The new year has already brought some changes for the Miami Hurricanes as head coach Mark Richt is doing that hiring and firing thing, in effort to restore all things “The U”.
Andreu Swasey is out as strength and conditioning coach, as is long-time offensive line coach Art Kehoe—but the week’s most high profile move came with the official dismissal of defensive punching bag Mark D’Onofrioand hiring of Manny Diaz as coordinator.
As for the week’s best soundbite, per Richt: “Our defensive staff will implement a 4-3 attacking style defense.”
Regarding the Diaz hire, the move itself brings mixed emotions amongst the fan base—still somewhat divided across the board. Those all-in on the Richt hire are damn-near cultish in their belief, buy-in and sales pitch regarding every move the new Canes head coach makes—while others take more of a wait-and-see approach; burned by the last few hires and seemingly numb from a decade-plus of awful Miami football.
Speaking objectively, Diaz is far from a home-run hire. Maybe a stand-up double—especially regarding overall scheme, as well as what new defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski will bring to the table—but it seems like settling more than landing “the guy”.
Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda would’ve been that home-run-guy, but LSU rolled in with a fatter checkbook and more attractive offer. Aranda is getting $1.3M annually, was given a three-year deal and he “will still be taken care of financially” should Tigers head coach Les Miles earn a pink slip over the next few seasons, according to FOX Sports Bruce Feldman.
Aranda replaced Kevin Steele, who left LSU to take over the same position at Auburn—which lost Will Muschamp to South Carolina’s head coaching vacancy weeks back.
According to Miami’s rumor mill, Richt and the Canes made a play for Aranda but the lure of the next-level SEC was understandably too much for the former Badgers’ coordinator to pass up.
Instead, Richt reeled in Diaz—a 41-year old Miami native who spent this past season under Dan Mullen at Mississippi State, where he held the role of defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Prior to that, Diaz had a one-year stint in the same roles at Louisiana Tech.
Diaz started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Florida State in the late nineties, where Richt was the Noles offensive coordinator. From there, a six-year run at North Carolina State, where he rose from GA to coaching up linebackers, safeties and special teams. That opened the door for a five-year run as defensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee State.
The blemish on Diaz’s record comes from his three-year run as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Texas as the Mack Brown era was falling apart. How much of that incompetence was on Diaz, versus the long time Longhorns head coach in the twilight of hire career?
Diaz’s Texas defense gave up a program-worst 550 rushing yards to Brigham Young in September 2013, forcing his immediate firing after the second game of the season, putting the one-time rising star in rebuild-mode, where he’s hovered ever since.
Timing and the right fit are everything and in Diaz’s case, a return home to Miami, as well as the opportunity to work on what looks like it will be a quality Richt-led staff—it could be the remedy that gets Diaz back to earlier form.
Regarding Kehoe, the ending of an era a decade (almost to the day) after it ended the first time around.
The long-time Canes’ offensive line coach is known for a fiery personality, a hatred of all things Florida State and being the lone individual to have earned five national championship rings with Miami.
Kehoe will forever be part of UM folklore; but his second go-around at his alma mater never yielded the type of results he saw on occasion over his first almost-three decades.
Whether that was timing, circumstance or something else—fact is the Canes’ line has been a mixed bag of both overachieving and underachieving the past few years. Consistently inconsistent and way too often a mistake-prone, weak link offensively.
For nostalgia-sake, it’s always bittersweet to see someone with long-time UM ties moving on; especially when given that second chance to re-correct what went wrong last time around.
Some felt Kehoe was scapegoated after the 2005 season, forced out by Larry Coker and UM higher-ups after a 9-3 season, ending with a 40-3 shellacking in the Peach Bowl at the hands of LSU.
Kehoe did two years at Ole Miss, before that ride came to an end. From there, a three year run coaching the offensive line for the California Redwoods of the United Football League. Somewhere in-between, a little time at Lambeth University in Tennessee.
What was a 27-year run last time around only lasted five years this time. Richt and Kehoe reportedly met for three hours days back and in the end, Miami’s new leader is going another direction—with former Virginia Tech offensive line coach Stacy Searels expected to be named at anytime.
Searels doesn’t bleed orange and green in that Kehoe manner and has no ties to the Miami program, but his resume is strong—including four years spent on Richt’s staff in Georgia between 2007 and 2010. From there three years with the Texas Longhorns and the past two seasons at Virginia Tech.
Searels coached up LSU’s offensive line for four seasons—present for that drubbing the Tigers put on the Canes back in 2005. He played for Auburn in the mid-eighties, did three years in the NFL and has been coaching since 1992.
While a handful of Canes coaches have been replaced, Richt is yet to name a new strength and conditioning coach in the wake of Swasey’s firing—though former Missouri Tigers coach Pat Ivey has been mentioned over the past few days.
It appeared that the popular strength and conditioning coach would stay on under new Tigers’ coach Barry Odom, but things changed recently and Ivey was let go.
Much like Swasey’s firing by Miami, some former Missouri players took to social media and voiced their frustration. Seattle Seahawks offensive lineman Justin Britt tweeted his frustration when learning of Ivey’s fate; complete with hashtag (#TheBest)—in similar fashion to some Canes greats who backed Swasey.
Santana Moss was interviewed and explained how he’d heard the scoop from Edgerrin James.
“I understand the business, but when it comes down to what he meant to that program, it’s a tough loss for a lot of us. I’m for change when it’s needed, but we’ve all been sitting on pins and needles just hoping he’d stay,” Moss shared with ESPN. “We hope whoever comes in knows the tradition and what we’re all about — coming back and showing love to the school that basically made us.”
Jon Vilma was a bit more vocal via social media; placing the blame on head coaching failures and Swasey following orders. “Hard to succeed when set up 4 failure,” were Vilma’s final thoughts on the matter.
Lost in the shuffle—both with Miami players backing their guy, or former Missouri standouts shaking their head as their former strength guru’s firing—the fact that sports at this level is big business. Athletes know this and these hard decisions shouldn’t come as a surprise as these are the same cutthroat moves that have players packing up and moving elsewhere when season’s wrap.
Richt isn’t doing anything that countless first-year head coaches aren’t doing nationwide on an annual basis; getting rid of old staff and making room for guys that have relationships with, or simply think are a better fit.
Everyone clamored for change at Miami—especially former players. Acting in an overcritical manner regarding the new guy doing what new guys do; it’s pointless.
Georgia let Richt go, despite an impressive 15-year run in Athens. Why? Two-fold, really. The Bulldogs never won the big one over Richt’s tenure—but bigger than that, sometimes a shake-up and new blood are a good thing.
All the pro-Swasey love; it’s come from a different era of Hurricanes—those late nineties, rebuilding Canes who trained under him and then head strength and conditioning coach Tommy Moffitt—or those all-time U guys a few years later that were part of the 2001 championship squad.
While former Miami greats and current NFL starts returned to train with Swasey every off-season, present-day Canes weren’t making the necessary gains. Vilma puts that on Golden and other head coaching failures, but whatever the case, the result wasn’t there.
More importantly, Richt didn’t let a Swasey or a Kehoe go because of incompetence—or in the case of D’Onofrio, fundamental schematic differences. It’s simply another situation where a new guy is building a staff and wants his own guys in the fold. All business, never personal and those who should know better need to see it that way.
One month remains between now and National Signing Day; leaving Richt to hire a few more coaches—wide receivers and defensive backs, most-notably as former interim leader Larry Scott is expected to return to his old gig, coaching up tight ends.