The past eight quarters haven’t been easy on the the University of Miami’s football program—coaches and players alike—while a fan base is also at a breaking point, as the incompetence and failure reaches a new low.
All that to say, another rock bottom moment for this program—and for Manny Diaz specifically.
Not only back-to-back weeks where Miami started slow, rallied late and painfully came up short—snatching defeat from the jaws of victory—it was a somber post-game moment making the rounds which showed the world how the son of the city’s former mayor responds in adversarial moments.
The blurry snapshot even came with an accompanying Sunday morning write-up from a Canes site whose articles are usually premium account pieces—not that anyone would’ve paid for this propaganda and an attempt to elicit sympathy from supporters instead of understandable frustration.
SPIN CITY: SHAPING THE DIAZ NARRATIVE
Despite falling to North Carolina, 45-42—just over a week after throwing away a 30-28 home game to Virginia on a missed kick, CaneSport ran an op-ed titled, “Now Is Not The Time For Verdict On Diaz”—with a lead image of a sullen Diaz in the corner of the end zone, leaning back, legs crossed with a thousand yard stare at the field where the unthinkable just took place.
For those who thought a game-winning field goal off the goalpost was the most-heartbreaking way to lose a game, a “hold my beer moment” as a last-gasp Miami third down pass was tipped and intercepted with mere second remaining—preventing a redemptive kicking moment that would’ve sent the game to overtime.
While the hurt and pain for all tied to this program are real—so is the fact that the Hurricanes bled out for 59-minutes these past two games, before dying in the final seconds; a missed kick or tipped pass weren’t the culprits.
As a result, the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of Diaz—unmotivated to play early, untimely penalties mental mistakes and shoddy fundamentals; namely forgetting how to tackle. The third-year head coaches always quick to say these issues are “on him” and that he needs to find a way to get things fixed, only to see his teams making the same year three gaffes that were a problem year one.
Everyone processes grief differently—and maybe there was some authenticity in Diaz finding a quiet moment in the corner of an empty stadium—by any cynic would be quick to remember that a politician always knows where to find the camera; which includes the son of a politician.
The article states that “10 minutes turned to 15” as Diaz “stood there thinking”, before being summoned to the bus for the ride to the airport and team flight home.
One could argue Diaz could’ve found a private place to (understandably) sulk—in the bowels of Kenan Memorial, where he did his post-game presser—but no cameras would’ve been there to capture it. Shuffling out to the field, where stadium lights were still cranking—posting-up about about 2 o’clock from the press box, where writers were still banging out recaps; it seems a bit calculated and opportune.
It also appears to have worked, as CaneSport and others bought right in.
This particular piece cherry picks any positive moments and sells optimism based on the effort, not the result. There’s no owning any early failures—it was all about the second half effort; the Canes waking up and out-gaining the Tar Heels in the second half and overall, without ever asking why Miami never hits the ground running under Diaz, always having to play catch-up.
“It’s the magic of sports. There are things that sometimes you just marvel at, don’t try to explain.” the piece read; gobsmacked that Miami could finish with more yards, while still falling short.
A flubbed defensive play here or there was discussed—but not the fact that Diaz chose to call those shots this season, instead of bringing on a veteran coordinator as he focused on a CEO role that is still new to him. Despite being praised for his defensive ways years back, Diaz’s Canes are statistically one of the the worst-tacking groups in the nation this fall.
Worth noting, no?
FAIRY-TALE STORYTELLING; NIGHTMARE ENDING
Breaking down Miami’s “scrappy” comeback in some Remember The Titans fashion—as if this wasn’t another in a long line of forgetting games where the Hurricanes played down to a mid-tier conference opponent, coming up short again.
“It was time to buckle up for the fourth quarter. Four fingers were in the air on the Miami sideline. Diaz jumped up and down like a little kid,” the piece waxed poetically.
