Manny Diaz invented the Turnover Chain. Did you think the start of his Miami tenure would be boring?
Since taking over for Mark Richt on Dec. 30, Diaz and his new staff have created more buzz around a 7-6 team than many thought possible given the way the Hurricanes ended the season and lost the coach they all believed could save the program.
With 2018 firmly in the rearview mirror, Diaz made one thing clear to his players, staff, prospective recruits and everyone watching: This is the new Miami. There is even a hashtag for that: #TNM.
Diaz made good on his promises to fix the offense, hiring offensive coordinator Dan Enos away from Alabama while courting transfer quarterbacks Jalen Hurts and Tate Martell. He brought top receiver Jeff Thomas back into the program, and though Hurts ended up going to Oklahoma, Diaz got Martell to join the Hurricanes from Ohio State. Diaz used GIFs on social media to tease the news, sending his fan base into mild hysteria while also raising the buzz to its highest levels in 15 months.
When the current team reported for offseason work, Diaz greeted the players with a WWE-style event meant to send a clear message.
"It was important to me that the players, when they returned, felt like they were all transferring to a different program on both sides of the ball," Diaz said in a recent phone interview.
Everything he has done has worked so far: Miami has emerged as a big story in this young offseason, as unexpected as Richt's surprise departure that set this all in motion. When we last saw Miami, a season that began with a No. 8 preseason ranking ended in embarrassment: a 35-3 loss to Wisconsin in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl that left Richt at a loss for words.
Diaz was off to Temple as its new head coach after serving as the Hurricanes' defensive coordinator; Richt was left to contemplate how to fix the myriad issues confronting him, from a fractured locker room to a quarterback situation that felt like it had no solution. Miami fans wanted answers right away, especially after a 10-0 start to the 2017 campaign had raised hopes and expectations to unattainable levels.
Rather than stick around, Richt decided he would step away, stunning many inside the athletic department. Athletic director Blake James knew he needed to get Diaz on the phone. Even though Diaz had just left, Miami remained his dream job. It did not take much convincing, and within hours, Diaz agreed to come back to Miami -- a decision that could have hurt his reputation for breaking a commitment to the Owls.
But what he has done at Miami has made it feel as if he had never left. Diaz had a clear vision for what he wanted to do with the Hurricanes. Truthfully, nobody could have had a clearer vision.
Diaz had a front-row seat inside the Miami program over the previous three years. He saw what Richt did to build the foundation and change the culture. But he also saw areas where he knew Miami absolutely had to improve. One was on offense, and the other was inside the weight room. That is why he has wasted no time in making the necessary changes, and the speed at which he has worked has served him and the program well, generating one positive headline after the next.
"You can tell there's a different energy in town," Diaz said. "Our players feel it. You can tell for sure with the recruits. It's like in a game. You just need a couple plays to flip momentum in a game. There's a couple commitments we have, the hires we were able to procure, and once the good news started coming about, social media can stoke the fire.
"But we just needed a couple things to turn, and I've got to give credit to some young men who went out there and committed to Miami. There will be more. We had a bad December, but we've been able to turn it around with a productive January. We also know no games are won in January. But we are at least showing we're addressing and we're fixing our issues, and ultimately, that's all you ever do."
Though Diaz had a familiarity with his players, and his players had a familiarity with him, the new Miami message was an important one to send from the outset.
"I wanted everybody in this program to come back outside of their comfort zone," Diaz said. "I wanted everybody to come back feeling like there was a little bit of an unknown, a little bit of uncertainty they'd have to battle their way through. It was change in a way that redefined how we go and how we operate and how we work."
It's change that everyone knows was needed. But when the season opens against Florida on Aug. 31 in Orlando, Miami will have to prove what Diaz firmly believes: that this program is much closer to its 10-3 season in 2017 than to the disappointment the Hurricanes all just went through.
"The great thing about college football is things can change so quickly," Diaz said. "Look at how Notre Dame walked out of our stadium 15 months ago and how we walked out, and what the next 15 months had in store for both teams. What happened in 2018 was unacceptable, but it's over. We can't fix it.
"But what we can do is control the now, and that's really what the wrestling thing was about and that's what the new Miami is about: We get to define it, who are we, how are we going to work, how are we going to operate, what's the leadership of this team going to look like? You really do have a chance to redefine who you are and make something different of yourself."