Manny Diaz’s intentions are clear: he’s doubling down on his position as head coach of the Univ. of Miami football team. With so much at stake heading into year three of calling the shots, his shuffles to the coaching staff exemplify his willingness to take accountability for the program going into shambles or rising to the highest degree.
UM isn’t happy. It’s been back-to-back years of Diaz’s group struggling with a specific side of the ball, ultimately hurting them down the line. They’ve lost both of their bowl games – vs. Louisiana Tech (14-0), vs. Oklahoma State (37-34) – haven’t been to an ACC title game and weren’t able to make the most of big-name transfers like D’Eriq King, Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche coming in.
That said, Diaz’s early part of the offseason has consisted of locating the right pieces to put on his staff, with each of them offering upgrades in recruiting, game plans and more. Here are my takeaways after Diaz finalizing his coaching unit for the coming season.
1. Manny Diaz is up for the challenge.
UM announced Thursday that they’ll be retaining defensive coordinator Blake Baker but will strip his play-calling duties. That liberty will go to Diaz, who now puts himself under more pressure to step up to the plate.
Instead of washing away those involved in a group that ranked No. 67 in total defense, according to NCAA.com, Diaz made the thought-out decision to take the criticism on whether or not his team can change the narrative.
He’s no longer willing to watch Miami allow 62 points and a school-record 778 yards versus North Carolina, or fall by 21-points to OKST in the first quarter. Diaz is open to becoming more of a commander in year three. That in itself shows you his confidence and will to win.
He’ll be back in the position he was at before he accepted the head coaching job at UM, so it’s not like he’s unknown to what he’s titled to. Diaz worked alongside DC Mickey Andrews for two seasons at FSU, coached a top-ranked safeties room at NC State, called plays at Middle Tennessee for four years, helped Mississippi State make a drastic turnaround defensively in 2010 (allowed 19.9 PPG, 22nd in the nation), had Texas as a perennial Big 12 defense in 2011, had LT Tech lead the FBS in turnovers gained in 2014 (42) and put Miami as the No. 20 ranked team in total defense in 2016, all while being the only team in the FBS to start three freshmen linebackers.
He’s no stranger to what he’s walking into.
“Blake will continue to run our defense and I will call the defensive plays on gamedays, which we feel is our best path to maximizing our strengths on that side of the ball,” Diaz said in a statement.
2. Promoting DVD and bringing in T-Rob helps recruitment excel.
Let’s eliminate the elephant in the room: UM’s attempts at recruiting defensive backs wasn’t ideal, having let hometown prospects like Ja’Den McBurrows (Michigan) and Jason Marshall (Florida) slide to other programs.
Entering the offseason, that issue seemed like a focus for Diaz, who announced the hiring of former South Carolina DC Travaris Robinson last week and promoted DeMarcus Van Dyke to cornerbacks coach Thursday. Those moves add up to replace CB coach Mike Rumph, who will now serve a role in UM’s recruiting department, and Ephraim Banda, the former safeties coach who accepted the DC job at Utah State last week.
Robinson, a Miami native who attended Miami Coral Park Senior High School, is a well-known name in South Florida, having recruited a plethora of kids from the area during his soothing 15-year coaching career. He’ll serve as the DB coach at UM, a duty he maintained at Western Kentucky (2008), Southern Miss (2009), Texas Tech (2010) and Florida (2011-2015).
“We are excited to welcome Travaris and his family back to Miami,” Diaz said. “He is a proven defensive coach and an excellent recruiter who will be an outstanding addition to our coaching staff,” Diaz said.
As for Van Dyke, the former NFL pro has been with UM for the past three years, working as the assistant director of recruiting for the previous two. Like Banda, he was expected to take a position at Utah State until an opening appeared after Rumph was given a new title. He’s served a vital role in Miami’s top-20 recruiting class’ in ’20 and ’21, and that’ll continue to be the case in the future.
The Opa Locka, FL native was a CB coach at ASA Miami, a JUCO, before joining the ‘Canes staff. This will be his first coaching job at the Divison I level. “DeMarcus is eager to take the next step in his coaching career and work in tandem with Travaris [Robinson] with our defensive backs,” Diaz said.
3. Diaz is adding – and keeping – some familiar faces to the program.
Miami announced the hiring of Jess Simpson as assistant head coach/defensive line Thursday as their final move concerning the coaching staff. Simpson, who spent the last two seasons as the defensive line coach for the Atlanta Falcons, was with UM in 2018, making this hire nothing short of a sweet return to the ‘U’.
Simpson’s return comes after DL coach Todd Stroud was reassigned as the Senior Football Advisor. His coaching skill set was on full display in his sole year at Miami, ranking them No. 4 in the nation in total defense and No. 1 in tackles for loss, third-down conversion percentage and passing yards allowed, per MiamiHurricanes.com.
Additionally, UM held onto Jonathan Patke (special teams coordinator/OLB), along with Blake Baker (DC/ILB). So after all, Diaz never truly got rid of the defensive staff, just put them at specific spots he believed worked best for his team.
There’s simply no arguing that his moves aren’t benefiting, to say the least.