Manny Diaz was officially introduced as Mississippi State’s new defensive coordinator Wednesday night, visiting with media for the first time and sharing his thoughts and philosophies on football and life.
Diaz touched on a variety of topics in his opening comments, and even more in his answers to questions, as he has never been one to have trouble coming up with words. Those questions started, of course, with his return to MSU, where he was the defensive coordinator in 2010. It was the relationships from that year, Diaz said, that made it so easy for him to take the job now.
“The more you’re in this profession, you realize that you win with the people,” Diaz said. “The people I was close with when I was here were a big part in getting this done.”
Specifically, he said, it was conversations with Dan Mullen and his wife Megan, as well as athletic director Scott Stricklin, that meant a lot to him as the opportunity arose. It was a chance that came quickly, too, as Mullen first reached out to Diaz at the end of last week after MSU played in the Orange Bowl. By Sunday, Diaz was in Starkville to talk with Mullen, and by Monday he was announced as the new defensive coordinator.
Diaz said part of why he and Mullen get along so well is that they have a fair bit in common, both as people and in their coaching styles.
“In a lot of ways we see the game the same way. Dan’s a guy that’s always tried to challenge the establishment,” Diaz said. “I enjoy working for him because he challenges me. He challenges me intellectually. I think I can do the same thing for him.”
Of course, there have been four years since Diaz was in Starkville, and he said both he and Mullen have changed, and specifically, grown as coaches. More than just coaching, though, Diaz said the amazing thing to him is all the change around campus and to facilities. When he arrived Sunday, he walked into a $25 million football facility that didn’t exist the last time he was in town.
“It was a dream when I was here,” he said of the facility. “It might have been a drawing. But a shovel wasn’t even close to touching the ground.”
Add in to that a $75 million expansion and renovation to Davis Wade Stadium (and a few new restaurants around town) and it looks like a whole new place to Diaz and his wife, who he said immediately had friends in Starkville call to welcome them back.
“This move doesn’t feel like any move we’ve ever had because of people that have reached out to her … This is a very special occasion for myself and my family,” Diaz said. “I told Dan this is the last defensive coordinator job I ever want to take. This is the last one I intend to take. This is it.”
Looking ahead to events on the football field, Diaz said he and the rest of the defensive staff (all of whom he expects to retain) have already begun reviewing game film from the 2014 season to study up on the players they will have next year and see where they can improve.
Stylistically, Diaz will have a similar gameplan to when he was last in Starkville. It’s simple in description, if not a bit more complex in execution.
“I’ve gotta get the ball back for Dak Prescott,” he said. “Realistically, that’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”
At Louisiana Tech in 2014, Diaz’s defense led the country in forced turnovers, using exotic blitzes and formations to confuse and attack opposing offenses. It sounds as if SEC teams can expect the same from him with these Bulldogs.
“The core of a who we are won’t change drastically,” he continued. “They know we’re going to be aggressive. We’re going to be hunting the negative play. We’re going to be forcing the offense into mistakes.”
Beyond scheme, however, Diaz appears to be a coach who cares deeply about forming relationships with those in the locker room, teaching them things past Xs and Os.
“This is going to sound like sappy stuff, but you’re doing a lot more with these guys than ‘kill the man with the ball.’ You’re trying to change the level of expectations for how they view themselves in life,” Diaz said. “What makes you a good defensive player is going to make you a good father one day. The lessons are all the same.”
It’s relationships like that which he formed back in 2010, and the people he got to know were some of the first to reach out to him and congratulate him when he got the job. In fact, as soon as Geoff Collins (who Diaz is friends with) left for Florida, former MSU cornerback Johnthan Banks was tweeting his suggestion that Diaz should be hired back.
The feeling is mutual as Diaz said he and his wife have continued to watch and keep up with MSU over the years. They were particularly happy to watch as State leapt to No. 1 in the country for a full month in the middle of the season this year.
“You always felt a little pride in terms of having a hand in kind of getting it going in that direction,” he said.
If given his wish, Diaz hopes MSU will continue that success.
“The first way you win football games is you must play great defense,” he said. “Defense is a culture.”