CORAL GABLES, Fla. – University of Miami athletic director Blake James said Wednesday that Manny Diaz "was at the top of my list" to be the next head football coach.
Diaz, 44, was introduced Wednesday as the 25th head coach in program history.
He takes over for Mark Richt, who surprisingly resigned Sunday after three seasons at his alma mater. Hours later, James announced that Diaz would take the reins.
Diaz is staying in Coral Gables, just weeks after being named the head coach at Temple.
"Manny Diaz is our head coach because he's the right man at the right time, and he has the vision to build upon what Mark Richt built and continue us down the path toward national prominence, competing for conference and national championships," James said.
Although the Hurricanes fell short of expectations after a 7-6 season, capped by a 35-3 loss to Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl, Diaz's defense was a bright spot for the team.
The Hurricanes were the nation's No. 2 overall defense in 2018. That side of the football is already benefitting from Diaz's return -- starting linebackers Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud all announced they will be back in 2019.
Diaz said he never intended to return to Miami after accepting the Temple job, partly because he had confidence that Richt would turn things around. He credited Richt for helping the school get an indoor practice facility built and said Richt "leaves this place in much better shape than when he found it."
Howard Schnellenberger (1979-83) Record: 41-16 Previous Job: Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator. Best Remembered: Leading Hurricanes to first-ever national championship in 1983 after 31-30 win against Nebraska in Orange Bowl. Reason For Leaving: To become head coach of failed USFL franchise.
"To be honest with you, he's quite simply the best man I've ever worked for," Diaz said.
Diaz said he was busy putting together his coaching staff at Temple when James called him Sunday morning to see if he'd be interesting in returning to Miami.
Thus began a whirlwind ascension to first-time head coach at a tradition-rich program.
Diaz admitted that the outcome of the 2018 season "was obviously not good enough at the University of Miami."
"One of the hardest things I've ever had to do was I had to announce to the offensive staff that they would not be retained," Diaz said.
He said he has three finalists for an offensive coordinator, but he isn't in a rush to make the hire.
"Great coaches want to be at UM," Diaz said.
As for the look of his team, Diaz said the Hurricanes are going to play tough, fast and have fun.
"When you come see Miami play, it should look like there's two teams on the field, and one is having infinitely much more fun than the other team is," Diaz said.
He admitted that the quarterback position needs to be "fixed" but said everybody would be given a "clean slate."
Diaz also dismissed head stretch coach Gus Felder and said he intends to add a defensive assistant soon.
"Everybody has to own 7-6, starting with me," Diaz said.
A South Florida native, Diaz began his career as a graduate assistant at Florida State when Richt was offensive coordinator for the Seminoles. Although Diaz has never been a head coach before, he's been a successful defensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee, Texas, Louisiana State and Mississippi State.
"I don't think anybody who watched us play this year says that that's a seven-win team in that locker room," Diaz told Local 10 News after the news conference. "I don't think anybody says that. I don't think any of our players would agree that that's a seven-win football team. But we are. That's written on our forehead."
Diaz, who is the son of former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, was a three-sport star in football, basketball and baseball at Miami Country Day School. He lives with his wife and three sons in Palmetto Bay.
The Hurricanes will open the 2019 season against Diaz's former boss, Dan Mullen, when Miami faces the Florida Gators in Orlando. Mullen was head coach at Mississippi State in 2015 when Diaz was defensive coordinator.