Manny Diaz Setting The Tone For Continued Success As Penn State’s Defensive Coordinator
Penn State football’s new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz will do more observing than coaching ahead of the Outback Bowl, but he’s already made quite the first impression with his new Nittany Lions.
James Franklin explained Friday that the coach addressed the team shortly after he was introduced earlier this month. His agressive personality was on full display.
“I didn’t know about him before, but when I first [saw] him, he definitely looked intimidating. He looks like he’s ready to ball,” senior safety Ji’Ayir Brown said. “He came in the meeting and had the slicked hair back, you know — chest poking out and stuff like that. I was like, ‘yeah, this guy is serious.’ He’s walking around the team meeting room… and you can just feel his confidence as he’s speaking to us. From that moment there I knew that he was the real deal.”
Diaz, a native of Miami but graduate of Florida State, inherits a Penn State defense that Brown played a huge role in this season. The Lackawanna College transfer made 67 total tackles this season and paced the Nittany Lions with four interceptions. He and fellow safety Jaquan Brisker both led the way in forcing turnovers for Penn State’s defense this season, something that Franklin wants to highlight with his new defensive coordinator.
The head coach noted that Diaz’s defenses have long been able to force turnovers and tackles for loss at a high clip. While Diaz didn’t have overwhelming success as Miami’s head coach for three seasons, he did stand out as the defensive coordinator in years prior. The inventor of the famous “turnover chain” helped lead a defense in 2017 that paced the country in sacks and was third in tackles for loss.
“Some of the stuff that really jumped out is the tackle for losses and the turnovers. You know, he’s got some really good data out there based on his time as a defensive coordinator,” Franklin said. “I think we have gotten better in the turnover area, but I think that’s still, if you’re looking for low hanging fruit in an area where you can really make a significant jump and the opportunities have been there, that’s it.”
While it ended up with a less-than-stellar 7-5 record, Penn State’s defense still managed to hold opponents to 16.8 points per game this year, a mark that was good for third-best in the conference. Brent Pry helped develop that impressive culture in Happy Valley since 2014.
There’s no doubt the Nittany Lions will miss Pry, but by all accounts, Diaz’s philosophy will fit just fine at Penn State.
“Really going back to Coach Franklin’s days at Vanderbilt, I think he’s established a style of play on defense that’s been very agressive,” Diaz said. “Trying to create negative plays while at the same time trying to limit explosive plays allowed — those are all things that are in my background.
“But I think more than anything, it still comes down to the toughness, the physicality, the work ethic, the trust. All of those are pillars you need to have to play a great defense,” Diaz added.
It’s no secret that Penn State’s defense has seen success over the past few years, but Diaz does inherit a group that will lose some key stars. Junior linebacker Brandon Smith already announced Friday he’ll forgo the Outback Bowl and head to the NFL Draft, while Jaquan Brisker, Jesse Luketa, Ellis Brooks, and Ji’Ayir Brown could have professional aspirations.
Despite that, Diaz will have budding stars to work with, notably linebacker Curits Jacobs. After getting his feet wet as a freshman in 2020, Jacobs made 51 total tackles, two sacks, and had an interception this fall.
The sophomore from Maryland explained that it was tough to lose Pry, the guy who recruited him to Happy Valley, after developing a relationship with him for two seasons. However, Jacobs knew of Diaz from the recruiting process at Miami, and explained that it was a ‘good surprise’ when he found out he’d be Pry’s successor.
“He sees the mentality that we already have, and the standard we already have at LBU. He wanted to be a part of it,” Jacobs said. “One of the first things I told Coach Pry when he left was that the standard’s not changing. I’m still gonna expect greatness from the young guys — still gonna teach them, coach them…It’s just about keeping that standard and keeping that with Manny Diaz.”
With more than 20 years of experience in college football, it’s not lost on Diaz that he’s coming to a place that has a long tradition of success on defense. As he now becomes a key coach on a team that’ll be trying to bounce back from a 7-5 season, his expectations couldn’t be higher.
“If you want to coach at a great program where winning is the expectation — or at a program like this one where great defense is the expectation. I don’t feel that as pressure,” Diaz said. “If you already have extraordinarily high expectations, it’s very difficult for any external expectations to exceed your internal expectation.”
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