University of Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is a very popular guy these days.
And why not?
His scoring defense — the bottom line — is 23rd in the nation (18.7 points allowed a game) of 129 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, despite the total defense being 49th (369 yards). His run defense, 85th nationally (180.3), has given up some big ones, but the Canes are 27th in passing yards allowed (188.7), third in team tackles for loss (8.7) and third in sacks (3 1/2).
Diaz was interviewed by ESPN’s SportsCenter and the segment aired Thursday night.
The No. 8 Canes (6-0, 4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) travel to Chapel Hill to face North Carolina (1-7, 0-5) at noon on Saturday. Here are some highlights from the interview:
ESPN SportsCenter: Everyone is saying, The U is back. To you, what constitutes being back for Miami?
Manny Diaz: “I think we need to pump the brakes on that. I think Coach Richt said it best. We’re getting better. We love the way that we’re competing. We love the resilience of our football team. But when people start talking about the U [being] back, they measure that in championships. …We’re working toward that…”
SportsCenter: You’re a Miami kid. You were born in Miami. How have you engrained into them what this program used to be, what the standard used to be and what they’re trying to fulfill?
Diaz: “We put it right in front of their face. Right when we got here as a coaching staff we said the Miami Hurricane defense is a standard that we all, as coaches and players… You can look at it as a burden, you can look at it as a bar that you went to set yourselves towards. I will say this, to our guys’ credit, they have really risen to the occasion in terms of what we have asked them to do – playing fast, playing violent, playing physical. All the things, that really, when you think about Miami in the 80s, 90s, early 2000s, what a Miami Hurricane defense looked like, that’s what we try to accomplish every day in practice and every Saturday.”
SportsCenter: Your defense has been defined by the Turnover Chain… the top prop in all of college football. Tell me how this whole thing began?
“We did a lot of good things last year on defense. One thing we did not do a great job of was forcing turnovers. We play in a league that’s a very deep league, very competitive league, a lot of one score games where you know the turnovers are going to be telling. All around college football we had seen that people had different props to reward their team for getting a turnover. We sat there, we were brainstorming as a staff, throwing out this idea, that idea, and someone popped up and said, ‘You know what’s Miami? A Cuban link.’ Might have been Mike Rumph. So half the staff probably went to their iPads and googled ‘What’s a Cuban link?’ But once googled images told us what it was, there was no second place. It was obvious that that’s what we had to do. And it has exceeded our expectations.”
SportsCenter: Occasionally, people will ask me what it’s like to work at a place like ESPN. You use to work at ESPN, just before your coaching career began. What did you do here?
“Many, many moons ago I was a production assistant, worked on SportsCenter, worked on the NFL shows. A long time ago. I’d hardly recognize the place today. It’s the Death Star now. It was just a little Imperial cruiser when I was working there in the 90s. Learned how to be a coach, being a player-coach in the old ESPN morning softball league over on the fields of Bristol. Have a lot of fond memories of Connecticut, learned a lot in that place. But I think I stumbled into the right profession.’’
▪ Good news for the Canes injury-wise. According to their injury report on Thursday, cornerback Dee Delaney, who has had a brace over his right knee and has missed the past two games, is “probable’’ for UNC. Keep in mind that right offensive guard Navaughn Donaldson (right ankle) was also listed as probable last week, but did not play. He is expected to play Saturday.
No one else was listed on the injury report.