University of Miami

Manny Diaz’s first challenge as Miami Hurricanes head coach: Fix the offense

Mark Richt’s final conversation with Blake James as the coach of the Miami Hurricanes centered on the most obvious issue for Miami this season: How would the coach fix the offense heading into 2019?

It’s no secret to Manny Diaz, either. The Hurricanes’ new coach made his first public comments Monday on WQAM’s Joe Rose Show with Zach Krantz and said the first order of business is obvious. The coach has to put an offensive staff in place to fix what went wrong in 2018.

“That’s going to be the first sense of urgency because we have about 10 days until the recruiting period opens back up again, but it’s important that the hire is the best hire and not just the quickest, in terms of establishing the identity of what we’re going to be on offense and what that vision should be,” Diaz said. “It’s very similar to what we’ve been on defense. You know, we came here three years ago and set a vision of how the Miami Hurricanes play defense and what, in my mind, fits best for the talent that’s available for us here in South Florida.”

It has been a whirlwind 24 hours — really a whirlwind two and a half weeks — for Diaz. After spending three seasons as Miami’s defensive coordinator, Diaz was named coach of the Temple Owls on Dec. 13. The Hurricanes moved quickly to maintain continuity on defense, promoting safeties coach Ephraim Banda and outside linebackers coach Jonathan Patke to co-defensive coordinators, and Diaz returned to Coral Gables to coach Miami in the Pinstripe Bowl on Thursday.

Diaz never even made it back to Philadelphia. The 44-year-old was spotted on campus by the Miami Herald on Sunday and, by the end of the day, the Hurricanes had already named Diaz their 25th coach in history.

Diaz said he found out from his wife that former coach Mark Richt was retiring Sunday. The coach was “out of pocket” when Richt informed players and staff, so Diaz’s wife was the one to eventually break the news to her husband.

Diaz woke up Sunday with plans to put together his Temple coaching staff. He went to bad thinking about how his staff will look in the Miami metropolitan area.

“It’s just been wild,” he said. “There’s no other way to explain it. It’s something that I think when everybody woke up yesterday morning, no one could’ve predicted. They don’t write scripts for these things. If they did, they’d get thrown in the trash because nobody would believe it, but once the chain of events got set in motion, it just all started happening and it’s something where you wake up a day later and you’re like, ‘Did that really happen?’ You almost have to turn on the computer and check the internet to make sure it was real.”

While Diaz didn’t dive into specifics, the coach said he heard from athletic director Blake James sometime after Richt announced his decision. Both sides knew they had to move quickly given Diaz’s commitment to the Owls.

The whirlwind won’t end quite yet for Diaz. Now he has to figure out his own coaching staff, ideally before the recruiting dead period ends Jan. 11. The good news for him is he said coaches are already blowing up his phone looking for spots on the offensive staff.

“You have a list put together for sure and this is a job that a lot of people want, so you’re getting bombarded with a lot of texts and phone calls because everybody wants to come,” Diaz said. “They know the type of talent we can get here and the type of, really, the championships you can win at Miami. But like I said, it’s a point about finding the right fit, and the person that fits our staff and the person that fits the University of Miami. That’s really going to be the key thing, but just to that point, you create a defense that’s designed to give offenses problems.

“Doing things that offenses don’t like is what we pride ourselves on defense. By the same token, what we want to be on offense is an offense that does things that defenses don’t like, that creates situations that make defensive players uncomfortable. It just makes sense when you have a philosophy and now that philosophy should extend to our entire football team. What we have been and what we are trying to create on defense will now spread out to our entire football team.”

Defense is Diaz’s specialty, but he has ideas for what he wants the Hurricanes’ offense to be. It all starts with finding this team-wide identity.

“It goes beyond just simple, How do you call a play? Or whatever,” Diaz said. “It’s a global culture of how we operate, so, yeah, the people that I have in mind will be people that share that vision and it’s going to give us the ability to — when you watch us play ... you’re going to say, ‘Oh, I know. That’s the Miami Hurricanes I’m watching. I know that much right there.’ So that’s really paramount on the to-do list.”

Diaz never directly rebuked Richt’s schematic or tactical decisions, although he made it clear he feels the offense underachieved given the talent on the roster.

Diaz, it was pointed out, knows some of the young offensive players particularly well from their work on the scout team going against Diaz’s defense in 2018. Whoever Diaz hires as offensive coordinator needs to figure out how to get the most out of the personnel, whether it’s by changing up Miami’s offensive system or just changing the culture.

“I’m going to use the gauge when we came in three years ago defensively because you heard some of the same things. ‘How talented is Miami on defense? We’re not sure,’” Diaz said. “At some point, we have to stop talking about how talented we are or not because that was really a lot of the talk from 2015 going into 2016. ‘We’ve got these guys. We’ve got these guys.’ Whatever guys we’ve got, we’ve got to get them playing as good as we can be because I think everyone agrees there was some meat left on the bone and I think if I’m sitting in the stands watching us play, I think I can accept however good we are if we’re getting everything we possibly have out of the guys.”

The most important task heading into the 2019 season, however, might be figuring out the Hurricanes’ quarterback situation. Richt spent the season switching between Malik Rosier and N’Kosi Perry, and neither found consistent success. It all culminated with an embarrassing 35-3 loss to the Wisconsin Badgers in the bowl game.

Next season, Diaz will likely have his pick between Perry and Jarren Williams to turn to as his starter, with Cade Weldon also in the mix. Diaz knows it won’t be enough, though. Competition, Diaz said, is as important as coaching, so he needs to create as tough a competition as possible.

“If you watched the College Football Playoff, it’s not complicated. If you’re looking at those two teams that played in the Orange Bowl the other night and probably the two best quarterbacks in the country,” Diaz said. “In a game that you give up 35 points and 500 yards of offense, and win by two scores, then I’d say, ‘Welcome to college football in this day and age.’ Because if you don’t have excellence at that position it’s very hard to compete.

“We’ve got some guys on campus who have been young, who have been inconsistent and, certainly like I’m mentioning with everybody else, I think this is their time now to turn a new page and decide whether they’re capable of being the starting quarterback at the University of Miami. But at the same time we’ve got to create competition because competition is the best coach there is, so whether that’s exploring a transfer, a grad transfer — whatever it is — we’ve got to get the quarterback position up and running, and we’ll look anywhere we can, whether it’s on campus or off campus, to find the answers to that.”

Miami Herald sportswriter Susan Miller Degnan contributed to this report.

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Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators athletic program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.