UM defensive coordinator Manny Diaz reportedly set to take over as Temple head coach

Manny Diaz has, in his three years in Coral Gables, helped transform the Miami Hurricanes defense.

Now it appears Miami’s defensive coordinator will try to do the same — on a bigger scale — at Temple. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Wednesday night that Diaz had agreed to take over the Owls program. Multiple media reports say that Diaz will be officially introduced as Temple’s coach in a 3 p.m. news conference on Thursday.

Earlier in the day, a source told South Florida Sun Sentinel that Diaz was expected to take the job if it was offered.

He would replace former Temple coach Geoff Smith, who left for the head coaching job at Georgia Tech last week.

Attempts to reach Diaz both Tuesday and Wednesday were unsuccessful, and UM officials had no comment on the reports. But on Tuesday, Miami athletic director Blake James said via text message that questions about Diaz’s future were for Diaz to discuss.

It would be Diaz’s first head coaching job after a series of stops at Miami, Mississippi State, Texas, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee State, NC State and Florida State.

It would also leaves the Hurricanes without their top assistant coach just days before the start of the Early Signing Period and two weeks before Miami is set to face Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Diaz, who has made the Hurricanes’ defense one of the top units in the nation since joining coach Mark Richt’s staff in 2015, was on the recruiting trail for Miami late Tuesday. But he reportedly interviewed for Temple’s job on Monday and emerged as one of the favorites to land the job after Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mike Elko opted to return to College Station.

While the Hurricanes finished the regular season with a disappointing 7-5 record and were unable to defend their 2017 ACC Coastal Division title, Diaz’s defense was a bright spot.

The unit finished No. 2 in the nation in total defense, allowing opponents an average of just 268.3 yards per game and 4.16 yards per play.

Miami had the nation’s top-rated passing defense, holding opponents to a meager 140.8 yards per game and led the nation in opponent third-down conversion percentage, allowing just 41 conversions on 173 attempts.

His players — and Hurricanes recruits — have praised his philosophy and aggressive style and in his three years at Miami, Diaz was a nominee for the Broyles Award, given annually to the nation’s top assistant coach.

He also injected some fun into his time at Miami, helping with the creation and development of the Hurricanes’ famed Turnover Chain, which became a viral sensation last season during Miami’s 10-0 start to the 2017 season.

“Coach Diaz, guaranteed, is the best D-coordinator I’ve ever had,” Hurricanes cornerback Michael Jackson said last month. “He knows how players think and he knows what they’re good at.”

And that success and Diaz’s approach made him an attractive candidate for the Owls, who were looking for a defensive-minded coach from the start.

The school interviewed between eight and 10 candidates, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, most with defensive backgrounds. The Owls posted an 8-4 record in the American Athletic Conference this past season and are set to face Duke in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport on Dec. 27.

The school’s head coaching job has been a steppingstone of sorts for its past four coaches, which may have helped attract Diaz to the job.

Former Miami coach Al Golden was at Temple for five seasons before taking over as Hurricanes coach in 2010. He was followed by Steve Addazio, who coached the Owls for two seasons before he moved on to Boston College. Matt Rhule coached there for four seasons before jumping to Baylor and Collins coached Temple for two years before making the move to Georgia Tech.

But Diaz’s potential departure is the latest blow for a Hurricanes team whose season did not unfold the way many expected.

Miami opened the season with a top-10 ranking and was expected to defend its Coastal Division title. Instead, the Hurricanes opened the season with a loss to LSU and endured a midseason four-game losing streak that ended their stay in the top-25 poll and cost them the opportunity to play for the conference title.

Some of those struggles have likely taken a toll on Miami’s recruiting class, which — with one week left until the Early Signing Period — is ranked 29th in the nation by 247Sports.com and 33rd by Rivals.com.

The class currently features commitments from 13 recruits, with 10 of those being defensive players. How Diaz’s departure will impact them is unclear, particularly if Diaz takes any other UM assistant coaches with him.

Diaz’s decision could also potentially impact several of UM’s underclassmen who may be weighing their NFL options, including defensive end Joe Jackson and linebackers Shaq Quarterman and Mike Pinckney.

If indeed Diaz’s time in Miami has come to an end, as many expect, his final game as the Hurricanes coordinator was a memorable one.

Miami’s defense was dominant in a 24-3 win over Coastal Division champion Pittsburgh, Diaz’s group keeping the Panthers out of the end zone and Miami held the Panthers to 200 yards of total offense, including just 69 rushing yards. The Hurricanes also sacked Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett six times and totaled 14 tackles for loss.

“I couldn't be more proud of the defensive unit and what these guys did. We talked about this, last home game just going out there and putting on a show. I've been saying that we've got a lot of guys that are fun to watch. We've got a lot of guys that are fun to coach. I love to come here and watch these guys play and that's how we felt,” Diaz said after the Nov. 24 win. “We felt like we had to repay every fan that was in the stands as if they had come to watch you play, you personally and then us collectively as a defense and then collectively as a team. The situations that we get put in and the way that they play and the way they respond, they just go out there and go about their business and have fun doing it. …

“All of us as a coaching staff, we're just so thankful to be able to coach these guys. This is a special unit, this is something that does not come around very often. This is a unit that should be appreciated for years to come. At this school, that's hard. There have been some amazing defenses that have come and gone through here, but these guys deserve to be looked at with some of their peers. We have our part in our record not being what it should be, but these guys have put something on tape over a 12-game season that they can be proud of for the rest of their lives.”

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ccabrera@sun-sentinel.com; On Twitter @ChristyChirinos.

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