CaneSport even made light that maybe Mack Brown was “giving Diaz a gift to makeup for the un-ceremonial firing at Texas when Diaz worked for him as a defensive coordinator”—as if the third-year defensive play caller didn’t deserve to canned two games into the 2013 season, when the Longhorns surrendered 550 rushing yards at BYU.
Diaz was even praised for not playing for the field goal like he did against Virginia—smug on the sideline in the recent Thursday night contest, where Miami faced a first down from the 15-yard line with :97 remaining—before running three plays to set up a game-winning kick, which sailed wide.
Where a field goal would’ve beaten the Cavaliers, one against the Tar Heels would’ve merely forced overtime in front of a raucous night crowd—so of course Diaz and Miami were playing for the win. How is this even a conversation?
“Standing there all alone in the shadows in that corner of the stadium, you can bet Diaz replayed every second of those rapid fire decisions,” as the piece came to a close. “He believes that these sequences will start going his way soon, that his team of figures will become winners before the clock runs out again.”
Those able to cut through the gaslighting are fully aware that the time to win as these past few weeks and that the clock has pretty much run out, for al intents and purposes. Virginia and North Carolina were two of the easier games left on the schedule between now and Virginia Tech and Duke as the closers.
Technically speaking, sure—Miami is two plays away from 4-2, instead of 2-4—but those two plays now have the Hurricanes 0-2 in conference play, instead of atop the Coastal at 2-0. These two setbacks all but kill the annual rallying cry of still being in the hunt for the program’s second divisional title since joining the ACC in 2004.
No sadder words utter by Miami fans every fall than the phrase, “We’re not mathematically eliminated yet!”
MORALE FADES WITH EACH CRUSHING BLOW
Not to be callous, but what will this team play for these next few weeks and where will coaches find motivation for a season’s that’s reached its tipping point? If Miami couldn’t muster up the gusto to get after it for 60 minutes these past two weeks—both on offense and defense—how will that bode for two surging opponents who are on deck?
HardRock will be a morgue next Saturday night when No. 18 North Carolina State heads south—sans the Wolfpack fans eager to make the 10-hour drive to Miami Gardens to watch their 5-1 team attempt to exact some revenge on a Hurricanes squad that stole one late last year in Raleigh.
The following week Miami heads to No. 23 Pittsburgh—another 5-1 team—who incredibly will be led by quarterback Kenny Pickett, the maestro in the Panthers’ upset against the Hurricanes as a true freshman in 2017.
The odds of winning either—outside of a gift from the football gods to make up for the past two weeks—seems slim, to none. This would put the Hurricanes at 2-6; Miami’s worst start since 1975—year one of the two-year Carl Selmer era—Miami finishing 2-8 that dismal season.
As for this current 2-4 run; Miami hasn’t seen days this dark since 1997—the program bottoming out under Butch Davis as probation and lost scholarships took a toll. Those Canes went 5-6 on the year—Miami’s worst run since the same record in 1979—year one of the Howard Schnellenberger era.
Diaz is now 16-14 in his two-plus years at Miami and is realistically looking at 16-16 by month’s end, barring a miracle. That would also put the Hurricanes at 2-8 dating back to the program’s last Power Five win—a 48-0 rout of Duke last December 5th—with the two lone wins coming via a late field goal against Appalachian State and a glorified scrimmage rout of Central Connecticut State.
BROKEN & FLAWED FROM THE GET-GO
Miami is cloaked in failure under Diaz—something that started with his first two games at the helm—right up through these last two. The Hurricanes had a shot at knocking off an overrated No. 8 Florida in the 2019 season opener, but special teams errors, metal errors and poor execution resulted in a 24-20 loss.
The next time Miami took the field, the Gators hangover was real and the Canes were fast down 17-3 to the Tar Heels—before scrapping back late, taking a lead, surrendering a 4th-and-17 conversion that led to a game-winning touchdown—UM’s long, game-tying field goal attempt in the waning moments not having a prayer.
