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University of Miami fires head coach Manny Diaz

·9 min read
Al Diaz/

Another college football era has ended at the University of Miami.

Nine days after the Miami Hurricanes defeated Duke to end the regular season with victories in five of the past six games, Manny Diaz was fired Monday morning and replaced by former Hurricane Mario Cristobal.

UM announced Diaz’s dismissal and Cristobal’s hiring within a few hours of each other.

Diaz said in a statement Monday afternoon that he is “disappointed in the University’s decision and the manner in which this played out over the last few weeks.”

UM boosters began pursuing Cristobal a few weeks ago and every move played out publicly through the media. Despite the uncertainty of the past few weeks, Diaz handled the situation with class. He continued to recruit and coach his team, which is preparing to meet Washington State in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31 in El Paso. It is still unknown who will coach the Hurricanes in the bowl.

“The uncertainty impacted our team, our staff and their families — these are real people that gave everything to this program,” Diaz wrote. “For that, for them, I hurt.”

He went on to thank his players, UM supporters and his staff, and said he leaves with pride in the team’s accomplishments.

“I leave very proud of what we were building and the fight we brought every week,” he wrote. “Through significant injuries and adversity, this team never quit and is poised to do special things — on the field and beyond... Our young talent got valuable playing time and experienced significant growth, setting the stage for a breakout 2022 season.

“Our players have proven their resiliency, so I know they will re-group and move forward with class, toughness and unity; that is who they are, that is what we’re about. I am thankful I had the honor to lead these young men and will cherish every minute of our time together.”

UM President Julio Frenk said in a statement: “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. We wish him and his family the very best as they move forward.”

Diaz’s players and former players took to social media, as did his father, former Miami mayor Manny Diaz Sr., to honor the coach.

“I am extremely proud of my son for his conduct on and off the field, for the loyalty he showed the program he has loved since his childhood, and for the class and dignity he showed through the final second on the clock,” said Diaz, Sr.

‘Forever indebted’

“Manny Diaz, I’m forever indebted to him for taking me in when I was 215 pounds when I got to Miami,” former UM defensive end and Dolphins rookie Jaelan Phillips said. “He had a lot of faith in me. That whole coaching staff, I’m really grateful for them. I know they’re going to be successful in whatever they do, even if someone comes in new. I just hope that Miami can get the best leaders possible. Ultimately, you have a great history at the University of Miami, and we want to see those wins come.”

And this from freshman safety Avantae Williams, who was dismissed from the team after being arrested and then given a second chance by Diaz after charges were dropped: “I love you main man @Coach_MannyDiaz. Thank You for everything.’’

Former defensive lineman Demetrius Jackson said this: “Coach I love you. It’s about being a Man!!! That’s what you instilled in us and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. Through the game of football you did that. You gave a kid from Overtown a chance to be a part of a great defense and become a man.’’

According to sources, Cristobal had agreed to terms with UM on Sunday afternoon and told his team at a meeting on Monday morning.

Diaz’s departure was not unexpected, despite his Hurricanes refusing to fold by battling for him and finishing the last half of the season 5-1 after starting it 2-4 for a 7-5 record. The university left Diaz in coaching limbo, but had him out on the road recruiting nonetheless, before the decision was made official.

Diaz tenure

Diaz’s nearly three-season tenure is the shortest for a UM head coach since Lou Saban’s in 1977 and 78. Howard Schnellenberger followed Saban in 1979 and brought UM its first of five national titles in 1983, Schnellenberger’s final season at Miami.

Diaz, 47, finished 21-15 as head coach — 6-7 (4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) his inaugural season, 8-3 (7-2) in 2020 and his 7-5 (5-3) current mark as Miami heads into its bowl game. He also served as the program’s defensive coordinator, which didn’t help this season as the team regressed defensively in several areas.

The move had to be approved by UM president Julio Frenk. On Sept. 30, Frenk announced he had appointed his chief of staff Rudy Fernandez and senior advisor Joe Echevarria to help oversee the athletic department and “augment’’ Frenk’s “own direct engagement with the athletics director by facilitating seamless alignment between the Board of Trustees, my entire administration and the athletics department.’’

UM then fired athletic director Blake James on Nov. 15.

