Talking Yoda, the Turnover Chain, and the 2019 college football season
A month before his team battles the Florida Gators in Orlando, Miami football head coach Manny Diaz sat down with the president of the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce for a fireside-style chat.
The hour-and-a-half drive from Coral Gables to Tavernier wasn’t about going snorkeling or casting a fishing line into the Atlantic to hook mahi-mahi. University of Miami Hurricanes football head coach Manny Diaz and his assistants had traveled to the Florida Keys community for a different reason—to gather some sage advice from a legend, a coaching guru with multiple championship rings to his credit.
“It was,” recalled Diaz, “like Luke Skywalker flying to [the planet] Dagobah to see Yoda.”
Diaz was referring to his staff’s recent offseason visit with legendary ’Canes coach Jimmy Johnson, who led Miami to a national title in 1987 and coached the NFL Dallas Cowboys to two Super Bowl victories.
The new head coach and his assistants met with Johnson for hours, picking his brain about the game they love and shaking their heads in amazement at Johnson’s ability to recall the names of even backup players he coached decades ago. “His recall of the third-string defensive line of the Dallas Cowboys from 1989 was just insane,” said Diaz. “It was a great way for us to connect with him and learn more about what makes the Miami football program special.”
Diaz’s recollection of the meeting with Johnson was just one of the highlights of a sit-down interview with Mark Trowbridge, president and CEO of the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce, held Tuesday at UM’s Schwartz Center for Athletic Excellence.
During the so-called Trow Knows CEOs talk, Diaz talked about his high school days playing both offense and defense on the football team at Miami Country Day School and how he attended Hurricanes games at the Orange Bowl with his father, former Miami Mayor Manuel “Manny” Diaz. “[The city of] Miami was in its growing pains back then,” Diaz said, referring to the municipality being beset by civil unrest and drugs. “But the Orange Bowl was the one place everyone could come to and take pride in its college football team.”
Diaz also talked about his days working as a video editor at ESPN after graduating from Florida State University and how he decided to leave the network to pursue a coaching career.
He recalled the time he spent at Florida State stuffing and licking envelopes as a volunteer in the school’s recruiting office. Back then he lived for two years in the FSU athletic dorm with his wife and their newborn child. But his persistence paid off when he started landing assistant coaching jobs—first at FSU and then at other programs like North Carolina State, Middle Tennessee State, