University of Miami

Manny Diaz was Blake James’ ‘first and only choice’ to be next Miami Hurricanes coach

It’s no surprise given how quickly his hire came together that Manny Diaz was the first choice to be the Miami Hurricanes’ successor to Mark Richt. At the new coach’s introductory news conference Wednesday, Blake James added Diaz was also the “only choice” to be Miami’s next coach.

The news conference, held inside the Schwartz Center for Athletic Excellence, began with opening statements from Diaz, James and David Epstein, who spoke on behalf of the board of trustees. Both Epstein and James noted Diaz was the first person contacted about the opening, and James confirmed he was the only person the Hurricanes spoke with.

“The young men in our program had already gone home for their winter break,” the athletic director said, “but I spent enough time around them to know they would not only bounce back after hearing the news of coach Richt’s retirement, but they would fully embrace my first and only choice as their new head coach.”

Here are some other highlights from Diaz’s introductory news conference in Coral Gables:

Diaz confirmed he let the entire offensive staff go. His search for an offensive coordinator is in full swing with three finalists, although Diaz said he’s not in a rush to make a hire.

“Probably right now, I’ve got three finalists for that position and I’ll tell you this, the guy in fourth place would be amazing. That’s how excited I am for that,” Diaz said. “The timing of when it will happen is when it’s going to happen. I am not interested in it happening fast. I’m interested in it happening right.”

Diaz said he plans to have his offensive staff in place by next Thursday when the dead period for recruiting ends. It’s possible he could announce some specific position coaches before announcing an offensive coordinator.

Diaz didn’t commit to a specific scheme for his offensive outlook. The coach was specifically asked whether a spread was what’s in line, but said “spread” is sort of a loaded word.

“The word ‘spread’ has been dragged around to the point where it’s so spread out I don’t even know, as a defensive coordinator, what the word ‘spread’ means anymore because there’s so many different styles of spread offense,” Diaz said, “but what I will tell you is the word I want to be is cutting edge. The word I want to be is modern. The idea that I want to be is an offense that creates problems for the defense, that puts defense in conflict, that presents issues before the snap, during the snap, that forces mistakes.”

The defensive staff, on the other hand, will remain intact. Diaz specifically lauded defensive line coach Jess Simpson, linebackers coach Jonathan Patke, cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph and safeties coach Ephraim Banda. Diaz did not, however, commit to continuing to use Patke and Banda as co-defensive coordinators. Miami will make one more assistant coaching hire on the defensive side of the ball, at which point Diaz said he will sort out the roles for the staff.

As of now, Diaz doesn’t expect to call plays on defense.

Diaz expects there will still be heavy involvement around the program from former players. He’s seen the benefits firsthand in the linebackers group he used to coach. Part of Shaquille Quarterman’s and Michael Pinckney’s success, he said, hinges on involvement from longtime NFL linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who frequently reaches out to the two linebackers for constructive criticism.

“It’s a must,” Diaz said. “It’s a must at any program. It’s an absolute must at the University of Miami.”

While Quarterman and Pinckney are both returning for their senior seasons, Diaz has yet to receive official word on Joe Jackson. The star defensive end is mulling an NFL Draft decision after a productive junior season.

Even after N’Kosi Perry played in Miami’s 35-3 loss to the Wisconsin Badgers in the Pinstripe Bowl on Thursday, questions about future disciplinary action for the quarterback remains. Perry was caught on camera last month telling teammates he was suspended.

Diaz was asked whether discipline put in place by Richt would carry over to the new regime.

“I certainly couldn’t address super secret suspensions,” Diaz said. “It’s obviously very important that our football team has discipline and great accountability. Anytime there is a change the players do know that there is a clean slate in terms of how they behave and act, and especially at that position, right? To be the quarterback at the University of Miami, that’s no small thing. In this town, you’ve got to have thick skin and you’ve got to have a way about you now — again, all you have to do is look at the names that have done it in the past. There was a time we called this ‘QBU’ and that can happen again.

“So, N’Kosi understands and all the guys understand that everything they do, how you do anything is how you do everything and their behavior at all times reflects their ability and desire to be the quarterback at the University of Miami. So in some ways, yes, everybody understands that what you do now is what matters the most and certainly if there were other issues that from the past were lingering those would still have to always be addressed.”

Diaz’s hire is an important milestone in the history of the program. The former defensive coordinator is the first Cuban-American coach in the history of the school.

For an area with such a large Cuban population, Diaz knows how significant his hire is culturally.

“You’ve heard me say it many times before,” Diaz said, “this is Miami’s program and the University of Miami should reflect the City of Miami.”

Miami Herald sports writer Susan Miller Degnan has been the Miami Hurricanes football beat writer since 2000, the season before the Canes won it all. She has won several APSE national writing awards and has covered everything from Canes baseball to the College Football Playoff to major marathons to the Olympics.