Column: After Miami’s early struggles, should Manny Diaz be on the hot seat?

Head coach Manny Diaz, during the singing of the alma matter after Miami’s 38-17 loss to Michigan State at Hard Rock Stadium on Sept. 18, 2021. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

Dating back to last season’s 62-26 blowout loss to the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, the Hurricanes have lost four of their last six games. Head coach Manny Diaz is now feeling the pressure from Miami fans and former players as a result of the team’s recent struggles.

“This is not fair to the championship history that was built in the early 80’s and the championship prideful standard UM fans,” former Miami cornerback Phillip Buchanon said on Twitter. “I feel y’all pain.”

Amid the criticism, some fans hope that Diaz, now in his third season at the helm of Miami football, is sitting squarely in the hot seat.

Three seasons ago, public opinion of Diaz was almost-exclusively positive. As the University of Miami’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach from 2016 to 2018, Diaz was praised locally and nationally for his well-coached defense, and in 2018, Diaz was considered to be the lone bright spot in what was an otherwise disappointing 7-6 season.

At the end of the 2018 season, former UM head coach Mark Richt announced his retirement from coaching, vacating the job and setting the Hurricanes on a new trajectory.

Head coach Manny Diaz, during the singing of the alma matter after Miami’s 38-17 loss to Michigan State at Hard Rock Stadium on Sept. 18, 2021.
Head coach Manny Diaz, during the singing of the alma matter after Miami’s 38-17 loss to Michigan State at Hard Rock Stadium on Sept. 18, 2021. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

The vacancy lasted less than a day. UM officials conducted no interviews, no analysis and committed no time to considering other candidates. Instead, Diaz was named the 25th head coach of the Hurricanes mere hours after Richt’s retirement.

Some fans were dismayed by the unusually short amount of time it took for Miami Athletic Director Blake James and the board of trustees to make a decision on who would be the next head coach.

Perhaps James and his team wanted there to be in-house continuity from the Richt-era to the Diaz-era in order to transition smoothly after Richt’s abrupt retirement. The decision-making team may have also felt comfortable taking on Diaz’s relatively cheap buyout price from Temple. The four-million-dollar buyout was much lower than that of another popular candidate, Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal, which was projected at around ten million dollars.

The hire was also criticized for Diaz’s lack of experience, as he had never had a head coaching job prior to his hiring at UM. It is not uncommon for college coaches to get their first head coaching job at a Power Five school, but such hirings have a varied success rate.

The last time Miami hired first-year head coach was in 2007, when UM promoted Randy Shannon from defensive coordinator. The Hurricanes opted for an in-house promotion, deciding that Shannon’s lack of experience as a head coach would not be an issue.

Shannon was fired four seasons later after a disappointing 28-22 record as head coach.

A more successful promotion from assistant to first-time head coach changed the trajectory of one of Miami’s biggest rivals in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Clemson. In fact, since former wide-receivers coach Dabo Swinney was promoted to head coach in 2008, Clemson has won two national championships.

Despite some initial criticism after the Diaz hire, there was a sense of optimism surrounding the program. Diaz created “touchdown rings” before his first season, which were to be worn by players immediately after scoring a touchdown. This announcement was met with great approval, as the now-infamous “turnover chain” was then at peak popularity.

Diaz popularized the similarly-infamous “The New Miami” (TNM) slogan in the offseason leading up to his first season as head coach, hoping that his team would revolutionize the landscape of college football, just as they did in decades prior.

The first season of Diaz’s head coaching tenure was uninspiring, as TNM finished with a disappointing 6-7 record, including embarrassing losses to Florida International University and Louisiana Tech University. FIU and LTU’s victorious head coaches made less than a quarter of Diaz’s annual salary.

While the Diaz-led Hurricanes have assembled a more respectable 10-5 total record since that first season, worrying trends have persisted throughout Diaz’s 27-game run as head coach. The margin of defeat in Miami’s five most recent losses, dating back to Clemson in 2020, is 22.4 points per game.

The wide margin of loss suggests a lack of preparation against highly-regarded opponents, both within the ACC and beyond. A team as talented as Miami should not be getting blown out against teams with similar levels of talent and equal expectations.

The Diaz-led Hurricanes proved to be undisciplined on both sides of the ball through the first three games of the 2021 season, as Miami has 66 missed tackles and committed seven turnovers.

With only one Associated Press Top 25 win and an uninspiring 15-12 record, Diaz’s on-the-field résumé thus far has been discouraging.

In contrast, Diaz has shined as a recruiter through his first three seasons as head coach. The 2020 and 2021 recruiting classes were unanimously regarded as top 25 classes by mainstream recruiting databases, including 247sports, where they ranked 11 ahead of the 2021 season. In 2021, the Hurricanes signed two 5-star recruits for the first time since 2012.

While Diaz has had success recruiting high-potential talent to join the Hurricanes as head coach, the on-field production has not met expectations, and if Miami continues to disappoint on Saturdays, the Hurricanes could be looking for their 26th coach sooner rather than later.

After last week’s loss to the Michigan State Spartans, Diaz asserted that Miami’s early growing pains will not continue.

“There are things that we have to get corrected, as coaches, that we can take accountability for. We still have the ACC to play for and we have the Coastal to play for, so we have to take a look at our personnel,” Diaz said. “This coaching staff will get that corrected and we have guys in that locker room that want to stay together and be a family and fight hard for each other and fight our way out of this.”