Unusual journey brings Diaz to Texas

Will Anderson

Bill Parcells has quite an impressive coaching tree, full of former assistants now doing bigger and better things in both the professional and collegiate ranks. Texas’ new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz also has Parcells to thank for his current situation, even though he never worked under the two-time NFL champion.

Diaz was an ESPN production assistant during an interview with Parcells, then head coach of the New England Patriots, prior to Super Bowl XXXI. It was then, in New Orleans, listening to the coaching legend nicknamed “The Big Tuna” that Diaz decided he wanted to coach. Forget that he had no coaching experience or that he never played football in college.

“At that moment, I didn’t want to coach,” Diaz said. “I had to coach.”

He got a job as a graduate assistant at his alma mater of Florida State and made it to the NCAA championship in his first year. In his second season in Tallahassee, the Seminoles won the national title.

“I was like, ‘Man, this is easy, this coaching thing. I got this down pat,’” Diaz said. “The great thing is that I was able to learn from a guy like [former FSU defensive coordinator] Mickey Andrews.”

Diaz’s lack of experience allowed him to absorb everything Andrews threw his way.

“When I came, I was a clean sheet of paper,” Diaz said. “I had no preconceived notions. No one needed to go into Florida State and tell them how to do anything. They were the industry standard there in the late ’90s as a football program and absolutely on defense.”

With the taste already acquired, Diaz has said he’s hungry for another national championship and brings the type of youthful passion last seen when Will Muschamp came over from Auburn.

“He’s a very bright young coach,” Mack Brown said. “He will be a great fit to the coaches that we have on campus.”

Diaz moved from FSU to North Carolina State before taking over coordinator responsibilities at Middle Tennessee in 2006, where his defenses never finished worse than third in the Sun Belt in sacks and tackles for loss through four seasons. It was with the Blue Raiders that he earned a reputation for coaching aggressive, multiple-look sets.

“I am absolutely humbled by the turns my career has taken,” he said. “The fact that for whatever reason that I was chosen to do this is something that I don’t take very lightly.”

Now Diaz is tasked with rebuilding a Texas unit that forced the second-fewest turnovers of any Big 12 team in 2010 and generally under-performed, given expectations. Brown selected Diaz because the 36-year-old coach did just that with Mississippi State last season, helping the Bulldogs improve dramatically across the board in his first season as coordinator at a BCS school.

Mississippi State allowed 119.1 rushing yards per game in 2010. Bulldog defenders also recorded 91 tackles for loss and 26 sacks.

With the recent addition of Jerry Gray as defensive backs coach, Diaz’s staff is complete and the new coordinator can get to work preparing for next year. He also has Bo Davis, who was brought on from Alabama to work with the interior linemen, and holdover Oscar Giles to coach defensive ends.

“The first thing our defense was going to do was be designed to hunt negative plays. We’re always hunting negative plays, and I know that there are a bunch of guys at this school that don’t need a map to get into the backfield,” Diaz said. “I always like to say that we’ll sum it up in two simple terms: we’re going to stop the run and we’re going to hit the quarterback.”

Just how Diaz plans to accomplish those two goals is still unknown. He preaches the importance of showing different fronts to confuse offenses and is known to bring pressure from all over the field.

“I always think that schemes are overrated,” he said. “If I had my druthers, I’d like to play a 5-4-5, which you’re not allowed to do, but I want the offense to feel that way. That’s all I want. I want them to look at us and feel like we got about 13 to 14 guys running around. When we got it going the way we want it, we just want to look like we have an unfair advantage.”

Despite Diaz’s unorthodox career path, he’s been well received at every stop since joining the Seminoles 12 years ago.

“If I told you it was a good plan, I’d be lying,” he said. “It was a crazy plan.”

Crazy might just be what this coaching staff needs after the worst season in Brown’s tenure and a dramatic staff overhaul.