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Manny Diaz’s Return Critical For Penn State Football’s Future

Penn State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has been an understandably attractive candidate for speculation during college football’s coaching carousel period.

It appeared Diaz’s future with the Nittany Lions might be in jeopardy, as he has earned looks from other programs such as FAU. Of course, Diaz’s arrival in Happy Valley was predated by his 2021 firing from Miami’s head coaching position, exacerbating concerns about another imminent departure.

Diaz addressed the reports at Penn State’s pre-Rose Bowl media day, announcing his intent to stay with the program and calling the rumors a product of “silly season.”

“I’ve got a great job, and it would take an amazingly great job to leave a great job,” Diaz said. “In terms of ambition, I’d like to head coach again… The second time around you’re a little wiser in the opportunity.”

Though Diaz won’t be a permanent fixture at Penn State, his return is important, as the Nittany Lions expect to compete for playoff spots over the next two seasons.

Diaz was the catalyst behind the Nittany Lions’ defensive dominance in his debut season at Penn State. His defense led the Big Ten with 43 sacks, and nine different Nittany Lions logged multiple sacks on the year. It also boasted top-10 marks nationally in red zone defense, scoring defense, and turnovers generated.

Penn State’s defense earned similar marks in 2021 under Diaz’s predecessor, Brent Pry, but Diaz’s enthusiastic personality has won over the locker room and may be his most important contribution.

“I’m honestly excited that he came here and that I got a chance to be around him because it opened my mind to a whole different perspective — of football, of life, of just belief and courage,” safety Ji’Ayir Brown said before the Rose Bowl. “I’m extremely grateful for Manny.”

While Brown was coming off a year when he led the nation in interceptions, Diaz asked him to assume a different role. Diaz spent the 2022 season developing Brown as a pass rusher, in tandem with making sure he still made an impact in the Nittany Lions’ air defense. The pair’s relationship was a strong motivator for both.

“Coaching is a relationship business –– arguably now more than ever,” Diaz said during Rose Bowl week. “‘Just do it because I said so is in the past.”

Diaz’s personal impact on players has been well-documented throughout the season, and Penn State’s defensive mastermind chalks it up to an internal belief.

“I think players, when they know and believe that you as a coach are in it for their best interest, they give you that little extra,” Diaz continued. “I think culturally that was already in existence here at Penn State. I think our guys wanted that type of relationship. But I think it’s been easy for me to come in and, as they’ve gotten to know me, see what’s going on and feel that type of bond that we have together.”

Diaz made good on his preseason vow to implement heavy rotations, and dozens of defenders saw time field during the 2022 season. Not only did that create strong results in the short term, but with multiple role players showing immediate results on the gridiron, it’s likely to pay dividends in the future as well.

“There’s hoping and there’s knowing,” Diaz said. “So while the uniforms stay the same, the people inside them are different. What happens is: these guys have to go out there and they have to have demonstrated success to give them confidence.”

You won’t hear any bold predictions about a Penn State national championship win from this humble author. However, with the energy surrounding the offense’s young talent entering 2023, Diaz feels like he has a necessary part of a potential postseason campaign on the Nittany Lions’ defensive side of the ball — both in production and belief.

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About the Author

Sam Fremin

Sam is a senior from Ashburn, Virginia, majoring in journalism and political science & minoring in German and creative writing. He is a Dallas Cowboys fan who relishes the misery of Eagles fans. All hate messages can be sent to [email protected] or @SamFremin on Twitter.

He may or may not read every single comment he gets.

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