Our story begins with a simple fact of life: Human beings can and will change their minds.
Joe Paterno was going to be the head coach of the New England Patriots in 1973, but after verbally accepting the job, he thought about the matter before putting pen to paper to ink his contract and decided to stay at Penn State.
It doesn’t happen every day, but coaches throughout the decades have occasionally changed their minds in football and basketball.
Bill Belichick was head coach of the New York Jets for one day before moving to the New England Patriots.
Bobby Cremins went to South Carolina basketball, but then decided to go back to Georgia Tech. Dana Altman did the same basic thing, hopping to Arkansas but then thinking about the matter and going back to Creighton. Very recently, Chris Beard accepted the open job at UNLV basketball, but then watched the Texas Tech job come open when Tubby Smith left for Memphis. Beard went to Lubbock.
Other coaches don’t necessarily change their minds, but they leave really good jobs after one year to pursue the job they REALLY wanted. Think of Lane Kiffin going to USC after just one season at Tennessee. Think of Willie Taggart leaving Oregon after just one season to go to Florida State.
When people change their minds, they can — and do, and will — change their minds in ways which go beyond accepting or rejecting jobs.
Let’s be clear: Richt is regarded as one of the stand-up men in college football. Surely, Richt would have told Manny Diaz he was planning to retire if he truly thought he was. Richt’s decision to retire on Sunday came as a change of heart, perhaps in response to demands placed upon him, perhaps due to a reconsideration of the task ahead after the humiliating Pinstripe Bowl loss to Wisconsin.
Richt would not have allowed Diaz to leave if he privately knew it was time to call it a career at age 58. He would have allowed Diaz to succeed him and create a seamless transition for the 44-year-old who is a natural fit in Miami as a recruiter and a coach fans can get excited about.
Richt, by all appearances, changed his mind. People inside the program were caught off guard by his Sunday morning decision.
People change their minds. Why couldn’t Diaz change his mind and leave Temple? It is no great sin. It is no sin at all, as a matter of fact. What this and similar episodes reveal — and magnify — about the world of collegiate athletics is that if coaches should have this level of freedom of movement, athletes should have the very same, and nothing less. Coaches shouldn’t be barred from going where their hearts lead them. Neither should players. Rather than insisting on double prohibitions, college sports should focus on double allowances.
And so, Manny Diaz comes home after briefly being Temple’s head coach. For all intents and purposes, he never really left, since he did coach the Canes as defensive coordinator in the Pinstripe Bowl.
— Miami Hurricanes (@MiamiHurricanes) December 31, 2018
Say this much about Diaz: He has paid his dues.
He was a position coach for a number of years, and then in 2006, he began his career as a defensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee. Since then, he has been a defensive coordinator at Mississippi State (in two separate stints), Texas under Mack Brown, and Louisiana Tech, before coming to Miami under Richt. His experience is extensive, and having worked under both Brown and Richt, he has seen how highly accomplished head coaches work. While it is true that he has never coached an FBS game as a head coach before, Diaz is not taking a job at age 34 or 35. Kliff Kingsbury and Lane Kiffin took head coaching jobs at or near those ages, and they failed badly. Those men needed more seasoning. Diaz does not.
For Diaz, the challenge will be to hire a strong offensive coordinator. Diaz knows the defensive side of the ball, but as we so often see in the world of collegiate head coaching, a head coach with expertise in one facet of football often neglects the other side of the ball and sinks his career or his tenure at a school.
Will Muschamp simply can’t develop offensive skill-position talent, and he is in huge trouble at South Carolina — not in terms of losing his job, but in terms of being able to accomplish much of anything with the Gamecocks. Dana Holgorsen knows how to coach offense, but his defenses at West Virginia simply could not solve Oklahoma’s offense in the Big 12, and that’s why his program never turned the corner. California had a defense good enough to win the Pac-12 this season, but the offense was absolutely atrocious under defense-first head coach Justin Wilcox, who — like Diaz — spent many seasons as a defensive coordinator before taking a Power Five head coaching job.
Diaz must overcome this “half a loaf” problem in which his side of the ball does all the work but the offense languishes. That’s what can prevent his Miami head coaching tenure from being a success. He must nail his coordinator hire.
If he has to change his mind, so be it… as long as it ends up well. That is basically the story of Diaz’s unusual but hardly unprecedented path to a head coaching position after many years of waiting for his big chance.
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