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The feel-good story of the son of a Cuban immigrant and a Miami native coming home to coach the team he grew up rooting for did not end well.
Manny Diaz, who was born and bred in Miami, was fired Monday after three years as head coach at the University of Miami, the university announced Monday. Oregon's Mario Cristobal, like Diaz a Miami native, is expected to be named head coach today.
“We are grateful to Coach Diaz for his many contributions to our campus community and to his native South Florida, and for the strong leadership and exemplary character he exhibited during his tenure at the University,” said President Julio Frenk. “We wish him and his family the very best as they move forward.”
Diaz, according to reports, could be a candidate to replace Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who on Sunday was named head coach at Oklahoma. He will be bought out of the final two years of his contract for a reported $8 million.
Diaz, 45, exits with his head high after being used as a pawn as the Hurricanes administration began wooing candidates for his job while he still was under contract. The Hurricanes were aggressive in their pursuit of Cristobal in the last few days, offering him a contract that will pay at least $8 million per year.
Diaz was 21-15 overall, including a 7-5 record this season after Miami started 2-4. But like those before him for most of the last two decades, Diaz never got the Hurricanes to compete with the elite teams nationally or even in position to win a conference championship. Yet, Miami was 16-9 in Diaz's three years in the ACC, the second best record in the conference behind Clemson during that time.
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Diaz was hired three years ago after three years as the team's defensive coordinator under Mark Richt — and about two weeks into his stint as head coach at Temple — and tasked with returning the Hurricanes to the glory days that he witnessed while sitting in the old Orange Bowl on those steamy Saturdays. The closest he got was an 8-3 record during the COVID interrupted season of 2020.
Now, like the three coaches who preceded him (none of whom lasted five full years), Diaz leaves a program that continues to fall short of expectations.
And it wasn't just the losses that beat Miami.
Diaz capped a 6-7 first season by dropping his last three games, including the most embarrassing loss in Hurricanes history, 30-24 to FIU. The game was played at Marlins Park, which is on the footprint of the old Orange Bowl, the site of the Hurricanes' glory days. Miami entered as a three-touchdown favorite.
Diaz called it a “very, very dark night, one of the lowest points ever in this proud program’s history.”
The Hurricanes rebounded from three consecutive losses at the end of 2019 to go 8-3 in 2020, losing their last two games, including 62-26 to North Carolina at home. That started a stretch in which Miami would lose six consecutive games against teams from Power 5 conferences spanning the end of the 2020 season and first half of 2021.
With a veteran team returning in 2021, including quarterback D'Eriq King, the expectations were high this year with Miami starting the season ranked No. 14.
But six weeks into the season, Miami had lost four games, its lone wins against Appalachian State and Central Connecticut State. With rumors swirling, UM president Julio Frenk was forced to release a letter to assure Hurricanes boosters and alumni the university is "fully committed to building championship-caliber teams at The U.”
Frenk's message, though, was overshadowed by athletic director Blake James' refusal to give Diaz a vote of confidence after that 2-4 start. Weeks later, after Miami rebounded from its slow start to win three straight, Diaz was asked if his athletic director's comments hurt recruiting. "I'd imagine," he said.
James, then, was the first to be fired, his dismissal less than two days after Miami lost to rival Florida State, a team that started the season 0-4.
That left no doubt the entire department was about to be re-examined, starting with football, by the new athletic director.
Diaz arrived with a lot of flash. Already the brainchild of the Turnover Chain, he was determined to keep the spotlight on Miami in the months after getting the job and before his first season started.
Diaz celebrated every addition through the transfer portal on social media, he arranged for the staff to arrive at a booster gathering in Miami aboard an 88-foot yacht, he attempted to lure high school coaches away from a Florida State coaches breakout session during a clinic in Orlando by offering them beer. He inundated us with #TNM (The New Miami).
But as Miami was losing five games in which it was favored that first year, three of those favored by at least two touchdowns, fans began to wonder when all that splash would turn to substance.
A longtime defensive coordinator, Diaz had never been a head coach at any level before being hired by James, with the exception of about two weeks at Temple. He is a graduate of Florida State and spent two years as a grad assistant under Bobby Bowden before beginning his journey with six stops at five different schools. He served as a DC at Middle Tennessee, Mississippi State, Texas, Louisiana Tech, a second stint at Mississippi State and Miami.
James staked his reputation on Diaz, hiring him just hours after Richt resigned and being forced to pay Temple $4 million to release Diaz from his contract.
Diaz was Miami through and through. He was named the program's 25th coach on Dec. 30, 2018, and the story was celebrated. His father, Manny, rose to become the most powerful man in the city, serving as Miami's mayor from 2001-2009 and currently is the chair of the Florida Democratic Party. His mother, Elisa, fled Cuba in 1961 on the Freedom Flights with 6-year-old Manny in her arms and 10 cents in her pocket.
"The University of Miami should reflect the city of Miami," Diaz said the day he was introduced as coach. "It should reflect it in our style of play. We should reflect it in the way we carry ourselves throughout the community. And we should hopefully reflect it in the way that we win."
Diaz had his successes. He won his first two games against Florida State before this season's disappointment in Tallahassee. Miami has the second best record in the ACC during his time at the school and he found success through the transfer portal.
But support started to erode midway through this season. Diaz's decision to name himself as the team's defensive coordinator was used against him. As a successful DC for most of his career, Diaz tasked himself to fix a defense that was not living up to Hurricanes standards. Instead, it was worse.
During one stretch this season, the Hurricanes allowed at least 30 points for six consecutive games, the longest streak in school history. The Hurricanes are allowing 28.2 points per game this season, 85th in the country. A year ago, Miami surrendered just more than 20 points per game, 23rd nationally.
Diaz recently doubled down on the decision to name himself defensive coordinator saying, "I absolutely would have done it again."
"I don't feel there were any struggles working both roles," he said. "This year has not been to our standard, not been to the standard of the time I've been here at this school.
"When you have both roles as the head coach and defensive coordinator you're still concerned with the number one stat which is wins. We're not happy with the number of wins and our defensive performance at the beginning of the season helped contribute to that."
In the end, Diaz was not the only one not happy.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Miami Hurricanes fire Manny Diaz, making way for Mario Cristobal