Manny Diaz is the dealer. The pusher. He is good at this. Really good. And what he is selling, we are lining up to buy, because the timing is perfect and the hunger is there.
The Miami Hurricanes football coach is trafficking in hope.
Yes, please. More, please. We need that right now. And in abundance.
As spring practice unfurls, the Diaz-led re-branding and repackaging of UM football has been a marvel to see. (It is “The New Miami” (hashtag #TNM). The T-shirts say so. The excitement this spring is “palpable.” The reporters say so. The new transfer quarterback, Tate Martell, has “swag.” His teammates say so.
‘The New Miami’ has taken on a life because, well, because social media and a starving fan base are a fertile combination.
“It’s the new energy around town,” as linebacker Shaq Quarterman put it. Diaz and his assistants are attacking the 2019 season like starved lions unleashed on a ripe carcass.
“There’s not a guy on this staff who wasn’t jumping out of bed this morning to get here,” said Diaz on the first day of spring work.
The Canes went 7-6 last season as one of the biggest disappointments in all of college football, causing Mark Richt to abruptly resign. But all is swell because Diaz, the defensive coordinator and Turnover Chain inventor who’d left to be Temple’s head coach, triumphantly returned on a metaphoric white steed to save everything.
So the latest iteration of ‘The U Is Back’ blooms anew this spring in the Carol Soffer Indoor Practice Facility on campus. The first practice saw decorated alums like Michael Irvin, Jon Beason and Greg Olsen on the sideline -- UM history blessing the current regime.
“It’s pretty cool,” noted Diaz.
The power of optimism shows in the ease with which UM fans are able to forget how last season ended, overlook that Miami appears in no early 2019 preseason Top 25 rankings, and set aside the that mighty Clemson continues a formidable, overshadowing Atlantic Coast Conference roadblock.
UM fan excitement is Top 25, and that’s enough for now.
Especially for now.
South Florida hungers for a reason to think at least one of its biggest teams is headed right and poised to make America pay attention again.
Heat fans brace for the imminent end of the Dwyane Wade epoch and cheer for an average team that seems to have run out of whale bait.
Marlins fans have been prepared for lots of losing with no more promise than “maybe, someday” as Derek Jeter’s ground-up rebuild has prospects where the stars once were.
Panthers fans, disappointed again, prepare for a 20th season out of the NHL playoffs in 25 franchise years.
Dolphins fans? Where to begin? When the face of your team suddenly is the flowing, 19th Century president’s beard of Ryan Fitzpatrick, you are officially adrift in some bizarre reboot rooted in being bad enough this coming season to bring a miracle-high draft pick in 2020.
I am not ignoring the really good smaller teams among us. Canes women’s basketball is a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Butch Davis has FIU football aimed right. Nova Southeastern University men’s basketball is one win away from reaching the NCAA Division II final four. There are others.
But the highest level of Miami sports is looking for a team to lead it. To lead us.
And Manny Diaz has volunteered UM football.
“We’re holding these guys to an extremely high standard,” said the coach. “’Do you want to be great?’”
As for fans buying into ‘The New Miami’?
“I think everyone feels the energy,” Diaz said. “Everyone feels the passion of what’s going on. That’s a tangible thing.”
Some may be feeling a sense of deja vu.
‘The U Is Back’ has appeared in a few previous transmogrifications (all fleeting) since Miami won the most recent of its five national championship in the 2001 season and scored its last postseason Top 10 polls finish in ‘03.
Remember when Randy Shannon had UM ranked No. 8 in the nation in the midst of the 2009 season?
Or when Al Golden had the Canes 7-0 and ranked No. 7 in 2013 — games abloom with frat boys in Golden-esque white shirts and orange ties?
Or how about 2017, when Richt had UM 10-0 and ranked No. 2, and Canes fans (for a minute) were seriously thinking national championship for the first time in maybe 15 years?
Those all turned out to be mirages. Teases. False hope.
What UM has going on right now feels real. But that’s the thing, right? Hope is the drug that always feels real when you’re in the middle of it, at the height of it. That’s why you want it so badly.
So Manny Diaz’s challenge is daunting, yet simple enough.
Make it real this time.
Make it real, and make it last.