University of Miami

Miles to go before he rests, UM’s Manny Diaz tackles recruiting and Miami Half Marathon

Miami Hurricanes' defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is shown after football practice at the University of Miami in Coral Gables on August 5, 2016.
Miami Hurricanes' defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is shown after football practice at the University of Miami in Coral Gables on August 5, 2016.

If football coach Manny Diaz runs the Miami Half Marathon next Sunday the way he tackled his first season as University of Miami’s defensive coordinator, several thousand entrants will get passed along the way.

Transforming an ailing defense into one of the most formidable units in the nation requires brainpower, ingenuity and endless hours of planning and teaching. So, Diaz, who will race from the finish to a shower to a recruiting breakfast with some of the nation’s elite high school football players, will let his mind take him where it chooses.

“It’s important for the mental health of the profession,” Diaz, 42, said about staying in shape as a role model and mentor to young men. “Running is an exercise of the mind, for sure. You can almost reach sort of a meditative state while you’re running.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that running allows you to quiet your mind for an extended period of time — and even flush out what you’ve been thinking in terms of maybe game-plan types of things.”

Diaz grew up in Miami and is the son of former Miami mayor Manny Diaz Sr., a lawyer who served the city from 2001 to 2009 and helped inspire the Miami Marathon. The event, a weekend celebration, was born in 2003 as the Miami Tropical Marathon and now includes the 13.1-mile half marathon and a popular 5K the previous day.

“I’m extremely proud of both the marathon and my son,” said the former mayor, who lives two houses from Bayshore Drive, where the full marathoners pass toward the last third of the race. “I might have to play babysitter to the grandkids, but one way or another we’ll all be cheering for Manny and Stephanie.”

Stephanie is the defensive coordinator’s wife, and she’s also running in the half — with a full, 26.2-mile marathon already on her résumé.

When Diaz was asked how long he had been training for the half marathon, he laughed.

“I haven’t,” he said. “I have not trained for this race. I try to run almost every day, so when it comes half-marathon time I’ll sort of just do it.”

The coach tries to get in at least four miles daily around his South Miami-Dade neighborhood — or wherever he might be recruiting — but has only done one other formal half marathon, when he was the defensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech in 2014.

In that race, Diaz said he finished in 1 hour 49 minutes 49 seconds, which, according to the Miami Half Marathon results from 2016, would have equated to 1,724th (8:23-minutes-per-mile pace) overall in the field of 14,486.

Up to 24,000 runners combined are expected for all three events next weekend.

Diaz’s race-day goal: “One second faster than I ran the last time. Other than that, I haven’t given it a whole lot of thought. It’s fun to compete not just against yourself but against the field and, of course, to run one in your hometown is kind of neat.”

When he’s not getting in that run, Diaz, the father of Colin, 19, Gavin, 13 and Manny, 11, has a singular focus. National Signing Day is Feb. 1, three days after the race, and “recruiting,” he said, “is priority No. 1.

“It’s going really well,” he said.

Diaz’s units at UM were considered among the finest in the nation this season. The Hurricanes (9-4) went from 69th to 20th in total defense, 101st to 26th in rushing defense, 70th to 22nd in sacks, 110th to 33rd in red-zone defense, 105th to fifth in tackles for loss, and from 77th to 12th in scoring defense.

He said his players have no idea he’s running the race, but they often catch him and other UM football coaches playing basketball together.

“There are some pretty intense pickup basketball games in our building,” Diaz said. “The players poke their head in there and that usually gets a few laughs. It’s important for them to see that we are an active staff.

“A lot of us lift weights. Some coaches go for walks around the campus. Everybody has their own little routine. Coach [Mark] Richt does a great job of providing us the time after practice in the middle of the day, before we get back into the meeting rooms.

“This job can be demanding, and exercising keeps everybody mentally sharp and allows us to be our best when we need to be.”

Accomplished runner and triathlete Frankie Ruiz, the Miami Marathon race director, knows all about the rigors of coaching. He has coached the Belen Jesuit cross-country team to seven state championships.

“I’m able to relate to my students as athletes,” Ruiz said. “I definitely walk the walk — or in my case, run the run.”

Ruiz said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra “runs with us every so often at Brickell Run Club,” and that former NFL coach David Shula ran in the race years ago.

Dave Scott, a former UM baseball coach and administrator, served as a former Miami Marathon race director.

And UM women’s tennis coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews, who also grew up in Miami, has run the Miami Half Marathon 12 of the past 14 years with her husband, Scott — though she is unable to make it Sunday.

Usually, she rushes back to campus, “hops into the cold tubs” and then coaches her players in their qualifying matches for the national indoors.

“It’s a good way to burn off some stress, break down the matches ahead and live the example you want to set for your players,” she said. “Our girls can’t fathom the idea of running 13 miles.”

Diaz was asked if he thought people would recognize him Sunday.

“Probably not,” he said, “since it starts at 6 a.m., and it’s dark out.”

Before many lift their heads from their pillows that morning, Diaz will be miles and miles into his day, with many more to go.

“Have to finish strong,” he said.

That’s recruiting, not running.

If you go

Miami Marathon and Half Marathon: 6 a.m. Jan. 29 at American Airlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Boulevard.

Registration: Marathon — $150 Jan. 13-22; $170 race week; Half Marathon — $125 Jan. 13-22; $150 race week; Tropical 5K (Miami Beach, Saturday) — $50.

Health & Fitness Expo, presented by Miami Herald & El Nuevo Herald: Free and open to the public. Noon to 7 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdayat Marlins Park, 501 Marlins Way, Miami.