Optimism surrounds Diaz at Miami despite slow start
HIALEAH, Fla. -- When Mark Richt abruptly retired late in 2018 and Miami was left looking for a coach, the school quickly scrambled to bring back defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, just 18 days after he had left the Hurricanes to take the head job at Temple. The hire was largely applauded at the time, especially considering Diaz’s ties to the city (his father was once Miami mayor) and the impressive defensive units he put together during his three years as an assistant.
Diaz immediately pivoted to rebranding Miami as he was the latest coach tasked with returning the “The U” to its glory days of national champions. The moniker “The New Miami” was coined, with recruits on social media using the hashtag “#TNM” and touting the importance of keeping elite talent home.
But a little more than a year after The New Miami began, the results on the field have so far looked like The Old Miami. The Hurricanes went 6-7 on the season and finished on a three-game losing streak, capped off by a shutout loss to Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl. It was the eighth time in the last 10 years the Canes finished the season unranked.
After signing the No. 12 overall class in 2020 thanks to a strong late surge, optimism is back in Coral Gables, not only internally but with the fan base as well as with recruits we talked to at the Rivals Camp stop in Miami over the weekend.
“I think Manny Diaz is still new and he’s still putting the program together,” 2022 Florida offensive lineman Julian Armella, one of the top players in his class, said. “When I went on the visit I really liked the things they are doing with the new strength coach and I truly think in the next couple of years, before I graduate, Coach Diaz will have Miami back to the team it used to be.”
The challenges facing Miami are multi-faceted. Recruiting prospects from South Florida is harder than ever as schools like Alabama, Georgia and Clemson now regularly recruit elite talent in the area as do Florida and Florida State. The Hurricanes share a stadium with the Miami Dolphins and while it’s state-of-the-art and just hosted the Super Bowl, it’s still 30 minutes away from campus.
Rivals.com National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell said despite all the obstacles, what Miami needs is a stable situation and more consistency, both at the coaching position and on the field.
“Miami recruiting wasn’t awful during the 2020 class, especially when you look at some of their hits and final ranking. It’s just the consistency in recruiting that is lacking,” Farrell said. “Too many kids commit and de-commit and they lose too many head-to head battles. Landing Avantae Williams on Signing Day helps that, but really Diaz has to sell a product on the field that was just awful last season for months and months and then improve that product on the field. That’s a tall task.”
CaneSport.com publisher Gary Ferman, who has been covering the Hurricanes for decades and has seen many ups and downs, said while Diaz has struggled, he sees signs for optimism for Miami fans.
“Manny struggled in year one, no question … the thing that has impressed me is his lack of denial about it,” Ferman said. “He has attacked virtually every single problem that he had in year one from hiring a new offensive coordinator, new offensive line and receiver coaches, to going into the transfer portal and getting a new quarterback (D'Eriq King), a rush end and also picking up a new kicker.
"And then he gets Ed Reed to join the program in an advisory role. Needless to say, Miami won the month of January. None of that guarantees anything in September October and November. But so many coaches are stubborn and refuse to accept it when they fail. Manny is not doing that. He is trying to get better and give it his best shot”
Class of 2021 five-star defensive back Corey Collier, a Miami native, said the addition of Reed combined with another year of experience should result in more success in 2020.
“They’re not going to have the same season as last year because with Coach Diaz having more experience and Ed Reed coming in to help run the program,” Collier said. “I think that’s big for them.”
One common theme among the recruits at the camp in Miami was that Diaz needs more time to not only grow into being a head coach, but also to build a culture around the program and add talent.
“There were a lot of high expectations heading into the season and after the first couple of games they hit some adversity,” Five-star defensive lineman Tyreak Sapp, a Florida commit but still a priority Miami target said. “To be honest I feel like everyone wasn’t on board and I feel like this year once they get a whole bunch of guys to get on board and buy in they will be better.”
The addition of Reed was a popular move among recruits as was the staff reshuffling that saw Rhett Lashlee come aboard as offensive coordinator.
“I think they’ve done a great job this offseason of trying to fix the problems that they had,” said three-star offensive lineman Michael McLaughlin, who picked up his first scholarship offer from Miami after camping with the Hurricanes last summer. “I really like the new coaches they brought in and Coach Diaz and the rest of the coaches at Miami -- the thing I love is their energy and their competitiveness.”
After relying heavily on the transfer portal during his first offseason as head coach, mainly because of how little time he had to build his first class in 2019, Diaz shifted the focus in recruiting back to the Sunshine State. The results helped fuel the Canes No. 12 ranked class, with 14 of the school’s 22 signees coming from the state of Florida.
Armella said he expects that trend to continue going forward.
“The one thing he said on my visit is that he’s trying to recruit players from Florida,” Armell said. “He said we have all we need over here. He’s right. We have a bunch of athletes in this area.”
As for confidence level in Diaz going forward, Collier said he doesn’t have many concerns that Diaz is the right man for the job.
“I’m very confident in him,” Collier said. “ It was his first year of being a head coach and they just need to give him some time and he’ll work it out. They’re going to win a lot of games.”