Duke is counting on Manny Diaz to add to the Blue Devils' 2-year rise

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DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Duke lives in a different place than the last time the Blue Devils had to hire a football coach. The same is true for Manny Diaz as he begins his second stint as a head coach.

The Blue Devils are riding a rapid rise from Mike Elko's two-year coaching tenure, going from a program in steep decline to one preparing for a second bowl straight bowl game. And it's now on Diaz — who previously spent three years leading Miami — to add to that program-changing jumpstart.

“We are not here to tear down what's been done, but at the same time we're not here to sustain what's been done," Diaz said Saturday at his introductory news conference. "The growth that's happened in the past year, we've got to continue to grow on that.”'

Duke announced Diaz's hiring on Thursday night, capping a 10-day search after Elko boarded an overnight flight to take over at Texas A&M. The Blue Devils won 16 games under Elko, who inherited a program that had seen the long-successful run of David Cutcliffe fizzle in a haze of blowout losses.

Saturday's news conference for Diaz in Duke's indoor practice facility came close to being exactly two years after the one for Elko's arrival. That hiring required Duke to upgrade investments in football such as increasing the salary pool for hiring and retaining assistant coaches.

“The infrastructure is in a good place," athletics director Nina King said. “And when Coach Elko came in, we had a lot of conversations about growing the investment, and we did that. I know we didn't have much work to do when we brought Coach Diaz in. We're in a good place.”

The 49-year-old Diaz had spent the previous two seasons as defensive coordinator at Penn State overseeing some of the nation's top units. Before that came his stint as the Hurricanes' head coach, which featured both a strong run of success in Atlantic Coast Conference play before an awkward firing.

He went 21-15 from 2019-21 and the Hurricanes went 16-9 in ACC games during Diaz's tenure, with only Clemson (22) winning more league games.

“Your first year as a head coach, I think you get your sea legs under you a little bit more,” Diaz said. “And I felt our second and third year at Miami, I thought we were on the process, on the way, of building a really strong culture.”

But the school fired him on the same day it hired current coach Mario Cristobal in an attempt to hasten a return to the national elite, with Diaz saying at the time that he was disappointed about “the manner in which this played out" in weeks leading up to his ouster.

But he didn't take much time to regroup, either, noting his wife Stephanie pushed him to “get back on the saddle.” That opportunity came immediately from the Nittany Lions.

“I think (PSU coach) James Franklin called me — he might have called me an hour after getting fired at Miami,” Diaz said Saturday. ‘I mean, the body wasn’t even cold at the funeral."

Diaz, who also coached linebackers at Penn State, led a defense that finished in the top 20 of the FBS rankings in total and scoring defense in 2022. It stands at No. 1 in total defense (223.3 yards) and No. 3 in scoring defense (11.4) this season as Penn State (10-2) prepares to face Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl.

He's taking over a team that won nine games in Elko's debut and won seven more entering the Birmingham Bowl against Troy on Dec. 23. This year’s team opened with a rout of preseason ACC favorite Clemson, cracked the AP Top 25 amid a 4-0 start and even hosted ESPN’s “College GameDay” for the first time in football — after multiple visits for the storied men’s basketball program — ahead of a ranked-vs-ranked matchup against Notre Dame.

“Listen, It's different now,” King said. “And credit to Mike Elko, where he got us, where has put us — I think Manny's going to be able to come in and just keep the upward trajectory. He's set up pretty well.”

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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football