University of Miami

Richt and Diaz figure two more recruiting classes can make UM into a top contender

Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt thumbs up after University of Miami defeats Florida A&M 70-3 at Hard Rock Stadium on Sat., Sept. 3, 2016.
Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt thumbs up after University of Miami defeats Florida A&M 70-3 at Hard Rock Stadium on Sat., Sept. 3, 2016.

As they prepare to finish their first season together as architects of a new era at the University of Miami, head coach Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz agreed that they will need two more recruiting classes to stock a roster that can contend with college football’s elite teams.

Richt and Diaz are focused on winning UM’s (7-4, 4-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) regular-season finale Saturday against Duke (4-7, 1-6) at Hard Rock Stadium (3:30 p.m., ESPN2), but they’re also anticipating the departure of a stellar group of seniors and planning how to replace them.

“My guess is it would take a couple [years] to get the depth that you’re hoping for and looking for,” Richt said, noting that post-NCAA probation, UM will be back to its maximum of 85 scholarships. “In some positions, we’ve been very fortunate not to have anybody get banged up, so it didn’t show up as a glaring need. We’re probably one or two guys away in a couple positions that could get scary in a hurry.”

Diaz, who has started three true freshmen at linebacker this season, also cited depth and experience as key to the recruiting blueprint.

“You’re probably talking two classes realistically when you haven’t been able to redshirt and get those guys in the weight room,” he said. “How many more times has that older player been on a squat rack or been through a walk-through or an off-season program? We have to get a signing class of guys who are ready to hit the ground running.”

Coach Mark Richt's take on the Hurricanes' 34-14 win at Virginia on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016.

Diaz, who came to UM from Mississippi State of the Southeastern Conference, was struck by the balance of the ACC and how the league rewards consistency.

“Anyone can beat anyone any given week, and that’s one of our challenges — to play well week in and week out,” he said. “I’m not sure everyone’s top 22 players are that different from each other, but with depth they can come at you in waves and can get through an injury situation.”

Senior safety Rayshawn Jenkins said UM is a few star players away from a return to the top-10 status of its prime.

“In my opinion this is the best I’ve seen it since I’ve been here,” Jenkins said. “If everyone keeps on the same path they can do whatever they want —they can compete for national championships and ACC championships. They can get this place back to where it used to be.”

A point of emphasis in recruiting is refortifying the defensive backfield, which will be diminished by the graduation of Jenkins, Jamal Carter, Corn Elder and Adrian Colbert.

Manny Diaz praises true freshman cornerback Malek Young, who had his second career start and first interception in Nov. 19, 2016 victory at NC State.

“We changed the culture of the secondary because we want it to be defined by our toughness and tackling,” Diaz said. “The plays they’ve made that will be hardest to replace weren’t the spectacular plays. They were the type that’s an 8-yard gain that could have become a touchdown, like when Mark Walton ran through the secondary twice last week for scores.”

Diaz is among the favorites for the Frank Broyles Award, which revealed its 40 finalists Wednesday for assistant coach of the year. UM’s defense is ranked 24th overall, 22nd in sacks, fourth in tackles for loss with 95, and 16th in points allowed at 18.7 per game. Diaz turned it around despite dismissals and injuries to key players. Last year, under heavily-criticized Mark D’Onofrio, UM was ranked 69th in total defense and gave up 53 yards more per game than this season.

▪ Richt on Duke Coach David Cutcliffe: “I knew him way back when he was at Tennessee. He has always been one of the best quarterback teachers in America. He’s keeping that up with this young kid [Daniel] Jones. I know their starter got hurt and Jones probably had to play a little sooner than they wanted him to. I always want Duke’s offensive film versus anyone we play because of the respect I have for Coach Cutcliffe and the style of ball they play.”

▪ Richt on quarterback Brad Kaaya’s scrambling ability: “I ran for my life more than he did. I remember a guy named Alphonso Carreker (Florida State and NFL defensive end). He didn’t sack me 10 times but I know he hit me at least 10 times in a game. He kept reminding me what his name was every time. I wasn’t much of a runner myself.”

Related stories from Miami Herald