believe Richt had clarity and a peace regarding a decision to make and path to take. Especially considering retirement was on the table—at minimum, a one-year sabbatical—when things ended with the Bulldogs. Instead, the Miami job opened—forcing a rash decision.

In the end, Richt’s mission at Miami was fulfilled—although not as it might’ve been intended in regards to wins and losses. Instead, the alumni proved to be the bridge connecting a broken era to a rebirth, in a way that only he had the skills set, heart, patience, wisdom and leadership to provide.

DIAZ SHOWED TRUE SWAG WITH HANDLING OF ENTIRE SITUATION

Character should also be used to describe all things Diaz as this new era gets underway. While some will attempt to cheapen the choice—calling it a hire from with, another coordinator promotion or unfair Shannon 2.0-type comparison—none could be further from the truth.

Diaz’s track record and overall career choices need to be factored into the equation, as they show the type of motor he has, the logical football mind he possesses and the ability to lead—which has been proven in how he’s hit the ground running with UM; making tough choices (like firing the entire offensive staff), while diving in head first in regards to replacements.

Bigger that that, it was the move Diaz made just shy of a month ago—when making the trek to Philadelphia to interview for the head coaching position at Temple; one that he accepted days later.

Diaz could’ve easily parlayed Miami’s three years of defensive success into a head-coach-in-waiting scenario and hefty pay raise this off-season—using the Owls’ offer as a bargaining chip with UM. Instead, he looked at his personal future and realized his best path to his dream job in Coral Gables meant cutting his teeth as a head coach elsewhere, hoping it’d lead him home someday.

Temple proved a good stepping stone for Golden, as well as three who followed—Steve Addazio to Boston College, Matt Rhule to Baylor and now Geoff Collins to Georgia Tech—all after relatively short stints with the Owls. Hard as it may have been to leave, this could be a low-risk, high-reward opportunity—so Diaz acted quickly and made it happen, though still committed to coach UM’s bowl game due to unfinished business with his players.

The act itself removes any promotion-from-within dig as Diaz showed 305-like swag and had the cojones to leave—as well as the smarts to return when Richt abruptly called it quits. James and Miami also knew this was their most-enticing, win-win proposition as the hire saved the Hurricanes a complete overhaul—returning a few key juniors like Michael Pinckney and Shaq Quarterman, who were all but gone based on Diaz’s departure—as well as putting the 2019 recruiting class back in play, opposed to dead in the water.

It also keeps the defense unit and scheme in tact, while guaranteeing all the best-case scenario offensive changes fans dreamt of during that four-game losing streak late in the year.

Miami landed a fiery guy with the right DNA and some of the best traits some incomplete coaches had in the past. Two years back Bob Stoops called it quits at Oklahoma, handing the reigns to second-year offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley—who reached the College Football Playoff in back-to-back seasons.

No, Miami wasn’t on Oklahoma’s level when their head man stepped down and a savvy assistant took control—but let the example show there are other scenarios than the Shannon 2.0 comparisons or knocks that internal guys can’t carry out their own vision, finding next-level success.

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