Miami Hurricanes AD Blake James looks back on hiring Manny Diaz

CORAL GABLES, FL - JANUARY 02: (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
CORAL GABLES, FL - JANUARY 02: (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

It was a whirlwind 11 hours from Mark Richt’s abrupt retirement to Manny Diaz being named head coach on December 30. Miami Hurricanes athletic director Blake James looked back on that fateful day six months later with The Athletic’s Manny Navarro.

The 34-3 loss by the Miami Hurricanes to Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl eliminated the good feelings that the Hurricanes had after ending the regular season with two straight wins. That came on the heels of four straight losses. Three days later Miami head coach Mark Richt announced his immediate retirement.

Richt looked defeated following the bowl loss to the Badgers for the second straight season. One year after leading Miami to their first ACC Coastal Division title and ACC Championship game and Orange Bowl berths the Hurricanes slid from 10-3 in 2017 to 7-6 last season. The disappointing year clearly took its toll on Richt.

The inept Miami offense and poor play at QB leveled criticism at Richt and his son Jon, the Miami QB coach. Richt stated when he appeared at the Miami spring game it was the right time for him to step aside for the good of the program. Navarro and James had an extensive conversation that included Richt’s resignation and Diaz’s ascension.

Diaz has infused new energy into the Miami Hurricanes football program. Navarro asked James if he had any idea that Richt was considering retirement and if there was a short list on who he wanted to replace him or any future head coaching change.

"“Navarro: It’s kind of remarkable how quickly you guys were able to transition from Richt to Diaz. What stands out six months later about that 24-hour, 48-hour stretch and what it was like? I was there with you guys in New York, I saw Mark walking off the field. He looked like a defeated guy. Did you have any inkling coming off the field retirement was something he was considering?James: Coming off the field, no. Obviously, everyone was beat up that night. I was frustrated. I think the fan base was frustrated. The guys on the team were frustrated. I think Mark was wearing all that. And obviously, he’s frustrated. I mean, no one wants to win more than he did. And so not that night.We met here the next day and talked through a lot of different things. I felt at the end of that day Mark was going to continue on. I wouldn’t say that it never was brought up that, ‘Hey, what if he wasn’t coach here anymore.’ But when we left that day, I thought it was one where he’d still be moving on.And then obviously, you know, things changed. And, you know, he let me know the next day that he wanted to retire.I think the thing I would say sticks out to me most that day was just the great support that I got from president (Julio) Frenk and from our (Board of Trustees) to make it happen in the timeline we needed to make it happen to keep Manny.Again, as Manny has said, if he was going to be our guy, we needed to get it done as quick as possible.Navaro: Just out of curiosity do you as an athletic director carry around a list with you, maybe a notepad or something on your phone, that lists these are the guys I would call first in the event something happens with one of our coaches?James: I’m not one that has a list on my desk that if Manny were to notify me, ‘OK, here’s who I’m calling.’ But I think you watch, and you understand who’s doing what and obviously it’s the world I live in. And so, you’re looking at who’s doing what.One of the things I’ve learned both times our job has been open, there’s a lot of people that you wouldn’t think are going to be interested, that are interested.And I think that’s a credit to the players and coaches who have been here before that have built this brand into what it is that an opportunity to be the head coach at Miami is known to be a special one and one (in which) you can have great success.And so, I’d be shortchanging the institution if I said, ‘Hey, here’s my list. And we’re going to go after these guys.’ Because this is too good of a job. I don’t know that there’s anyone that ultimately wouldn’t be interested in it.”"

While James claims he doesn’t keep a list, even in the 11 hours between Richt’s sudden retirement and Diaz’s hiring the rumors about the next head coach for the Miami Hurricanes football program ran rampant. Through reports and intuition Canes Warning was able to come up with a list of potential replacements.

In the press conference to announce Richt’s retirement, James stated that Miami would conduct a national search for the next head coach for the Miami Hurricanes head football coach. It was the same statement that Richt and James mentioned to replace Diaz as defensive coordinator when he took the head coaching job at Temple.

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When Diaz left for Temple 17 days earlier, safeties coach Ephraim Banda and linebackers coach Jonathan Patke were named to replace Diaz as defensive coordinator. The national search appeared to have never occurred even though neither Banda or Patke had been a defensive coordinator before.

It fits with the nepotism and old boys network Richt had employed in hiring his staff during his three-year tenure as the head coach at his alma mater. The names ran rampant from multiple media outlets on who would replace Richt. In the end, Diaz was the only candidate James wanted.

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In those 11 uncertain hours the question was would Diaz return to Miami just 17 days after being hired at Temple. In his introductory news conference on January 3, Diaz stated that the Miami Hurricanes was his dream job and it was the only head coaching job he would have left Temple for so quickly. Diaz is the epitome of Miami.

He became a Hurricanes fan when his father who eventually became Mayor of Miami-Dade took him to games at the Orange Bowl. Diaz might have a degree from Florida State but he would rather live in Paradise and knows that every day is a great day to be a Hurricane.

Navarro and James went much more in-depth about what Diaz has done since taking over. His first order of business came less than 24 hours after being hired. Diaz fired Richt’s entire offensive staff on New Year’s Eve. That came three days before his introductory press conference.

Next. Miami's five most memorable defensive performances under Manny Diaz. dark

In the next part of Navarro’s interview with James, they discussed the energy Diaz has brought, his vision for the future on and off the field, his relationship with the Miami boosters and James and Diaz working together to strengthen the Miami football program in the future.