The rest of the 6-7 season was also nightmarish; falling into a 28-0 early hole to a Virginia Tech team wrecked 45-10 at home by Duke a week prior—the Canes knotting things up 35-35 but unable to get one final defensive stop, falling 42-35—a sign of things to come under Diaz.
Weeks later, an under-motivated Miami sleepwalked through an overtime loss against a one-win Georgia Tech team, fresh off a loss to The Citadel and in their first year having abandoned their long-time triple option offense.
Miami rattled off three wins in a row against low-grade competition; winning at Pittsburgh, Florida State and snuffing out Louisville at home—yet inexplicably got big-headed at 6-4 and no-showed against Florida International.
In what was by far the biggest game in the commuter college’s history—on the hallowed grounds where the Orange Bowl once stood.
A former UM head coach running the Golden Panthers, with several former Canes players on his staff—yet Diaz and his cronies were down 23-3 early fourth quarter before they knew what hit them—en route to arguably the most-embarrassing loss in program history, 30-24.
A loss at Duke the next week, followed by a bowl shutout to Louisiana Tech to end 2019 with a thud.
A KING-SIZED SAVE FOR DIAZ IN 2020
To Diaz’s credit, he again robbed the Transfer Portal—a Band-Aid for a Canes program that struggles on National Signing Day, while Miami has become a great one-year destination for guys’ last hurrah.
D’Eriq King was all that and more in 2020, leading the Canes to an 8-3 season—directly having an impact on 3-4 games that would’ve gone south without him—saving Diaz, as a result.
Led by King, Miami eked out wins over Virginia, North Carolina State and Virginia Tech, by a combined total of nine points—down 44-31 late in Raleigh, before pulling out the 44-41 victory and staring up at a 24-13 deficit in Blacksburg, before escaping, 25-24.
King famously tore his ACL in a slow-start, bowl loss to Oklahoma State—Miami down 21-3 before rallying late and falling short, again—and despite the well-intended attempt to run it back in 2021, King’s elusiveness wasn’t the same post-surgery and his body took an early-season beating that now has him out for the year.
Injuries have plagued Diaz’s squad halfway through year three; running backs Don Chaney Jr. knocked out early with a knee injury and Cam Harris lost for the year this weekend at North Carolina. Jake Garcia also had surgery on an ankle, sidelining him for weeks—which ended any quarterback battle for supremacy with Tyler Van Dyke, who as tossed the keys to the offense by default as a result.
Still, none is an excuse for how Miami underperformed against Virginia and North Carolina—two average, beatable football teams.
Even with the injuries and setbacks, as the CaneSport fluff piece pointed out—Miami out-gained North Carolina yardage-wise, 421 to 382 and 341 to 107, after that head-scratching 176 to 12 start and 275 to 80 halftime deficit—which only proves what was there for the taking if Diaz had his team ready to play football.
Georgia Tech rung North Carolina up for 45 points and 394 yards weeks back; the Yellow Jackets’ defense surrendering 369 total yards and only 22 points—while Florida State scored 35 points on 383 yards and limited the Tar Heels to 25 points.
Miami’s defense gave up 45 points to an offense averaging 35.5 points-per-game—one that only laid 38 on a terrible Duke team shutout by Virginia this past weekend, 48-0.
DIAZ-LED DEFENSE; COMPLETELY LOST
Under Diaz, this Hurricanes defense bends, breaks and damn near forgets everything it’s been fundamentally taught since Optimist era football. Over the past eight quarters, almost every time Miami finds the end zone or settles for a field goal—the defense has been unable to make a stand, sending the offense back on the field with a hot hand and some motivation.
Canes pull to within 19-14 against Virginia mid-third quarter—Miami gives up a seven-play, 75-yard drive (and two-point conversion), pushing the Cavaliers’ lead to 27-14. Harris breaks off a beast of a 57-yard run; the defense takes the piss out of it, allowing a field goal that pushed the lead to nine—proving to be the deciding factor in what was a two-point loss.
