After a 1.5-week search, the Nittany Lions have found their replacement for Brent Pry. Penn State announced this morning that former Miami head coach Manny Diaz is the program’s new defensive coordinator and linebackers coach.
Diaz comes to Happy Valley after a tumultuous ending to his tenure in Miami, where The U’s administration yo-yo’d Diaz around while they waited for Mario Cristobal’s contract to be ironed out. Although Diaz certainly didn’t live up to the expectations that Miami had for him as a head coach, he finished with a respectable 21-15 record while going 16-9 in the ACC.
Before Diaz was a head coach though, he was a defensive coordinator for 13 seasons: four at Middle Tennessee State (2006-2009), three at Texas (2011-2013), two at Mississippi State (2010, 2015), and three at Miami (2016-2018). Other than the stint with Texas at the end of the Mack Brown era, Diaz has fielded some really impressive defenses. His MTSU defenses finished in the top four of the conference (at the time, the Sun Belt) in points allowed in all four seasons. During both his stops in Starkville, the Bulldogs produced good defenses, finishing 21st in the country in 2010 and 36th in 2015.
It was at Miami though that Diaz really took off as a defensive coordinator. He upgraded the Canes’ defense immediately, improving them from the 77th ranked defense the year before his arrival to the 12th ranked defense during his first year in 2016. Miami continued to have nationally respected defenses the next two seasons, which led to Diaz landing a head coaching job of his own at Temple. Here was what Cameron Underwood of State of the U said about the departing Diaz.
Diaz fit in seamlessly at The U. He took a passive defense and got back to the basics of Miami football: fast and aggressive. His defenses have routinely been among the nation’s best at creating havoc and TFLs. Furthermore, Diaz was the mastermind behind Miami’s iconic Turnover Chain, which has been imitated by countless groups both in and out of sports.
Of course, Diaz only lasted at Temple for like 17 days because he came back to Miami to replace the retiring Mark Richt, but the point still stands: despite how his head coaching tenure turned out at Miami, he was a very successful defensive coordinator. Yes, there will be questions as to why Miami’s defense got progressively worse once Diaz became head coach. But at least from the outside looking in, it seems fair to chalk that up to an overload of responsibilities that Diaz had as the sole leader of the program. Fortunately for Penn State, Diaz shouldn’t have that issue in Happy Valley where the defense will be his only focus.
All in all, this is a very good hire for Penn State. I know much of this search for Penn State fans focused on Oklahoma-now-Ohio State’s Jim Knowles and Texas A&M’s Elijah Robinson, but Diaz seems like a solid mix between the two. He gives you a bit more recruiting chops than Knowles would have, while he’s exponentially more experienced than Robinson when it comes to running a defense. While many — myself included — were happy to take that risk with Robinson, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Franklin opted for the former Power 5 head coach who has multiple years of defensive coordinator experience in the SEC, ACC, and Big 12 instead.