May 26, 2024

Manny Diaz introduced himself Saturday as Duke’s head football coach in part by saying goodbye to his Penn State defense. He did that in person Thursday, before Duke officially named him as its head coach, but sought to reiterate the message in Durham.

“I’ve got to take a pause right here,” Diaz told the crowd at Duke’s Pascal Field House. “I’ve got to thank first the players who I had a chance to say goodbye to Thursday night at Penn State. Anyone who teaches knows that you get taught by the young men the same way you teach them. They taught me so much. They aspired to be great. They viewed pressure as a privilege. They made it their abject purpose to be the No. 1 defense in the country, and that’s a big statement. But somebody has to finish first, and they decided they wanted it to be them. So I’m thankful for them.”

Diaz, who left Penn State after two seasons as defensive coordinator, spent much of his introductory press conference describing what brought him to Duke and why this was the right time. “There is something about Duke,” Diaz began, a theme to which he would return often during his remarks. Diaz stayed in contact over the past two years with David Feeley, his former director of strength and conditioning at Miami who moved to Duke in 2022. Diaz said he followed as Duke won nine games, including the Military Bowl, under Mike Elko in 2022. He also watched Duke’s 28-7 win over Clemson on Labor Day, which he discussed later with Feeley, who told him, “there is something about Duke.”

So when Duke Athletic Director Nina King called Diaz after Elko left for Texas A&M, Diaz was interested

“Of course you’d be interested, because you’ve got this curiosity, right, this intellectual curiosity. What is this thing about Duke?” Diaz said.

During the interview process, Diaz said he found three key bonds between himself and Duke: the “desire to have a championship culture, elite academic performance and competitive excellence in all aspects of life.”

Diaz also made a statement that could have come directly from Penn State coach James Franklin: “In college football, alignment wins.” Franklin has spoken often of alignment over the past two years, specifically with Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi and Athletic Director Patrick Kraft. Diaz referred to similar alignment with King and Duke President Vincent E. Price.

“That’s what I’m about as a coach, and to me that’s what the student-athlete experience here is about,” Diaz said.

Diaz had high praise for Penn State’s defensive players and coaches, with whom he crafted one of the nation’s top defenses in 2023. The Nittany Lions led the nation in several defensive categories, notably total defense, and had 13 players named to the All-Big Ten teams.

“I’m thankful for the defensive staff we had there,” Diaz said. “When you talk about alignment wins, if there was a coaching staff in the country that had more fun than us this year, I’d love to see it. It’s almost to the point where it shouldn’t even be allowed.”

Diaz also discussed Franklin several times, particularly in the context of team culture. Diaz joked that Franklin called him an hour after Miami had fired him in December 2021 — “The body wasn’t even cold at the funeral,” he said. Two years later, he’s a head coach again partly because of that call.

“I do believe that God steers us where we need to be when we need to be there,” Diaz said. “And I think some of the lessons learned at Penn State made me a better man and a made me a better coach, for sure, to be here now.”

“College football is hardly the same sport it was five years ago,” Diaz added, referencing his first season at Miami. “I’ve been blessed to work with a lot of head coaches, and to see James and see his program where it was going into year 10 and where the players understood what was established — we talk about the power of belief. Everybody knew what the core values of that program were, and the players could seek comfort in that because it wasn’t going to change day to day. So I learned a lot from that experience. I learned a lot from the culture of those guys in the locker room.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *