If the University of Miami football program ever wins a sixth national championship, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to envision made-in-Miami coach Manny Diaz being the guy to bring home the trophy.
In his debut appearance Thursday at the Atlantic Coast Conference Football Kickoff, Diaz scored multiple touchdowns amid a substantial media contingent. And despite having previously proven he’s one of the finest defensive coaches in the nation, he didn’t have to play much defense.
Diaz, as usual, was fired up. And he was frank.
He discussed each one of his quarterbacks vying for the starting job (the field of three contenders will be narrowed to after about two weeks). He mentioned “exposing” certain players who haven’t bought in and are just along for the ride. And he talked about setting “ridiculously high standards.’’
“We’re not where we were when we limped off the field in New York the last of December,’’ Diaz, 45, said, referring to UM’s pitiful 35-3 performance against Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl. “We’re not that team. What team we are I’m not really sure yet. We’re going to get an idea of that next Friday when we get back together.’’
Fall camp begins July 26 for Miami, which finished an alarming 7-6 overall and 4-4 in the ACC in 2018.
The reason the Hurricanes start a week earlier than almost every other FBS programs is that their opening game is a week earlier — Aug. 24 against the Florida Gators at Camping World Stadium in Orlando.
Diaz made no bold predictions and delivered no goals. He said he wasn’t a goal-oriented coach.
“This is UM, man,’’ Diaz said. “I mean, this is a high-standard place. We got to win. And that’s really what we did defensively. In 2016, we said, ‘I don’t know how good we’re going to be on defense, but we’re going to set ridiculously high standards.’
“I felt like in the past we were a team that on different days would play on different levels, so we’re trying to create a competition. All of our guys on our roster may not be up for it. ... If you don’t ever turn up the heat you don’t really find out who’s in and who’s not in. This offseason has been about trying to really find out who’s all in and who’s kind of along for the ride and keep the [latter group] out of dependable situations.’’
Diaz said he targeted three easily identifiable areas that needed “instant improvement” to compete on the level he believes the Canes should compete: “No. 1, our offense. We all have to be accountable coaches and players alike. We were not performing on offense the way that the University of Miami ought to. So were able to make a change there.
“The second was our weight room because your weight room is really where your culture is. If I see a team that’s not competing at all times usually ... a lot of times that is determined in the weight room.
“And our last thing was in recruiting. How can we continue to recruit at a higher level?”
Diaz said he’ll “have a meeting with strength and conditioning coach David Feeley next Tuesday” to “go through each guy on the roster in depth ... in terms of performance, whatever. This is how in essence we assess the guys’ culture. We don’t care whether they can the catch ball, tackle a guy, block a guy. It doesn’t matter.
Other highlights from Diaz’s availability Thursday at the Westin Charlotte:
▪ On the possibility of one of UM’s three quarterbacks vying for the starting job — redshirt sophomore N’Kosi Perry, redshirt sophomore Tate Martell and redshirt freshman Jarren Williams — transferring if not chosen.
“Yeah, I mean, it absolutely could happen,’’ Diaz said. “You saw it with Clemson a year ago, when they went to [Trevor] Lawrence and [Kelly] Bryant left midway through the season and they went through the rest of the season with two quarterbacks. So, that’s always a possibility. ... I think that’s kind of the new normal.
“... If you don’t want to be for the University of Miami, go somewhere else. This is UM. This is Miami. We don’t have to beg anyone to be a Miami Hurricane. And that’s in recruiting and that’s in anything else.
“We have to start to create value to what it means to play for the Miami Hurricanes. Because right now in my mind that has been devalued. ... I want to find some guys that are all for the U. Guess why? Because that’s how Miami won in the past. And I don’t care what guys are ranked in recruiting. I don’t care what guys have done on our team. We’re going to win with guys that love the University of Miami. That has been proven over and over and over again.’’
▪ On expectations for 2019: ““If we get our team competing to the standard, we should be in the mix to go to Charlotte [for the ACC title game] every year starting this year. ... If I went into the locker right now and said, ‘I’m not sure we can make it to Charlotte this year,’ our kids will start fighting, like literally, you’d have to fight. But we’re not going to talk about it. We’re not going to be goal-based. We’re going to really, really dig into the ‘how’ every day.
Other news Diaz told South Florida beat writers in a private interview:
▪ Redshirt sophomore transfer Bubba Bolden, who played for USC in 2017, is “finishing a class,’’ Diaz said and will be late to fall camp, which begins a week from Friday.
▪ Redshirt sophomore transfer Jaelan Phillips, who spent his first two seasons at UCLA and is listed in the UM media guide as a linebacker, will also be late. He already was sitting out in 2019.
▪ Virginia Tech graduate transfer defensive end Trevon Hill has not officially arrived yet but is expected to play in the Aug. 24 opener against Florida. He had shoulder surgery in January, Diaz said.
▪ Freshman linebacker Avery Huff, out of St. Thomas Aquinas, is not expected to be at UM when players report next Thursday. But he is expected to be in camp and is “sort of waiting on final approval,’’ Diaz said.
▪ Veteran linebackers Waynmon Steed and Bradley Jennings will not participate at the start of fall camp because they have “long-term injuries,’’ Diaz said.
▪ Sophomore linebacker Patrick Joyner “suffered a lower-leg injury running in camp and will be limited.’’ Diaz said he wasn’t “certain’’ if Joyner would be back for the Florida game.