It’s late May, midafternoon in the middle of the week, only a few days before Manny Diaz and his coaching staff at Miami are set to become absurdly busy hosting recruits on campus for the first time in 15 months like every other team in college football.
One might imagine Diaz sitting on a tropical island somewhere, sipping an adult beverage or trying to get 18 holes in, but when asked by The Athletic if he was enjoying one final break, Miami’s 47-year-old head coach stopped and chuckled.
“I’ve had more than enough vacation,” he said.
Although losing two games at the end of last season — including one in embarrassing fashion at home to North Carolina — admittedly took “some of the shine off” what could be described as a bounce-back 8-3 season for Miami, Diaz was pleased with the steps the Hurricanes took in his second season as head coach. And he’s eager to get back to trying to make Miami great again.
The Hurricanes won seven ACC games last season, something only Mark Richt’s 10-win team in 2017 accomplished since Miami moved into the conference in 2004.
And despite switching to a new offense with limited preseason practices and all the challenges COVID-19 brought forth — including winning a game at Virginia Tech with only five available offensive linemen and being short two defensive assistants against Duke when the virus broke out among the staff — Miami spent every week of the season ranked in the AP poll for only the second time since 2009 and finished 22nd in the final poll.
“I think if we’d have played our whole schedule, either the original one that we were told we would play or even the 10 games we got to play, I think we would have won more games,” Diaz said. “It’s fascinating even reading some of the reviews in The Athletic or whatever, it is so crazy how people still relate (success to a team’s final record).
“For example, when Missouri goes 5-5. It’s not a five-win season at Missouri. They won five SEC games. Normally at Missouri, if you go .500 in the conference, you’re probably gonna win three or four non-league games, too. That could be eight (wins) or nine, which is a big deal. I mean, it’s just weird how (we’re judged). You look at the ACC, Virginia Tech, Pitt, same thing. They went .500 in the league. I think we beat three teams that went .500 or better (in the league). Normal years, those teams would all win eight games. But anyway.”
Diaz knows he wasn’t hired to go .500 in league play, win three or four non-conference games and get Miami to the Independence or Cheez-It Bowl. His goal is to get Miami back to competing for national championships, something the program hasn’t done since it lost to Ohio State in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl.