Barry Jackson

Some private player feedback on Hurricanes’ situation. And Diaz on state of program

A six-pack of Hurricanes notes on a Thursday night:

Canes players kept telling us throughout the offseason — and again this week — how Manny Diaz was a great hire, how much they loved that he was promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach.

But do you know what this staff would appreciate far more than any public endorsements?

The players actually doing their jobs and executing what they’re taught. Because I’m not sure what this staff can do when they specifically tell cornerback DJ Ivey and the defensive backs to be aware of a fake punt and specifically what to do in that scenario, then see Ivey fall asleep and whiff in his responsibilities when Georgia Tech lines up in the same formation and scores on a 41-yard pass-and-catch on a fake punt.

Diaz admitted on WQAM’s Hurricane Hotline this week that what’s irritating is less than an hour before that successful fake punt, when the Yellow Jackets lined up in the exact same formation but punted, “We told our defensive backs it’s imperative we handle the wide outs with a certain technique.” And it was as if that coaching went in one ear and out the other.

“We need to [make sure] players understand the urgency of what we’re demanding,” Diaz said.

And here’s what concerns me, from conversations with close associates of multiple players: Those players are telling their associates that the problem with this team is some of the players, that some of them have mentally checked out.

I found this interesting, because last season, some of these players said coaching was the problem, on the offensive side of the ball. That’s not the case this year.

That’s not to suggest the coaching has been flawless, not by any means. There have been mistakes, including UM erring by starting two freshmen offensive tackles in the opener. Some players are upset about playing time, but that’s the case in every program in America.

But it’s worth noting that some of the players who last season were griping about the coaching — including the predictability of the offense under the previous staff — are instead saying it’s certain players who are to blame for the 3-4 start.

All of that said, the coaches are at risk of losing more players mentally if the season continues to unravel. Strength and conditioning coach David Feeley, who is held in the highest of regard by players, addressed players this week in the wake of the loss, and some didn’t take it as seriously as they should, one player said. That’s what can happen when a new staff’s approach doesn’t immediately result in on-field success.

Diaz made some interesting comments on Hotline about the state of the program, noting the early struggles of Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who went 4-3, 9-5 and 6-7 in his first three seasons but has won at least 10 games in each of the past eight years since, including two national titles.

“If you look at what Clemson has done, they were not that [a powerhouse] then,” he told Joe Zagacki and Don Bailey Jr. “They are that now. That’s the second five years of this program. That’s why I talk about building a foundation of the program that can have a sustained level of success.”

Diaz is hoping for a time “when you start to rebrand our product where we will be defined by our hard work and toughness and less by talent and stars and speed.

“I know we can get a team that can do things that is not dependent on talent. We are building a backbone of this team that will serve us very well when the execution catches up.”

Asked how he’s handling this disappointing start, Diaz said on his coach’s show: “Nobody can put more pressure on this program than I do. Nobody can be more [upset] what our current predicament is than I am. There is going to be negativity. We’ve earned that. I’ve earned that. I told them [players] I will take it. I am confident in the things that have worked in Miami forever and ever. If we have a program that strains relentlessly on Greentree, a team that becomes tough mentally and physically in the weight room, I know wins are going to come.”

One disappointment from this season is that junior defensive lineman Jon Garvin and offensive lineman Navaughn Donaldson haven’t improved from good players to great players. Donaldson, in fact, has regressed, to the point that he shared guard snaps with John Campbell last week.

“John has been doing a good job, working very hard, practicing better,” offensive coordinator Dan Enos said. “Navaughn kind of struggled the last couple of games. We felt it was best if we got John in there a little bit, help [Donaldson] from a conditioning standpoint. We switched them every series and John did a really good job.”

Donaldson got 39 snaps and Campbell 28 against Georgia Tech, according to Herald correspondent Daniel Gould.

On Hotline, Diaz explained how UM’s deplorable kicking situation is impacting play-calling.

He said it impacts red-zone play selection “during the first three quarters. You may go for it on fourth down more aggressively than what you would [normally] do.”

And in the fourth quarter Saturday, Diaz said he opted not to run on third down and wind down the clock to kick a potential game-winning field goal.

“At that moment, I told Dan we need to throw a touchdown pass on third down because in the event we missed the field goal,” Diaz said. “N’Kosi [Perry] threw a great ball to KJ Osborn and their defensive player made a phenomenal play to knock it out of there.”

And then Turner Davidson missed the potential game-winning field goal, forcing overtime.

Quick stuff: Brian Hightower got only eight snaps against Tech, fewest among five receivers who played. Dee Wiggins got 51 in Jeff Thomas’ absence and continues to impress the staff. No wonder Hightower decided to transfer, and that was a hurtful departure, because he had the chance to develop into a more consistent, talented version of the big receivers this program has had in recent years (Lawrence Cager, Darrell Langham)... ESPN assigned Mark Jones and Dusty Dvoracek to Saturday’s UM-Pittsburgh game....

This is neat: During a special event Thursday night at the home of UM president Julio Frenk, baseball coach Gino DiMare revealed he’s contributing $500,000 toward a $7 million facility renovation for baseball. DiMare joins Mark Richt as UM coaches who helped pay for facilities in recent years. An announcement expected tomorrow.

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