Will Miami’s taking a chance on Manny Diaz pay off?

You can question the way Manny Diaz left Temple, or even the way Miami hired a native son with zero head-coaching experience to take over its storied program.

Those questions are valid. Diaz leaving Temple after 18 days on the job is not fair to the university or to his new players, and nobody really knows whether Diaz is the right man for the Miami job after three excellent seasons as the Hurricanes’ defensive coordinator.

But here is why Miami made Diaz its top priority, and why he had no choice but to say yes: No other coach understands what is happening in Miami right now the way Diaz does. No other coach understands so vividly what needs to be fixed. No other coach can keep some continuity going in a program that one year ago started 10-0 and rose to No. 2 in the rankings.

Diaz, a Cuban-American whose father once served as Miami mayor, has always said he would love nothing more than to one day be Miami’s head coach. The timing is terrible, and the look is terrible, but when the job you always wanted finally opens up and there is a way to take it, then you accept it — and all the criticism that follows.

He is not the first coach to break a commitment to his players, just one in a long list that once again reinforces the idea that coaches are only beholden to themselves, while players pay a far bigger price anytime they either change their minds about a school or do something for themselves (like sitting out bowl games).

There is no sugarcoating the way Diaz left Temple, and there may always be a part of him that feels badly about that. But if he had known three weeks ago that Mark Richt was even considering stepping down, he would have never taken the Temple job. Diaz thought that was years down the line. So did everyone else in Miami.

Athletic director Blake James had no idea when he woke up Sunday morning that a wild 24 hours was about to begin. He said during his press conference Sunday he was surprised when Richt told him he wanted to retire, believing his coach was committed to making the necessary changes on offense to improve the team.

James also said he would move deliberately to fill the job, and he praised Diaz and the way the defense had performed, especially this season. Reading between the lines, it became pretty apparent which way Miami wanted to go. Were there big-name coaches the Hurricanes could have attracted, coaches like Mario Cristobal or Mike Leach or even Lane Kiffin, all names that came up immediately after Richt stepped down?

Perhaps. But Cristobal, who played at Miami, just signed a top-rated recruiting class, has gobs of money and incredible facilities at Oregon and is just getting started. Leach and Kiffin would bring offensive improvements, but also the type of big personalities that might not necessarily be a fit for Miami’s current administration.

In Diaz, Miami gets someone familiar with the inner workings of the program and its vocal (and sometimes ruthless) fan base; someone with deep ties to high school coaches and recruiting across South Florida; and someone who is keenly aware about what he must do right away: find a quarterback and offensive coordinator and upgrade the offensive coaching staff. One Miami staff member said it became obvious back in 2016 the Hurricanes had to find a difference-maker at quarterback, but the offensive staff scoffed each time it was mentioned.

That stubbornness or inability to fix the most glaring issue on the roster is what ultimately forced Richt to walk away. Miami ended the season ranked No. 5 in total defense and No. 104 in total offense. It’s fairly clear what Miami needs to do.

The next question, then, is whether Diaz can get it done. Will he hire the right offensive coordinator to modernize the offense and recruit a quarterback who can win? Miami has not had a game-changer at the position since Ken Dorsey, who led Miami to the national championship in 2001 and the national championship game in 2002.

Defenses do win championships, but these days in college football, the teams that win have a dynamic quarterback making the big plays. There is a reason Clemson switched from Kelly Bryant to Trevor Lawrence, and if that wasn’t obvious before its win over Notre Dame, then it is perfectly clear now.

Those inside the Miami football building truly believe they are not that far away from winning championships again, that the foundation Richt set is firm. For all the issues Miami had this year, there is no question the program itself is in a better place today. Facilities have vastly improved, and the roster is young but talented. To that end, nobody believes the Hurricanes have to start over from scratch; the forthcoming changes on offense should be enough to complement what Diaz has done with the defense.

Then there is Diaz himself. The mastermind behind the Turnover Chain that galvanized the Miami defense in 2017, he brings enthusiasm to the job, and his defensive players bought into what he wanted them to do. They played the way the Miami defenses of old played, and that was Diaz’s stated goal when he arrived with Richt in 2015.

But he does have an uneven track record in his previous stops as a defensive coordinator. And he has no head-coaching experience. So it’s fair to wonder whether Diaz is the answer. Miami has gone the former-defensive-coordinator-to-head-coach route before in Randy Shannon, without success. But it also went the hire-someone-with-head-coaching-experience route without success, too (Al Golden, Richt).

Given the situation Miami faced on Sunday, the administration hired the coach it believes is the right fit at the right time. We are several years away from getting an answer on that.

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