Diaz, Canes Gear Up for Start of Spring
By Christy Cabrera Chirinos
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – In the weeks since last season ended, Manny Diaz has hired a new offensive coordinator, a new offensive line coach, a new receivers coach and brought Ed Reed, a Hurricanes legend, back to Coral Gables as his chief of staff.
The Hurricanes coach also recruited a trio of high-profile graduate transfers that are expected to make a near-immediate impact on the roster, polished off a recruiting class and watched as his players have tackled their offseason conditioning workouts with gusto.
Now, with spring football set to begin Monday morning, it’s time for Diaz and the 2020 Hurricanes to take another step in their journey toward the season ahead.
The coach, one might imagine, is excited to see what happens over the next few weeks.
“The two things we’re always trying to establish any time we step foot on Greentree is our competitiveness and our toughness,” Diaz said. “It doesn’t matter what style of offense or defense you run, if you don’t have a high level of competitiveness and mental and physical toughness, you won’t succeed. … It’ll be a great challenge for our guys defensively and be a great challenge for our guys offensively. We’re all starting at zero and I’d love to see us develop an edge that we can carry week in and week out through the fall.”
For the Hurricanes, who will be looking to reset after a tough 2019 season, one of the biggest storylines of the spring is the reshaping of the offense.
After a season in which Miami averaged 367.2 yards per game, 5.66 yards per play and averaged 25.7 points per game, Diaz opted to make a change, both in scheme and at one of the most critical positions on his staff.
In January, Diaz hired offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, who held the same position last fall at SMU. The Mustangs were an offensive force in 2019, finishing the year ranked among the nation’s top 15 programs in several major offensive categories including total offense (ninth with an average of 489.9 yards per game), scoring offense (seventh with an average of 41.8 points per game), passing offense (13th with an average of 309 yards per game) and first downs (ninth with an average of 24.8 per game).
That kind of production helped SMU finish the season with a 10-3 record and made Lashlee one of the most sought-after assistant coaches in college football. He decided to come to Miami, he said, because of his belief in what Diaz and the Hurricanes can do moving forward.
“My family and I were really happy where we were. Sonny Dykes is a phenomenal head coach and a friend and a mentor to me and we had a good situation there [at SMU]. We weren’t looking to leave for just anything, but I’ve known Coach [Manny] Diaz over the years professionally and we’ve actually coached against each other several times,” Lashlee said shortly after he arrived in Coral Gables. “I have great respect for him and I believe in him and what he’s trying to do here at Miami. Then there’s just the fact it’s The U. Growing up, there’s just such a rich tradition here. So many great players. Five national championships. You know what can be done and you know what the potential and the opportunity is here. That’s what’s exciting.”
Added Diaz, “It started with Rhett. Of all the personnel changes, he was first and I thought that was such a strong statement to what we had here because, number one, he was at a good spot with a really good quarterback. And he had some other really, really good options. … For him to express confidence in what we’re doing and see the same thing we all see, the potential that is here offensively, I thought that was really encouraging.”
Not long after Lashlee joined the Hurricanes’ staff, so too, did offensive line coach Garin Justice and receivers coach Rob Likens. And then former Houston quarterback D’Eriq King – who redshirted in 2019 after throwing for 2,982 yards and 36 touchdowns the year prior – opted to transfer to Miami, along with former Temple defensive end Quincy Roche and former FIU kicker Jose Borregales.
In the coming days, that trio, along with Miami’s early enrollees and all of the healthy returning Hurricanes will get their first experiences playing in – and defending – Lashlee’s up-tempo, fast-paced offense.
It will be exciting, Diaz expects. But it will have its challenges, too.
“It’s going to change how you practice, right? Because just the amount of time between plays, the tempo that we’re going to run between plays, it’s going to be a lot different and you’ve got to be fully bought in to what you’re doing because the way you practice will affect game strategy. Everyone’s got to be on board with that,” Diaz said. “You’re going to have to utilize your depth a lot more, which should always be an advantage for us here at the University of Miami. … We know that we have a team that’s always going to be in great condition with [Director of Strength and Conditioning David] Feeley down there.
“But it’s going to be a different deal in that first practice when we run a play and there’s going to be this sort of controlled chaos to get lined up and run another one.”
Given that the Hurricanes will be installing a new offense this offseason and will have to begin adjusting to the loss of several stalwart defensive leaders including linebackers Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney, defensive tackle Pat Bethel and cornerback Trajan Bandy, the goal for the next few weeks, Diaz says, is simple.
He wants to make sure his players on both sides of the ball have a solid understanding of what their coaches want from them so that once spring practice wraps up and those coaches can’t provide hands-on instruction anymore, players will be able to continue improving before camp begins later this summer.
If the Hurricanes can do that – and get through the spring as healthy as possible – the next 15 workouts will be a success.
“From a ball standpoint, you want to make sure that you’ve got a good grasp of what we’re trying to accomplish offensively and defensively. That way the kids can teach it to each other and they can function on their own in the summertime when we’re not allowed to be there on the field,” Diaz said. “But what I’d really like to see is that we capitalize on these 15 opportunities in the spring. You obviously want to see that the improvement arc goes up as you get further out into the spring.
“But what I’m really looking for right now is a team that from the competitiveness standpoint is the same team all 15 practices; that they bring the same amount of energy, the same amount of enthusiasm, the same amount of focus and attention to detail to Day 13 that they did to Day Three. Now you’re talking about the mind. … I think that’s a great challenge for us, to really try to attack every day with the same amount of energy.”