Barry Jackson

Two former Canes All-Americans explain why they love the swagger Diaz brings to UM job

A six-pack of Hurricanes notes on a Tuesday, mostly from the annual UM Sports Hall of Fame bowling tournament last week at Splitsville at Sunset Place in South Miami:

Two former Miami Hurricanes All-Americans love what they’ve seen from new coach Manny Diaz so far: Bennie Blades (an All-American safety in 1986 and ’87) and Greg Mark (an All-American defensive end in 1989).

“It’s hard not to be excited,” said Mark, who coached the defensive line for the Canes from 1996 to 2005, including a 2001 national championship team that led the nation in scoring defense.

“Manny being Manny, being a Miami guy, grew up in what all the guys here are used to: ‘80s era, loud, fast, running around, making big plays, talking trash, playing with confidence. I see him bringing that back from the head coaching position. You can’t help but be excited about it.”

The last UM head coach with that type of swagger?

“It’s been a long time,” Mark said. “Of head coaches we’ve had, maybe Butch Davis would fit into that scenario. Butch came in knowing what it took, knowing the history and the mentality of players and what brought out the best in them.

“You bring in a guy that loves the program. He didn’t play in Miami, didn’t have that pedigree, which is fine. But he grew up in Miami. Not only that, he’s good at what he does. Great coach, great recruiter, gets along with his players and relates to them and that’s the reason why we have those [senior] linebackers coming back because Manny has that relationship with them and they want to come and play with him.”

Blades’ take: “I like what he’s done so far. He’s reached out to the older coaches such as Jimmy Johnson. Anytime you reach out to a Bill Belichick to get advice on how you can get better [as Diaz did last year], that shows he’s not just going to be stagnant. He’s going to try to get better every year. That’s good for the program.

“In years past, coaches have come through and guys have just been given that position because it’s their last year. I was always a fan of whoever is the best is, they play.”

Blades senses it’s going to be that way now with Diaz.

“Me and Jerome [Brown] had just come from a Bob Hope [special] and we still had to earn our spot,” Blades recalled. “It doesn’t matter who you are. You have to go out and prove yourself, because there’s always a hotshot freshman coming in.”

Both Mark and Blades are working in education. Blades is dean of discipline at Central Charter in Lauderdale Lakes and athletic director at the University of Ft. Lauderdale.

Mark is the president and owner of Casa de Bambini, a Miami Beach Montesorri school, where Mark does everything “from plunging toilets to disciplining kids.”

Blades has been pushing his nephew, UM sophomore cornerback Al Blades Jr.

“Like I tell my nephew, even though you have the Blades name, you have to earn your spot,” Bennie Blades said. “Now that the spring is coming, we had a couple cornerbacks leave [Michael Jackson, Jhavonte Dean]. If you want a starting position, you have to go out and earn it. I want him to be better than me.”

Former UM running backs coach Don Soldinger said he went to campus to congratulate Diaz on getting the head coaching job.

“He says ‘The New Miami’; we’ll see,” Soldinger said. “I hope the new Miami is as good as the old Miami.”

The upshot with Diaz, Soldinger said, is he’s “young blood.”

But Soldinger worries about college players, including some present-day Canes, feeling a sense of entitlement.

“A lot of the work ethic and the values that these guys here tonight - Greg, Bennie - had is not there now,” Soldinger said. “It’s entitlement. It’s where’s the easiest place to go, where are they going to take care of me, what are they going to give me. Kids need to go to work and stop with ‘me, me, texting, taking pictures [on their phones].’”

Though Diaz has two staffers who were players at UM (cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph and DeMarcus Van Dyke), Soldinger wishes Diaz had more people on staff with a link to the Canes’ glory years.

“Every time they were good they had some kind of connection to the past,” he said. “I thought maybe he would reach out to [former UM offensive line coach Art Kehoe]. You need some kind of connection to the past.”

Of UM’s reliance on transfers to fill holes on the roster this season, Soldinger cautioned: “Just because you transfer to the U doesn’t mean it’s automatic” you will be good.

As a former defensive line coach, Mark has taken a liking to junior-to-be Jon Garvin, who should start at one defensive end spot, with Virginia Tech transfer Trevon Hill potentially starting at the other end spot, and Gregory Rousseau also challenging.

“I think Garvin is a hard, tough nosed player, comes off the ball really well,” Mark said. “Long and lanky and does things that physically you have to have those attributes to be able to do. What I’ve see from the bleachers, I like him. Plays hard, plays emotional. We need guys like that.”

Penn State has emerged as a thorn in UM’s side in recruitment of local receivers. The Nittany Lions beat out the Canes for four-star Hollywood Chaminade Madonna receiver John Dunmore in the recent recruiting cycle.

And now Penn State is strongly challenging the Canes for four-star Carol City receiver Marc Britt, rated by Rivals as the No. 20 receiver and No. 93 overall player in the 2020 class.

Penn State also has a nonbinding commitment from one of South Florida’s top local linebackers - St. Thomas Aquinas’ Derek Wingo - who is rated the No. 4 inside linebacker and 143rd best overall player by Rivals in the 2020 class.

Wingo hasn’t backed down from his Penn State commitment but has visited UM and is maintaining communication with Diaz.

You might want to start imploring your cable or satellite company to add the new ACC Network – which debuts in August – because UM is braced for the possibility of ESPN (which operates the new network) and the ACC placing at least one Hurricanes football game on the new channel.

UM believes its second game of the season, Sept. 7 at North Carolina, is one possibility, but that decision hasn’t been made.

The ACC Network has announced two of its games: Georgia Tech-Clemson Aug. 29 and Notre Dame-Duke Nov. 9.

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