Mack Brown, Manny Diaz have history headed into ACC opener

From Texas to Miami and North Carolina, 'turnover chain' meets 'turnover belt'

By Peter Burke - Local10.com Managing Editor
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Miami head coach Manny Diaz (left) and North Carolina head coach Mack Brown, who once coached together, will be on the opposite sidelines when the Hurricanes take on the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill.

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. - Mack Brown and Manny Diaz first worked together in 2011, when Brown hired Diaz from Mississippi State to be his defensive coordinator at Texas. The relationship lasted all of 26 games.

Brown, who recently came out of retirement to become the head coach at North Carolina for the second time, fired Diaz just two games into the 2013 season, after the Longhorns surrendered 550 rushing yards in a 40-21 loss to Brigham Young.

It was a sudden fall from grace for the Miami-raised assistant whose defense ranked first in the Big 12 Conference and 11th nationally in his first season at Texas.

But, instead of letting it define him, Diaz rebounded, reemerging at Louisiana Tech in 2014. All Louisiana Tech's defense did was lead the Football Bowl Subdivision in turnovers, recovering 16 fumbles and recording 26 interceptions.

A year later, Diaz found himself back under the employ of current Florida head coach Dan Mullen at Mississippi State, where the Bulldogs held opponents to 23.2 points per game and ranked in the top 10 nationally in red zone defense.

When Mark Richt was hired by Miami in December 2015, Diaz was one of the first phone calls he made. 

"God blessed me with a chance to return home, to coach in my hometown and to reunite with family," Diaz said upon being hired as Miami's defensive coordinator in 2016. "It is the kind of opportunity that comes along rarely in this business. It was simply too good to pass up. I can't wait to help coach Richt build a championship program at Miami."

Even though the Hurricanes didn't win any championships during Richt's three-year tenure at his alma mater, the one constant was Diaz's defense, which ranked in the top 25 nationally each season.

So it was only natural for Diaz to be considered for the top job upon Richt's surprise retirement at the end of last season. There was just one problem: Diaz had already been hired by Temple.

Luckily for Miami athletic director Blake James, Diaz hadn't yet left for Philadelphia and was still with the team throughout its preparations for the Pinstripe Bowl. Richt announced his retirement just days after the 35-3 loss to Wisconsin.

Seventeen days after being introduced as Temple's head coach, Diaz was officially introduced as Richt's replacement.

After losing his coaching debut -- a close-fought 24-20 loss to the Gators in the Aug. 24 season opener -- Diaz now turns his focus to Saturday's Atlantic Coast Conference opener at North Carolina, where he'll face off against Brown for the first time since his unceremonious departure from Austin.

The Tar Heels (1-0) rallied to score 15 points in the fourth quarter of last weekend's 24-20 victory against South Carolina, shutting out the Gamecocks in the final 15 minutes.

"We needed to win," Brown said Monday during his weekly radio show. "We needed to win in the fourth quarter. We needed to win with a comeback from behind because we had so many wins when (previous) coach (Larry) Fedora was here when we were in perfect position to win the game late, and we didn't win."

The Tar Heels were one of the nation's worst defenses in 2018, ranking 112th out of 130 FBS teams.

To that end, Brown hired former Army defensive coordinator Jay Bateman to be his co-defensive coordinator (along with Tommy Thigpen, who previously coached safeties) this season. Army's defense twice finished ranked among the top 10 nationally during Bateman's tenure.

Although Diaz may have been the scapegoat for a Texas program that was on the decline, his defenses haven't been a concern for Miami.

The Hurricanes (0-1) were the nation's fourth-best defense last season and return six defensive starters, anchored by senior linebackers Zach McCloud, Michael Pinckney and Shaq Quarterman.

Despite being fired, Diaz said Wednesday there is no bad blood between him and Brown.

"He had won a lot of games and they had had a lot of success winning a lot of games," Diaz said of Brown. "At times, when you win, when you get on one of those runs like Texas had for a while, it can look easy. And it's never easy. You learn, like you do for every head coach, the ins and outs of the program and some of the things that make them successful, and you get a chance to choose some of those and incorporate them into your program."

Diaz said he's incorporated some "procedural stuff" from his time with Brown, though he declined to elaborate.

"The way you engage people around your program, that I thought he had a great knack for, and some of the things on the inside that are just more trade secrets you don't really talk about," he said.

Likewise, it seems Brown and Bateman have borrowed from Diaz as well, unveiling the "turnover belt," modeled after Miami's "turnover chain," during last weekend's win.

"I've never had a turnover chain, but I like turnovers," Brown said in discussing the WWE-like championship belt.

Brown, 68, was complementary of the Hurricanes, comparing them to the defending national champions.

"Miami is a lot like Clemson," Brown said. "They're the second-most talented, if not even with Clemson, in the league. They're very quick. They're very physical. They may have the best combination of linebackers in the country."

The Coastal Division rivalry has been pretty even through the years. Miami is 8-7 against North Carolina since the Hurricanes joined the ACC in 2004.

Both teams will start quarterbacks who have a combined two starts under their belts. 

Miami redshirt freshman Jarren Williams was 19 of 29 for 214 yards and a touchdown against the Gators, but he was also sacked 10 times.

North Carolina true freshman Sam Howell was 15 of 24 for 245 yards and two touchdowns against the Gamecocks.

Diaz said Howell "showed great toughness" in his debut performance. He said the same of his quarterback after Miami's first game.

Brown believes the Hurricanes are going to "come in and be physical." He also called Diaz a perfect fit for Miami.

"I admire him," Brown said. "I admire what they're doing. It should be a great challenge."

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