Barry Jackson

Diaz acknowledges one ‘hard’ challenge UM must overcome to land players

A six-pack of Hurricanes notes on a Thursday when Joe Jackson declared for the NFL Draft:

A question we suspect many of you are wondering: If Alabama and Clemson can be so dominant, why can’t UM, considering the Canes have been at that elite level before, with five championships in two decades through early 2002.

Fact is, the challenge to get back to that level is more daunting than ever for multiple reasons, and that’s what makes Manny Diaz’s job far tougher than when, say, Dennis Erickson took over a loaded roster and won two championships.

Among the explanations we have been given internally (and these are just that, not excuses):

Unlike the 1980s, top players can go to schools that were at one time lower profile (like UCF) and know they will be on TV a lot. That has leveled the field in some ways.

Privately, UM people from the past two regimes said they can’t get a few of the top players who are inclined to take illegal payments in the corrupt world of college athletics.

But here’s the biggest challenge for Diaz: Winning games begets winning in recruiting. And UM hasn’t done enough winning for 15 years.

For high school players, the cool place to go now is Alabama or Clemson or Georgia or Ohio State. These high school seniors were infants when UM last won a championship. They never watched Ed Reed or Ray Lewis or Andre Johnson or Edgerrin James or Clinton Portis or myriad others play at UM.

“Look, the world has changed; kids want to go where the winning is,” Diaz said this week. “So that’s hard, because you have to create winning.

“Sometimes it takes that one guy saying `I’m staying,’” Diaz added. “Sometimes there’s more skill guys than we can take. We have to continue to pound on it where eighth- and ninth-graders are like `Look at the Miami Hurricanes, and my friends are there, I want to go play where [they] play. Setting that tone will be the key to recruiting.’”

None of these factors should stop UM from trying to get back to elite level. It’s possible. But it will be more difficult than 20 years ago.

Couple things on Blake Baker, who’s reportedly UM’s new defensive coordinator after having worked with Diaz previously at Texas:

Here’s where Baker’s Louisiana Tech defense ranked in yards allowed per game during the past four years (2015-18, in order): 53rd, 70th, 65th and 33rd.

Here’s where Baker’s defense ranked in points relinquished per game over the past four years (2015-18, in order) 63rd, 96th, 66th and 41st.

But his defense tied with Alabama for fifth in sacks this past season.

Though Manny Diaz holds Larry Fedora in high regard in his offensive coordinator search, Fedora has been linked to the Temple head coaching job and might want to pursue a head coaching job instead, with UM operating on a faster timetable than Temple.

If it’s not Fedora, then former Houston coach Major Applewhite — who worked with Diaz as Texas — looms as a strong offensive coordinator option. And there’s a mystery third candidate....

It wouldn’t be surprising if Miami Southridge coach Sedrick Irvin emerges as a candidate in a support staff role. The former Alabama staffer under Nick Saban previously worked at East Carolina, and Diaz likes him.

Arkansas State assistant head coach Taylor Trooper, who coached receivers at Auburn and is a good recruiter, is among many with interest in joining Diaz’s staff. He had not heard from Diaz as of Wednesday.

Diaz doesn’t mind opening next season against the Gators in Orlando.

“I don’t know if we’d want it any other way,” Diaz sad. “Those are the games at Miami you have to prove yourself about. … You come to Miami to win those games, and if you’re not winning those games you can’t look around and say it’s someone else’s fault. That has been the consistent theme from all the former players that have come back to speak to our team - `This thing takes off when you guys decide it takes off.’

“We’re not going to beat Florida because of some magical offense. We’ll beat Florida because guys on our team will make plays to help win the football game. … We have to create that identity.

“Whatever has been on the outside to give us a reason not to be our best, that reason has been revoked. We’re either good enough or not good enough, and if we’re not good enough we have to recruit better.”

Diaz said it was “very difficult” to fire the whole offensive staff but felt it was necessary.

“There has to be accountability,” he said. “The University of Miami cannot rank second to last in anything. You can’t turn around and say `We’re going to demand this of you as a player’ and then if you don’t do it there’ll be consequences. As coaches we know that’s the case.”

Diaz recounted how at Texas “I was the one that was run out of town, and everyone thought it would be better after that. Was I accountable for what happened? Yes I was. Was I responsible for everything that was causing those problems? Of course I wasn’t.”

He added that “it’s very, very difficult but to make the cultural changes that needed to happen and to hire the offensive coordinator we wanted to hire. We had to have some flexibility to really reset the vision of what we were on that side of the ball.”

Since Diaz was hired, UM has sold about 50 new season tickets. And on Wednesday, 300 season-ticket holders from 2017 renewed for next season.

UM sold about 46,000 season tickets last year and can sell an additional 1,500 to 2,000 new ones.