University of Miami

Manny Diaz discovers his Yoda in legendary Miami Hurricanes coaching guru

Five days before University of Miami spring football practice begins, coach Manny Diaz on Thursday compared recently meeting former Hurricanes coach Jimmy Johnson to meeting Yoda — the Jedi master in the “Star Wars” movie series.

Yoda once said, “Always pass on what you have learned,’’ and it’s obvious that Johnson, who led the Hurricanes to the 1987 national championship, is a believer in that philosophy.

“We could talk for an hour on what we got out of that,’’ Diaz told WQAM’s Joe Rose regarding his meeting with Johnson and the entire Canes football coaching staff last month in the Florida Keys. “It got to the point where I pulled my phone out and was taking notes on my notes app. I had to tell Coach Johnson, ‘I’m not texting something. I’m literally writing down what you’re saying because I [don’t] want to forget.’

“It was like going up in one of those mountains to find the guru master, like going to see Yoda in the cave. He was so great.

“The thing that just stood out about Coach Johnson was just his detail and storytelling. He was telling you about his third-string defensive tackle from 1988 as if it was yesterday. It was remarkable.

“We picked up a lot of it. … Player evaluation and the things he really looked for in terms of finding a player were things that stood the test of time. Stuff like that you take away and you say, ‘Wow, that’s something that you want to almost turn that into policy.’ ”

Rose told Diaz that Johnson was “all jacked up’’ about the meeting. “He was really pumped up. After all these years and the things he’s done, I thought that was really cool.’’

Johnson told UM athletic director Blake James when former coach Mark Richt was hired in 2015: “I don’t know much about Mark, but I know you have one heck of a defensive coordinator, because Terry Bradshaw and I watch all the games every Saturday [in Los Angeles, a day before Fox’s NFL studio shows] and Bradshaw was watching Louisiana Tech games [Bradshaw’s alma mater] and said, ‘Man, this defensive coordinator [Diaz] is good.’ And Terry said we won’t be able to” keep him for long.

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“We tell our players all the time, ‘You never know when you’re being evaluated,’ ” Diaz said on WQAM.

Diaz reflected on how players going into UM Pro Day (this year’s is March 25 at the Carol Soffer Indoor Practice Facility) believe “this is their big evaluation, like they gotta do great on Pro Day.

“They’ve been getting evaluated every day since they stepped foot on UM’s campus. They’re getting evaluated every day on social media. We are all always being evaluated. Yeah, you wouldn’t have thought when you were sitting there in Rustin, Louisiana, Jimmy Johnson is watching the defense playing.

“But guess what? That’s exactly what was going on.”

When asked how he felt when he initially learned the 2019 season opener against the Florida Gators was being moved one week earlier to Aug. 24 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Diaz seemed eager for the opportunity.

“Look, it’s a great rivalry game,’’ Diaz said. “Everyone knows this is your [150th year] for college football, and what a great way to start it by having the Miami Hurricanes basically open the curtain on the 2019 season.

“So, we felt like it was a great deal of exposure. This is going to be a big game whenever we play it. We could play it Wednesday night at midnight. ... There’s no sense in hiding from it.

“...The chance to showcase — obviously, we want recruits to want to come to Miami to play in games like this, in situations like this where you are the big show in town.”

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