After one of the most unexpected and wild offseason’s in Hurricanes’ history—Mark Richt stepping down, Manny Diaz “returning” from Temple to take over as head coach, salvaging a recruiting class from being decimated and keeping a few necessary senior defenders on board, while bringing in some immediate-impact puzzle pieces via the Transfer Portal—the first game since that rock-bottom, program-changing bowl loss to Wisconsin is set to get underway.
Diaz officially released the first UM depth chart of the season, while doing the media rounds—calling into the Joe Rose Show, followed by his Monday presser where he broke down all things related to the big showdown, as well as the overall state of ‘The U’.
It would be easy to dismiss a lot of what was said as standard coach-speak—while the skeptic could quickly point out that Al Golden talked the talk and Randy Shannon understood the program’s brand DNA—something feels different about Diaz’s attitude, approach and overall understanding of what makes University of Miami football tick.
A few standouts from the Rose interview, as well as thoughts on the newest depth chart:
No hotter topic right now than the emergence of r-freshman Jarren Williams taking over as Miami’s newest signal-caller; beating out r-sophomore N’Kosi Perry and r-sophomore Tate Martell, the heralded Ohio State transfer.
Rose and crew fired off standard, expected questions—some of which Diaz answered in cliché fashion, while other responses help bolster the case that his blueprint and ability to push the right buttons is going to reap long-term effects.
One of the more obvious sentiments; there’s been a team-wide calming effect since Williams was named starter and guys can now rally around him, as the time finally has an identity.
Diaz went on to talk about offensive coordinator Dan Enos and the game plan to get Williams settled in on Saturday night, by way of a quarterback-friendly game plan—as well as a system that has both sides of the ball excited.
Diaz explained that players are grasping that the offensive game plan is two-fold; not just more unique play calling, putting guys in motion and what not—but how these new schemes are designed to cause problems for opposing defenses. Out-executing the opposition is part of the process—but so is implementing a plan that can allow them to trip themselves up.
When contrasting this new approach against complaints last season that opposing defenses were literally calling out what plays Miami’s offense was running before it ran it—this change in offensive philosophy simply can’t be overstated.
Miami got to 10-0 in 2017 by way of every lucky offensive bounce, as well as overachieving quarterback play from Malik Rosier. Once the air was let out of that balloon for the regular season finale in Pittsburgh, the Canes found themselves worked over by Clemson, Wisconsin and LSU in the 2018 opener; never regaining an offensive groove and playing rotating quarterbacks en route to a dismal 7-6 season.
Decent quarterback play in 2017—even with a bland game plan—mixed with next-level defense; Miami was inching closer to “contender”, which is the first step towards championship caliber. The addition of Enos, improved quarterback plan and an offensive philosophy that is a mix of innovation and defensive confusion; it’s not a shock so many have the Hurricanes as a dark horse squad to make some noise in 2019—especially with Diaz at the helm; the architect of the 2016 defensive rebuild.
Diaz’s assessment about Florida was also part-obvious, yet also part-astute. The first-year head coach praised the Gators’ as a “skilled” bunch; top-flight secondary, deep stable of running backs, returning all wide receivers and having experience at quarterbacks—as well as sound special teams.
This would’ve been an easy place to end the answer, but Diaz wanted to clarify some thoughts on both Miami and Florida over the past few years—giving a more-detailed breakdown in his presser than he did on the Rose show:
“I look at two programs, in a way, separated by 12 months. I look at Dan Mullen and his staff coming in and inheriting a four-win team two years ago—changing the culture of that program—and I think of us both being 5-1 on the same weekend last October. Florida’s down 21-3 to Vanderbilt and finds a way to come back and win that game and then that night we go play Virginia and in a close game we find a way to not win that game.”
Diaz continued on about Florida’s resilience a few weeks later at home, down double-digits to an average South Carolina squad—rallying to win—and how that late comeback (after back-to-back losses to Georgia and Missouri) set the stage for a strong finish to the season; rolling up Idaho, Florida State and Michigan in the Peach Bowl.
Other times the question has been asked in recent months, Diaz has used it as an opportunity to compliment Mullen’s first-year turnaround—10-3—on the heels of inheriting a 4-8 team, while contrasting this to the Hurricanes’ going 10-3 in 2017 with back-to-back, primetime wins against Virginia Tech and No. 3 Notre Dame.