Same to be said for this loss at North Carolina; the Tar Heels going 150 yards on 13 plays in just over five minutes of football—the saving grace, a Jahfari Harvey pick-six on the first Sam Howell pass from scrimmage—which lost all its luster moments later, when Gurvan Hall got tangled up on a 45-yard pass from Howell to Josh Downs, pushing the lead back to 14-7.
Jaylan Knighton punches in a late second quarter touchdown, cutting the lead to 28-17—Miami gives up two field goal attempts in the final minutes of the half. The first would sail right, but after a second Van Dyke interception, the Heels had new life and drilled a 48-yarder, taking a 31-17 lead into intermission.
Miami’s offense manufactures a solid, 75-yard opening drive, cutting the lead to seven? The Tar Heels are back in the end zone four plays later; the Canes’ defense missing a half dozen tackles as Howell scampered 30 yards to pay dirt.
Knighton rumbles 60 yards on a dump-off from Van Dyke, cutting the lead to four? Howell scores on the next possession after a three-and-out.
As a program, Miami’s modus operandi was always defense-driven—wreaking havoc on offenses, creating turnovers and getting momentum-shifting stops that ultimately altered football games. Should the offense make a mistake, a confident defense always strutted onto the field with a, “Don’t sweat it, we got you” big-baller energy and delivered.
When the Canes’ offense came to play and delivered, the defense took pride in working hard to get the ball back to keep the momentum rolling.
The Hurricanes haven’t played that brand of football since that aberration of a a season in 2017.
An upperclassmen-heavy defense—loaded with Al Golden recruits, shockingly—took a massive step forward and paved the way to that 10-0 start, highlighted by an upset of No. 3 Notre Dame, 41-8.
This was also the year of the iconic-turned-infamous Turnover Chain—a true motivational tool and one of college football’s biggest stories, as Miami seemed to over-perform by way of this good luck charm—until it was lucky no more.
RICHT’S DEPARTURE; UM’S KNEE-JERK MOVES
Miami’s 10-0 start year two under Mark Richt was a 7-9 disaster from that point; 0-3 to close out the 2017 season—including a 38-3 rout via Clemson in the Canes’ first ACC Championship appearance, followed by a double-digit Orange Bowl loss to Wisconsin.
A 5-1 start went to hell in a handbag in 2018—Miami dropping four in a row and left fighting for bowl eligibility with two to play, before beating Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh to get to 7-5—only to crash and burn in the Pinstripe Bowl, where a rematch against the Badgers resulted in a 35-3 bloodbath.
Richt called it a career three days later, which ultimately led to the University of Miami’s “sliding doors” moment—December 30th, 2018—where the program flinched and choked in an unexpected big moment, making a knee-jerk hire that landed the Hurricanes where they are today.
Despite that 7-5 regular season in 2018, Miami’s offense was the culprit—not Diaz’s defense—meaning the third-year coordinator’s name still carried some cachet, tabbing him as an up-and-comer Temple wanted to fill their head coaching vacancy.
Diaz accepted the job mid-December, but strangely found his way back to the Hurricanes’ sideline in the postseason—odd in the sense Miami was a five-loss team in a third tier bowl, playing for absolutely nothing. This wasn’t a coordinator leaving behind a Playoffs-caliber team, in the hunt for a title and playing the “unfinished business” card, chasing a championship.
This was simply a case of not letting go of the past and fully embracing one’s future.
All focus should’ve been on Diaz’s new opportunity in Philadelphia; instead, a sign of things to come regarding an individual quick to take on a new title and role—only to not know how to move on from his former position; delegating those tasks to a new quality hire.
Miami panicked upon Richt’s abrupt departure, immediately reaching out to Diaz—the safe, cheap play—to gauge interest. Diaz, again, the son of a politician and masterful in the art of spin, posturing and self-promotion—manufactured a false timeline with UM; demanding they act fast, or he was all-in with the Owls and no longer an option.
