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Miami Hurricanes Football: Manny Diaz and Blake James Have Much to Prove

On January 2, Miami Hurricanes athletic director Blake James formally introduced Manny Diaz as the U’s new head football coach. Diaz promised to turn around a team that had the nation’s worst scoring offense against Power 5 schools. “[UM] cannot rank second to last in anything,’’ Diaz told reporters at his introductory news conference.

It was the culmination of a Category 5 upheaval of the storied program following the embarrassing 35-3 loss to the Wisconsin Badgers in the Pinstripe Bowl. And it followed Mark Richt’s abrupt retirement December 30. Diaz tore up a deal to become the Temple Owls head coach and take over the U after serving two seasons as its defensive coordinator.

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Many pundits are praising James for moving quickly to stop the U from losing more recruits by hiring Diaz, a lifelong Canes fan who’s become one of the top defensive college football gurus in the nation.

But James rushed his decision without taking a good, hard look at other candidates who are proven winners at the national championship level. Many current and former players, as well as some prominent boosters, wanted James to make a run for Mario Cristobal, the Oregon Ducks head coach and a former Cane.

Other possible choices included Butch Davis, the former Canes head coach now leading the Florida International University Panthers; and Lane Kiffin, the Florida Atlantic University Owls head coach who won national championships as an offensive coordinator for the University of Southern California and the University of Alabama.

Blake didn’t want to pursue Kiffin or Davis because he likely couldn’t control them. Diaz has no prior head-coaching experience, so his decision-making power will be limited.

Blake gave Diaz the job so fast that no one had time to provide input. The new coach has his work cut out for him.

Diaz definitely produced the second-ranked defense in the country, but he mostly won with players recruited by Al Golden, the head coach before Richt. Diaz and Richt are responsible for the 2019 recruiting class, which is among the worst in the school’s history and ranked 33rd in the nation. This year’s disappointing season and that recruiting failure would have gotten the entire coaching staff fired at any other top college program.

The Canes’ new leader seems committed to change. In his first official act, Diaz fired the entire offensive staff — a great move. Press reports speculate he’s looking to hire former North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Larry Fedora or recently fired University of Houston head coach Major Applewhite. If he does, Diaz would be following Richt’s lead of not listening to the local football community.

We want Tee Martin, who was recently fired as the offensive coordinator for the University of Southern California. According to my pal and local sports reporter Andy Slater, Martin wants to land in Miami. While he was at USC, Martin helped the Trojans win two Pac-12 championships and coached Sam Darnold, the New York Jets’ first-round pick, who is a franchise quarterback.

Martin is also one of college football’s best recruiters. He even stole two top players right out of Miami. Martin would practically work for peanuts because he’s receiving $2 million the next two years from USC. In his second big decision, Diaz hired Blake Baker as the Canes’ defensive coordinator. While Baker was in the same role at Louisiana Tech, his defense surrendered 48 points to Florida Atlantic.

If the Manny Diaz experiment fails, who will take the blame? In the end, it’ll fall on James, who thought hiring Diaz was a safe bet. The right man for the job was Cristobal, who has proven he can coach a top-five program and is loved by the football community.

To its detriment, Miami has regularly ignored the South Florida coaching community. But if James and Diaz hire the right offensive coordinator and some local high-school football coaches, they have a chance to make the U great again.

Follow Luke on Twitter: @unclelukereal1.

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