One doesn’t have to read too hard between the lines to get Diaz’s points; (1) Miami had a double-digit win 2017 season, bought into their own hype in 2018 and took a big step backwards and (2) as bad as Florida looked in 2017 under their previous head coach, a new guy stepped in year one and had an immediate impact on the team.
In short; these two programs aren’t as far apart as the sports media—or Florida fans—might try to imply, if you read into Diaz’s words.
Where former head coach Richt was known for his 10-bite approach to eating a sandwich, Diaz is making his name on his social media prowess—hitting the ground running back in January when officially taking over as UM’s head honcho.
The topic of social media was quickly woven in and out during a quick exchange during the Rose interview, but the message itself was loud and clear—Florida is choosing to talk shit in public forums, while Miami is holding their tongue and will let their actions speak on game day.
Diaz referenced that there are no points for any social media snarkiness; but followed up with what has obviously been his message to his team—the Canes have no business in the shit-talking business after laying a 7-6 egg last season; dropping four of the last six and getting smoked 35-3 the last time they were on a football field.
Muzzling one’s players on social media is a fine art and it appears Diaz has taken the right approach in getting his players to to fall in line—earn the right. A student of the Decade Of Dominance-era Canes, Diaz saw first hand how those UM legends led by example; working their asses off on the practice field and in the weight room, which is what led to big time victories, winning streaks and eventually end zone celebrations.
Over the past several years there has been a chicken-versus-the-egg type question in regards to swagger. What is swag? Does swagger pave the way to victory—or do you have to win first, letting the swag follow? Legendary running back Alonzo Highsmith answered the question on Twitter weeks back:
“Swag is never missing a practice. Swag is practicing like every day is your last day. Swag is earned. It’s time to bring swag back to Greentree.”
When a former national champion focuses on the world “practice’ twice in two sentences—let it serve as evidence where the process begins; on campus, fighting to earn starting jobs.
Those great teams of yesteryear; a common thread as those players all made it clear their work ethic and skills-set was set going up against the best competition day-in and day-out on Greentree. Get back to that—and UM will finally be on its way again.
Another Diaz-ism that is a throwback to the days of Jimmy Johnson or Butch Davis and Miami’s dominant era; putting the Canes’ best athletes, starter and players on special teams and turning things loose.
How many times over the past decade have former UM coaches tossed second or third string receivers and running backs on punt and kick return, instead of those guys with ultimate game-breaking ability?
Come Saturday, it will be DeeJay Dallas, transfer K.J. Osborn and the electric Jeff Thomas on the return teams. Diaz let it be known; he’d rest a guy on first down if he has to—but there is always a better chance to score on special teams than their is 1st-and-10. A lot of grass equals a lot of space—and The New Miami is going to make sure is has playmakers getting the ball in their hands when the opposition is kicking it their way.
So simple and obvious—yet lost in the rebuilding shuffle by so many other leaders over the past dozen years.
A good example is looking back at kids who were successful in college, versus those (like me) who tried to cram until the final minute. Friends of mine who were acing tests; they’d shown up for class, did the work, put in their time studying and reached that point where there was nothing more to do except take the test.
Then there were those of us who were unprepared and reading / highlighting notes the morning-of, all the way up to the final minute before books had to be closed and tests handed out.
French biologist Louis Pasteur said, “Change favors only the prepared mind”—meaning that sudden flashes of insight just don’t *happen*—they are products of preparation. To that point, Diaz believed that Miami is prepared as much as it can be prepared and now it’s time to get busy:
“You got a feeling like you just reached a point where sometimes you’ve practiced all you can practice,” Diaz said. “We have made great strides, certainly since the spring. We have obviously made great strides since coming back on July 25 when we reported.”
“But now, we have to play a game. Sometimes you’ve just got to get into games, you’ve got to mix it up against somebody else, find out what you’re all about. Find out who shines under the bright lights. It’s going to be a very emotional setting. Both teams will be very highly energized.”
Whatever happens come August 24th, it won’t be for lack of effort or preparation on the part of Diaz’s Canes.
Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello earns a living helping icon Bill Murray build a lifestyle apparel brand. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.