Greg Cote

In UM’s season defined by tough losses, the departure of Manny Diaz is biggest of all

The losses keep coming for Miami Hurricanes football and Mark Richt.

And this feels like the biggest loss of all.

Manny Diaz, the excellent defensive coordinator and father of the Turnover Chain — gone.

The news broke late Wednesday that Diaz, Miami born and raised, is taking his talents to Philadelphia’s Temple University to be the Owls’ head coach, and it is a massive and until very recently unexpected gut-punch for Richt and the UM program.

POLL: How would you describe the impact of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz leaving on the Hurricanes football program and Mark Richt?

It is recruiting season in college football, and the Canes ha one particular commitment it was most important to hang onto and not lose.

That was Diaz, the man who fashioned swaggering, successful defenses on a par with any from the school’s five-championship glory days.

Hiring Diaz was the best decision Richt has made in his three years as UM head coach.

Now losing him arrives like a blindside fist as Richt’s biggest loss, underlined by awful timing.

Diaz interviewed Monday at Temple and understandably was seen as a strong finalist for the job. He is among the nation’s top-tier assistant coaches. At 44 and with a plump resume of defensive accomplishment, Diaz and Temple had an obvious mutual agreement he was ready for his first head-coaching opportunity.

All the more reason the Hurricanes needed to fight like hell to keep him.

This was a chance for a huge victory amid much losing.

Instead, it continues a sharp sagging in the program over the past 13 months, since UM was 10-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country in 2017.

Last season ended with the anticlimactic fizzle of three consecutive losses. This season’s early promise was wrecked by four losses in a row and a pedestrian 7-5 finish. Along the way Miami has suffered hits in recruiting, its 2019 class currently is ranked an uninspiring 26th by ESPN, 29th by and 33rd by UM lost a heavily recruited four-star quarterback to LSU. It was Richt’s own nephew! (Sorry, Uncle Mark).

“Enough losing!” would have been the statement ion keeping Diaz.

It would have declared how serious UM was about seeing the program all the way back to national prominence, because the defense and what Diaz brought was the best, most reliable thing about Miami right now, and second place isn’t close.

Coaches always ask players to “do whatever it takes” and now the university — President Julio Frenk, athletics chief Blake James, Richt — had the chance to do the same. If it was simply that Diaz wanted to be a head coach right now, there wasn’t much to be done. If it was money, UM should have dug deep enough. Diaz was worth keeping that much.

And the timing of this could not be worse.

Forget the distraction tossed into UM’s bowl preparation. That’s the least of the concerns.

The early signing period for National Signing Day is Dec. 19-21. Last campus visits are happening this coming weekend. UM is trying to nail down four-star defensive end Lloyd Summerall and steal four-star cornerbnack Kaiir Elam from Florida.

What will UM say when they ask, “Who’ll be the defensive coordinator?” It just went from a bad answer (not being sure) to a worse one (not Diaz).

UM is hoping underclassmen defensive stalwarts like Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney elect to return, not enter the NFL draft, in decision now being considered. And Diaz leaving surely will discourage them coming back.

Miami disappointed this season because of the offense and quarterback turmoil. Diaz’s guys were good as ever, ranking No. 2 in the nation in defense with only 268.3 yards allowed per game and 4.16 per play. The pass defense was No. 1. The opponent third-down conversion rate of 23.70 ranked No. 1 . The Turnover Chain kept changing hands.

Temple isn’t a bad opportunity. The Owls were 8-4 in the American Athletic Conference this year and will face Duke in the Independence Bowl the same day (Dec. 27) Miami plays Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl. But it’s a step down from the Power 5 conferences that include Miami and the ACC. Temple also has its own conference Goliath, in the same division with unbeaten UCF, of the consecutive unbeaten seasons.

It was just a few weeks ago that Manny Diaz said this: “I drive to work every day and say, ‘I’m so happy I get to coach the Miami Hurricanes defense.’”

If only that drive had continued.

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Greg Cote is a Miami Herald sports columnist who in 2018 was named top 10 in column writing by the Associated Press Sports Editors. Greg also appears regularly on the Dan LeBatard Show With Stugotz on ESPN Radio and ESPNews.