Manny Diaz said the other day that the biggest signing in his first months as Miami Hurricanes head coach was not a player, not anybody who would be in uniform on the football field.
“The best recruit we signed was Dan Enos.” Diaz said.
We saw why this week as UM stunned most folks by awarding its starting quarterback job to Jarren Williams.
It was a reminder of the essential importance of a head coach having a lieutenant who can be relied upon to lend an experienced, trusted voice.
The Hurricanes’ offense was mired in the bog of bad quarterbacking last season in the combination of Malik Rosier and N’Kosi Perry. A strong defense was wasted in the 7-6 season. Yet the highly recruited Williams was invisible at a time when his spark might have turned a season around. He couldn’t get in a game. (Well, OK, he got in one. Played garbage time against cupcake Savannah State, going 1 for 3 for 17 yards.)
Why? Because then-coach Mark Richt was too busy waffling between Rosier and Perry to notice Williams’ talent or grow it. And Richt had nobody on his staff to either champion Williams or tell the head coach he was wrong to not give him a shot. Richt’s quarterback coach last season? His oldest son, Jon.
The missteps at quarterback that collapsed the 2018 season led to Richt’s abrupt resignation, Diaz’s return to The U from a brief few weeks at Temple — and to Enos.
Diaz’s first major decision upon his return to UM was to understand he’s a rookie head coach versed in defense and needed to hit big on the offensive coordinator. Plenty of coaches’ egos wouldn’t allow that concession.
Enos was hired off Nick Saban’s Alabama staff, where he ran the offense, coached the QBs and helped developed Tua Tagovailoa (the Dolphins’ dream get in 2020) and Jalen Hurts. That is hitting big.
And that is why Williams will be the Canes’ starting quarterback in the Aug. 24 opener vs. rival Florida in Orlando — even though Williams was not the easiest, safest, most experienced or most expected choice.
Tate Martell was the highly touted transfer from Ohio State who many thought to be the clear front-runner for the job.
Perry had by far the most college experience of the three candidates.
Williams had three passes against Savannah State.
“When they told me [I’d won the job], it was, like, a surprise,” Williams admitted.
But under Enos, Williams developed more the past few months than he had all last season, and a UM football source tells me it was Enos who had the reins on deciding who the starter would be. Diaz ultimately agreed, but looked to and trusted Enos rather than offer a ton of input of his own — the very type of counsel Richt was missing last year.
“Coach I think didn’t want to sway what I thought,” as Enos put it this week.
Upside determined the winner, Enos telling Diaz he thinks Williams “has a chance to be elite.” It’s a bonus that, as a redshirt freshman, Williams is a year younger than Martell and Perry.
Martell might be a better runner and more adept at the run-pass option, but Williams is a more gifted passer with more patience in the pocket. (It was interesting, though, that upon winning the job Williams was talking up his own ability to improvise and throw on the run — which could be necessity given that Miami’s offensive line does not appear to be a team strength.)
Williams emerged as The Man just in the past week.
“He’s way ahead to where he was in the spring.,” Enos said. “The last four or five days we were getting a feeling he was being very consistent. Touch, deep ball, screens. For the first time I was kind of like, ‘Whoa.’ “
None of this is to guarantee or even suggest that Miami has made the right choice in Williams. That’s to be determined. Enos, who steered the decision, and Diaz, who is ultimately responsible for it, had better be right.
And if they weren’t? It could become a fascinating soap opera if Williams falters early and the calls for Martell or Perry gain traction through the megaphone of social media. Certainly the pressure is instantly on, with the Gators No. 8 in the preseason coaches poll and Miami (ranked four spots out of the Top 25) a seven-point underdog.
Diaz’s faith in Enos, though, and Enos’ eye for Williams‘ potential, deserve all benefit of doubt. And that should be strong enough to withstand even a rough opener against Florida, which figures as easily UM’s toughest game of the season right out the gate.
Enos said the key for Williams will be “that he maintains the chip on his shoulder and the sense of urgency that he had trying to win the job.”
As competition goes, it’s one thing for Williams to beat Martell and Perry. Next up: Florida Gators.
“I told him” said Enos, “the hard part starts now.”