Manny Diaz is introduced as head coach of the Miami Hurricanes and outlines his vision for the program moving forward.
Last January, the Hurricanes looked poised to become a force.
Miami was coming off its first 10-win season since 2003. The Hurricanes had taken full advantage of college football’s first Early Signing Period and were well on their way to securing a top-10 recruiting class weeks before National Signing Day.
With their shiny Turnover Chain and splashy nationally televised wins over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame in front of thousands of frenzied fans at Hard Rock Stadium, the Hurricanes seemed to have that “it” factor that attracts top-notch high school prospects eager to join the fun.
A year later and with another National Signing Day looming on the horizon, everything has seemingly changed in Coral Gables.
The Hurricanes are just weeks removed from a disappointing 7-6 season in which they couldn’t defend their ACC Coastal Division championship. Their offense, beleaguered by quarterback questions and inconsistent play at several positions, was one of the nation’s worst, averaging 5.6 yards per play, ranked 75th among FBS programs.
Miami has also, of late, endured one of the oddest coaching changes in recent years with Mark Richt abruptly resigning three days after the Hurricanes’ 35-3 season-ending loss to Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl and Miami quickly bringing former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz back as coach after he briefly left to take the head coaching job at Temple.
Little of that will appeal to most highly recruited prospects who are looking to play for a championship-caliber program with stability. As of Thursday afternoon, Diaz had not announced the hiring of any offensive coaches.
“[Miami] hasn’t done anything but finish 7-6. So, obviously, everything has to start anew. The kids that are signed up wanted to come here, no matter what. Now they have to start getting those kids who are choosing between other schools,” said Larry Blustein, who has covered South Florida recruiting for more than five decades. “You have to give them a reason to get here. Finishing 7-6 and in the middle to the bottom half of the ACC is not going to do it.”
Blustein’s point was proven last week when Cardinal Gibbons defensive lineman Khris Bogle — the Sun Sentinel’s No. 1 prospect in Broward County and one of Miami’s top recruiting targets — verbally committed to Alabama during the All-American Bowl. Another Miami target — Miami Southridge cornerback Tyrique Stevenson — committed to Georgia the same day.
During last month’s Early Signing Period, Miami inked 14 players, only five of those playing on the offensive side of the ball. Of those five, only one — receiver Jeremiah Payton — was rated a four-star prospect and, as a whole, the Hurricanes’ recruiting class was ranked 45th in the nation by Rivals after the Early Signing Period.
Hurricanes coach Manny Diaz said when he was hired last week he hoped to have a staff in place before the recruiting period opened back up again ahead of National Signing Day on Feb. 7. Coaches can start face-to-face recruiting Thursday, so how is his search progressing?
That’s the lowest Miami has ever been ranked since the site began ranking classes in 2002.
With just 27 days ahead of National Signing Day, Blustein and other recruiting analysts say Diaz faces a challenge in trying to turn the tide for this recruiting cycle.
“When schools like Pittsburgh and Boston College are starting to rise up in the conference and you’re losing to Duke and schools like that, it’s tough to sell kids on that,” Blustein said. “The whole thing, it’s not a wash. But it’s going to take a lot of effort over the next three weeks or so to try and get some kids of quality.”
Added Mike Farrell, the national recruiting director at Rivals.com, “[Miami] doesn’t have a lot of momentum. Recruiting was not going well at all under Coach Richt and the recruiting class was not what we expected from Miami, not very highly ranked, small, a lot of kids decommitted. … I think [Diaz] is really up against it. He’s really inheriting a bad situation.”
That may be the case, but Diaz has said he remains optimistic Miami will still be able to sign some solid prospects and even land a few key transfers.
Late Wednesday night, Miami secured a commitment from former USC safety Bubba Bolden, a former high school teammate of Hurricanes tight end Brevin Jordan. And the Hurricanes could be in the mix for Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, whose name was recently entered in the NCAA’s transfer database.
All of that could, ultimately, provide a significant boost.
But Diaz knows there is one simple fix to the Hurricanes’ recent recruiting woes. Winning.
His team won’t get the opportunity to do that, though, until August when the Hurricanes open the 2019 season against Florida in the Camping World Kickoff in Orlando.
“Kids want to go where the winning is so that's hard because you have to create the winning to get them to come to where the winning is,” Diaz said last week when he was introduced as Miami’s new coach. “There's a natural tendency to be drawn to the places that are currently on top, which, that's fair. The only way you can battle that is you have to put out a product that makes a kid say, 'I've got to go do that.’”
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The Hurricanes did that in 2017 and top prospects like five-star running back Lorenzo Lingard and four-star prospects like tight end Brevin Jordan, defensive tackle Nesta Silvera, receiver Mark Pope and quarterback Jarren Williams all took notice.
Miami couldn’t match that success in 2018 and now, the Hurricanes face an uphill climb on the recruiting trail.
Diaz insists he is ready for the task, especially considering he’ll be scouring South Florida for as much talent as he can find.
“We will always be defined by how well we recruit Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, pushing out to the state of Florida line through I-4. We will recruit nationally to find the players that we cannot find inside that footprint,” Diaz said. “We have to make sure that the high school coaches in South Florida know that we’re honest and true with our evaluations, that the guys that can make it happen on the fields down here, we believe, can make it happen for the Miami Hurricanes. It has always been that way.
“What the recruiting services rank [players] is of no consequence to us. There are a million guys who have their names up on this wall that were not highly ranked by recruiting services. If you can play in South Florida, you can play in college football. That has been proven over and over again.”