Despite that empty threat, Miami caved and hired Diaz by sundown on the same day that Richt retired—paying Temple a reported $4 million, for the inconvenience caused by poaching their “undefeated” new head coach.
Similar to Diaz double-dipping and coaching the Canes’ 2018 bowl game, while making some initial head coaching moves with the Owls—the third-year head coach managed to promote, demote and empower himself this season when micromanaging and re-assuming his old role as defensive coordinator.
Diaz caught a break when second year, maligned defensive coordinator Blake Baker was poached by LSU and the end of last season—taking over linebackers and helping the Tigers with recruiting—all of which saved Diaz from having to fire his protege days after North Carolina laid a 62-26 beating on Miami; rushing for more yards (554) than BYU did Texas’ defense in the game that ran Diaz out of Austin.
HEAD COACH & MOONLIGHTING AS COORDINATOR
The logical move for a first-time CEO would’ve be to bring on a heavy hitter to take defensive responsibilities off his plate; a salty veteran and alpha like a Jim Leavitt—allowing Diaz to focusing on higher-level initiatives as he rebuilt the Miami program top to bottom.
Instead, the ultimate beta move as he continued to handle his previous duties in effort to stay busy and to avoid letting someone else both calls the shots, or to show him up if the defense actually improved—failing to realize he’d share in the success as the top-dog who hired and empowered a new coordinator.
What Diaz failed to realize; that riding the fence and playing part-time CEO and part-time defensive coordinator was a recipe for disaster—and that if or when Miami tanked this season, he’d take a double dose of grief—as both head coach and defensive shot-caller.
There are no do-overs in life, or sports—bur realistically all parties involved have to questions the moves made in December 2018 which got Miami here.
Deep down, Diaz has to know he wasn’t ready for prime time and to lead his hometown Hurricanes to the promised land. The pragmatic move would’ve been to cut his teeth at temple—where he could’ve learned on the job at a low-expectation program, outside of the national spotlight.
One could counter this suggestion, stating that the Temple job could’ve gone south—as long-time Northern Illinois head coach Rod Carey isn’t setting the world on fire with the Owls.
Carey put together a respectable 8-5 run in 2019—Diaz’s would-be first season—before things went sideways in a COVID-shortened 2020; Temple going 1-6. Year three is now 3-3 at the halfway point, with Temple trounced by Rutgers (61-14), Boston College (28-3) and Cincinnati (52-3).
That said, good coaches can fail on paper in dead-end programs—reinventing themselves and returning to top-tier jobs in due time.
DIAZ NEEDED GROWTH MOMENT AWAY FROM UM
Mario Cristobal spent six seasons as head coach at dead-end Florida International—suffering through an 1-11 first year, but getting the Golden Panthers bowl-eligible by year four; 7-6, winning the conference and topping Toledo in a bowl game—the program’s first trip to the post-season. Cristobal went 8-5 the following season, lost a bowl game and followed up with a 3-9 before getting let go year six.
Back to the ranks of assistant, Cristobal took his talents to Alabama and spent four years coaching and recruiting under Nick Saban—much like an early career move brought him to Rutgers for three seasons to work under Greg Schiano. Cristobal joined a Willie Taggart-led Oregon staff in 2017—and when Taggart made the move to follow Jimbo Fisher at Florida State, Cristobal was named head coach of the Ducks.
Where is Diaz’s career trajectory, years spent learning under true mentors, or years spent buckling in for the lesser gig and learning experience that sets the stage for tomorrow? Four years coaching the defense at Middle Tennessee under Rick Stockstill? One year under Dan Mullen at Mississippi State—returning four years later for a second stint, after failing at Texas and one rebuilding year under Skip Holtz at Louisiana Tech?
When dissecting it in retrospect, the University of Miami must own up to the fact that their overreaction to Richt’s swift retirement late 2018 is specifically while things are so dire halfway through the 2021 season; Diaz never had the resume to take over as the Hurricanes’ 25th head coach—and when looking as the deep-rooted cultural issues within the program, he lacks the leadership traits needed to negotiate this rugged, high-level coaching terrain.