Long-term trend

The Hurricanes have lost seven of their past 12 games against opponents in Power 5 conferences. UM’s last win over a non-ACC Power 5 opponent was Nov. 11, 2017, against Notre Dame. The program had been mostly stuck in mediocrity years before Diaz arrived as the defensive coordinator under Mark Richt in 2016, and has been to the ACC Championship Game only once (2017) since the inaugural title game in 2005.

Diaz’s five-year contract runs through 2023, and his salary is not publicly disclosed because UM is a private school. But a UM athletic department administrator told the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson that Diaz was due to make between $6.5 million and $8 million combined over the 2022 and 2023 seasons, depending on if he met incentives. The source said if Diaz were fired and got another job, the amount owed to him would be offset by the salary of his new job; And if he remained unemployed from the time of his firing through the 2023 season, he would be owed more than half of what was left on his contract.

Diaz faced intense pressure from disgruntled fans, former players and some inside the administration who lamented the direction in which the Hurricanes were heading. Before he was fired, James told the Miami Herald on Oct. 22 in a phone interview that Diaz, like every other coach, was being evaluated with each passing game. James at that point declined to ensure that Diaz’s job was secure through the end of the season.

“Every game affects the evaluation of a job,’’ James said. “Every game you play affects your status. It strengthens it in certain games and obviously challenges it in others.”

On Nov. 20 during an “ESPN College GameDay” segment, the hosts critically dissected UM at length for the second time this season, and Rece Davis noted that “under Manny Diaz they’ve lost both of their bowl games, they haven’t beaten a top-10 opponent, they’ve had issues with missed tackles.”

“...It’s clear that they didn’t want Blake James to make the decision, whatever it is going to be, whether they keep [Diaz] or they want someone else,’’ Davis said of James’ firing.

Diaz’s hiring

Diaz was hired on Dec. 30, 2018, as UM’s 25th head football coach to replace Richt, who retired with a 26-13 record in three seasons.

James chose Diaz to succeed Richt just 10 hours after Richt announced his retirement. Diaz had been named head coach of Temple on Dec. 13, 2018, but he immediately resigned from that position to come home to where he grew up and where his father Manny Diaz Sr. served as Miami mayor for eight years.

“Manny is one of the nation’s elite coaches and the Canes’ family has already embraced him and his incredible work ethic over the past three years,’‘ James said when he hired Diaz.. “He is absolutely the passionate and innovative leader that our program needs, and we will work together to build an incredible staff to move our program back into championship contention.’‘

Turnover chain

While he was still an assistant coach, Diaz conceived the idea for the once immensely popular turnover chain, followed by the touchdown rings. After he was hired but before his first season, he made splashes in the South Florida community and beyond by generating immense excitement and anticipation of the program he branded The New Miami, or #TNM on social media.

In April 2019 Diaz and his coaching staff arrived atop an 88-foot Riva yacht on the Miami River to greet hundreds of Hurricanes football fans waiting at The Wharf. The yacht, donated to UM for the night by a Hurricane Club member, drew plenty of attention at The New Miami Spring Tour, the first of six such fan-oriented events throughout the state and nation.

Diaz also used Twitter to generate considerable excitement among fans by posting GIFs of swirling hurricane-like skies to signal impending commitments from top recruits. And his penchant for getting elite players out of the transfer portal, such as quarterback D’Eriq King and this year’s 1000-plus-yard receiver Charleston Rambo, was widely applauded.

As UM enters the early signing period that begins Dec. 15, however, the Hurricanes had only eight commitments as of Dec. 6 and the class was ranked 57th nationally by Rivals and 55th by 247Sports.

But in the end, Diaz did not have the success James predicted, and though last year’s COVID-plagued season started out for UM with eight victories in the first nine games (except for a loss at No. 1 Clemson), the then-No. 9 Hurricanes fell apart in a 62-26 loss at North Carolina and went on to lose the Cheez-It Bowl against Oklahoma State.

King, who tore the ACL of his right knee in the Cheez-It Bowl, has admired Diaz from the start.

“Appreciate you for everything you’ve done for me @Coach_MannyDiaz,’’ King posted on Twitter. “The first coach to hit me up when I transferred. You gave me a chance and I thank you for that 4EVER!”

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