CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Count Manny Diaz among those who would like to see Florida's big three schools playing each other every year.
The first-year Miami head coach said Monday he has fond memories of the once-annual rivalry against Florida. But that rivalry has gone away, save for a handful of meetings since Florida discontinued its series against the Hurricanes after the 1987 season.
When the No. 8 Gators and Hurricanes meet Saturday night at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, it will be the last scheduled meeting between the schools, although the Orlando Sentinel reported last week that a home-and-home series could be in the works.
Perhaps the most obvious testament to the importance of the rivalry was the decision by the schools to move the game from Aug. 31 at the behest of ESPN.
"We're, obviously, very honored to be opening up the 150th college football season a week ahead of everybody else," Diaz told reporters. "Not just the fact that it's Miami, but the fact that it's Miami and Florida -- two of the big three schools in the state of Florida. When you think about the history of college football, the sport may not have been invented in this state, but it was certainly revolutionized in this state. You're talking about 11 national championships in less than the last 40 years. That's over a quarter, by my math. To have two of the marquee programs in this state open up the curtains on the 2019 season is a pretty cool thing that we're excited to be a part of."
Diaz will see a familiar face on the opposing sideline -- Dan Mullen, who is entering his second season as head coach of the Gators.
Mullen and Diaz twice worked together, when Diaz was Mullen's defensive coordinator at Mississippi State in 2010 and 2015. Diaz sandwiched his time in Starkville between stints at Texas and Louisiana Tech.
"I look at Dan Mullen and his staff, coming in and inheriting a four-win team two years ago and changing the culture of that program," Diaz said. "I think of us both being 5-1 on the same weekend last October. Florida is down 21-3 to Vanderbilt and finds a way to come back to win that game. And then that night, we go play Virginia and, in a close game, we find a way to not win."
Diaz, who spent the last three seasons as Miami's defensive coordinator under Mark Richt, noted that the 2018 season for Florida and Miami went in opposite directions down the stretch.
"I thought that gave them the confidence, where they played their best football in the final four games, where they won all four games by a truckload of points and finished the year with 10 wins and a top-10 ranking," Diaz said. "Whereas our season went the opposite direction, losing four out of our last six and limping across the finish line."
Although Mullen led the Gators to 10 wins last season, the Hurricanes won the last time the teams met in 2013.
Diaz wasn't around for that game. In fact, the Miami native has only been to one Florida-Miami game in his life -- when the Hurricanes beat the Gators 31-4 at the old Orange Bowl in 1987.
"They haven't been down here all that often, and I don't think the two schools played at all in the '90s," Diaz said. "I do remember that day. I remember the 31-4 game. It's hard to get four [points], sometimes, so that's one you tend to remember."
Florida dropped Miami from its non-conference schedule the next year.
The rivalry was set to resume with a home-and-home series during the 1992-93 and 1996-97 seasons, but the Gators elected to exercise an escape clause in the contracts once the Southeastern Conference expanded to 12 teams. Florida paid a $75,000 cancellation fee for each game.
Diaz, who graduated from Florida State and got his coaching start as a defensive assistant under Bobby Bowden, knows the importance of Miami's rivalry with the Seminoles each year and believe the round-robin scheduling between Florida, Florida State and Miami is good for college football.
"We used to say whoever won the state championship usually had the inside track for the national championship," Diaz recalled. "That's gone away for whatever reason, but there's no reason that can't be the rule of law again. I'm sure Dan Mullen and [Florida State coach] Willie Taggart feel the same way, and I know we do here."