It’s been stated here that Diaz comes off as wanting to be liked and accepted more than commanding the necessary amount of fear and respect top-flight college athletes need to be successful.
The odd tackling dummies WWE-style event in spring 2019, where Diaz got in on the action like big brother home from college and playing cool with high schoolers—to his victory cigars, sliding around in the rain after wins, floating into booster events on big yachts, or his once-clever, now-quiet social media game.
All would be forgivable if he was winning—just as everyone eventually came around on the aw-shucks Dabo Swinney act—originally seen as a rube and Tommy Bowden staff holdover for years, until reeling Brent Venables to run the defense and building a juggernaut.
The Tigers have taken step back in 2021, while Swinney’s star has plummeted—a feeling he’s lost his mojo and invincibility.
LOSE THE JEWELS & GET IT TOGETHER
Sadly, losses aside, nothing defines this Diaz era more than how his once-legendary motivational chain experiment has since turned into college football’s saddest joke—which he’s done nothing to curb, counter or reevaluate.
No sooner did Diaz take over in 2019, the first-year head coach rolled out Touchdown Rings to go with the third incarnation of the popular Cuban-link chain—both of which continue showing up in poorly-timed moments that should be better policed by Diaz, his staff and any player on this team with a modicum of leadership pumping through their veins.
The fifth version of the chain showed up as Miami trailed Alabama, 27-0 in the season opener—quickly turning into a laughing stock as soon as the fumble recovery was overturned and the hardware was sadly returned to its case. As if that weren’t humiliating enough, rings were rolled out when the Hurricanes finally found the end zone in the third quarter of what was then 41-10 game, at the time.
The fact there is no internal process to temper in-game celebrations while the Hurricanes are getting their teeth kicked in, or are running up video game numbers against a glorified high school a week after getting dick-punched in the fourth quarter by a Big Ten team that was supposed to wilt in the South Florida heat—beyond problematic.
One week after Michigan State outlasted Miami—a lopsided 21-3 run over final fifteen minutes, putting the game away against the program once known for “four fingers” and fourth quarter dominance—ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit took ‘The U’ to task on College GameDay.
“I don’t think it matters who the head coach is. Until you get a president and an AD and a coach together on the same page, I guess football doesn’t matter,” Herbstreit vented. “It matters to the alums, to the brotherhood of ‘The U’. But I don’t know if it matters to the people making the decisions at Miami.”
The shots fired reverberated throughout the college football world, trickling down to the local South Florida media—who seem a little more empowered when talking about the current State of Miami under Diaz as the losses pile up.
Hours after Herby’s spirited take-down, Miami players were seen mugging for cameras on the sideline while putting a 69-0 beating on Central Connecticut State; photographers quick to assemble players involved in any scoring drive, for calculated and choreographed poses and shots.
Anyone tied to this program should be mortified by the amateur hour approach and laissez faire management style taking place; from the inability of managing celebrations, to a cultural issue where seniority rules and personnel issues are birthed by the best players not seeing the field, in order not to rock the boat with upperclassmen.
All this to say, hard not to feel like the end is near. Back-to-back last-minutes losses are morale-crushers, and teams like North Carolina State and Pittsburgh look ready to bring a different fight and more stable attack than Virginia and North Carolina these past two weeks.
Halfway through, 2-4 is bad—but 2-6 is sound-the-alarm catastrophic—which is a very realistic scenario between now and month’s end.
“There’a a really good team in that locker room,” a struggling-for-words Diaz shared post-game. “We are what our record is, I understand that. But we stay the course, it’ll show.”
Unfortunately, time is running out on the goal being pursued and these 2021 Hurricanes appear to be past the point of no return in saving both this season—as well as Diaz’s dream job.
Dead Manny Walking.
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 is a storyteller for some exciting brands and individuals—as well as a guitarist and songwriter for his band Company Jones, who just released their debut album “The Glow”. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.