Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz feels like a Starkville resident.
After living in the town during the spring with assistant coach Chris Wilson, the former Middle Tennessee State defensive coordinator finally brought his family to his new location.
During MSU media day Saturday, he said now it feels like home to the Diaz household.
“The funny thing is my family didn’t move down till June,” Diaz said. “We always go on vacation and when we got after that is when I felt like we belonged here. Up until then, I felt like a tourist for the first six months. The biggest thing is the people they’ve met have been unbelievable.”
Diaz is looking to almost reinvent the way not only this current group of players but MSU fans view how defense can be played in his town.
“When coach (Carl) Torbush was here it was like this – go to your spot and if you’re not there, that’s wrong,” senior Emmanuel Gatling said. “With coach Diaz you still have a spot but he’s not telling us how to get there. Go do it yourself. That’s fun.”
For example, the fans that came out to this week’s open practices saw a defensive coordinator sprinting 30 yards to help bear hug a player that just earned an interception and run down a defender that just missed an assignment. While the words might have been different, the energy and volume stayed consistent.
“All I know is defense is a high intensity exercise,” Diaz said. “If you coach casually, they’re going to play casually.”
Diaz admits ‘casual’ is on a list of words he fears.
“When you’re young, that’s the way young players usually play because that’s the habit you’re looking to break from high school,” Diaz said. “It’s very hard to demand that if you golf clap it all day in practice. They need a little bit of energy.”
A 36 year-old son of a two-term mayor of Miami that has experience working for College Football Hall of Fame member Bobby Bowden went from telling television talking heads on ESPN how to talk innovation in football to attempting it himself in the Southeastern Conference.
“He told us he wanted to be an attacking defense and everybody wants to go forward,” Gatling said. “You can’t help but buy into that.”
Last season Diaz’s defenses, essentially based upon the threat of coming toward you with any of the 11 guys lined up behind the line of scrimmage, at Middle Tennessee State were second in the nation in tackles for loss and sixth in sacks.
Those kind of numbers are a complete reversal from what MSU saw in 2009 when they totaled only 19 sacks the entire season and were near the bottom of the SEC in nearly every category.
This is why Diaz chose to not scout last year’s film but for noticeable athleticism that could translate to his multiple schemes.
The Florida State grad, that spent his early years as a coach working with legendary Seminoles defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews, essentially refers to that team in conversation like a different school all together.
“I look at the youth they had to play with and you don’t ever try and guess what somebody was doing week in and week out,” Diaz said. “It’s hard to evaluate a player when you don’t understand what they’re being told.”
Diaz’s system has already seen players switching positions like Cameron Lawrence (safety to linebacker) and Johnthan Banks (safety to cornerback) and just like during his days in television, his viewpoint of change whether it’s technique, attitude or position on the field can’t possibly be worse at Mississippi State in 2010.
“To be perfectly honest, let’s take a grain of humility here – no matter what we think of our guys now individually, we weren’t rated very high defensively at the end of the year last year,” Diaz said. “The talent everybody says we got coming back from last year didn’t amount to much.”