By JOEL COLEMAN
Hey everyone. It’s currently pouring down rain here in Starkville, but just to make sure nobody’s spirits for the upcoming football season are dampened, I figured I’d share this piece on Manny Diaz’s return to the MSU coaching staff. Only 45 days left til kickoff!
Mullen, Bulldogs excited to work with Diaz again
By JOEL COLEMAN
It’s the end of a long, hard day. You come home, kick off your shoes and get ready to unwind. Before settling in for the evening however, there’s just one thing left to do. You reach in your closet and there they are. It’s those comfortable pants you wear every night. The ones that let you know you can finally relax.
To hear Mississippi State head football coach Dan Mullen talk last week at Southeastern Conference Media Days, you’d think he’d just found his own cozy lounging gear.
Seven months after defensive coordinator Geoff Collins left Mullen’s staff to take the same position with the Florida Gators, Mullen stood at the podium in Hoover, Alabama, and explained why rehiring Manny Diaz to fill Collins’ old role has provided the Bulldogs with just the comfort level they need.
“What’s really unique about it is the understandings,” Mullen said. “I think it’s a great thing that we understand the expectations from each other. We’ve worked together before. Manny knows what my expectations are going to be of him and of our defense. And he knows what type of defense I want to see.”
Diaz, who signed a three-year deal worth a total of $1.8 million in January, should definitely be familiar with Mullen’s requirements, having spearheaded one of the most talented defenses in MSU history in 2010. 10 players from that unit went on to sign NFL contracts after helping Mullen and the Bulldogs to a nine-win season and Gator Bowl victory over Michigan. Over the course of that year, Diaz’s defense ranked 17th nationally in rushing defense, allowing 119 yards per game, and 22nd in total scoring, giving up 19.9 points per contest.
Diaz’s success attracted the attention of the University of Texas, as the Longhorns added the Miami, Florida, native to their coaching staff prior to the 2011 season.
Diaz spent nearly three years in Austin before being relieved of his duties in September of 2013 as the Longhorns began to struggle.
In 2014, Diaz landed at Louisiana Tech and got back to his successful ways. In his only season in Ruston, Diaz’s defense gained 40 turnovers to lead the nation, one of nine top 25 defensive rankings nationally. Tech rode Diaz’s defensive schemes to a nine-win campaign, including the program’s first-ever appearance in the Conference USA Championship Game, and a win over Illinois in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Though Diaz unquestionably reestablished himself at Louisiana Tech, his four-year absence from the scene in Starkville is probably best summarized as a series of ups and downs. Mullen indicates Diaz’s journey the last few years was one of great benefit. The MSU leader sees a different man on his staff than the one he saw just a few short years ago. Meanwhile, Mullen believes he has also matured himself.
“I think we’ve both grown a lot over the last (four) years we’ve been apart,” said Mullen. “We’ve both grown as coaches, and both grown as men and as people.”
The changes Diaz has made, both personally and professionally, seem to have only benefitted his ability to relate to the players he coaches. Although both MSU senior cornerback Taveze Calhoun and senior defensive end Ryan Brown say they had great relationships with Collins, their bond with Diaz has become just as strong. Part of the reason, Calhoun says, is because Diaz’s personality meshes so well with the rest of the current coaching staff.
“Coach Collins, he had a lot of emotions and Coach Diaz is a more laid-back type of guy,” said Calhoun. “Both are very good guys. Both of them are very smart. I think we react well to Coach Diaz. We have other coaches on the staff that are like him so it’s not that big of a change how we react to him.”
Brown, too, sees the differences between his former and current defensive coordinators. And like Calhoun, he’s embraced the transition from one personality to the other.
“I love Coach Manny Diaz,” said Brown. “The difference between (Diaz and Collins), one tries to be more lively. He acts like a little kid. Coach Diaz makes us feel like adults and makes the game fun. I like how he has different plays and upgraded our plays that we had last year.”
Just how well Diaz’s improvements work will stay a mystery until the season is underway. Until then though, Mullen doesn’t seem to be fretting over the situation. Why would he? There’s probably no other coordinator Mullen could’ve hired to make him feel so comfy.
“A lot of guys don’t get a second opportunity to be a D-coordinator with a head coach,” Mullen said. “So real excited to have him back on defense.”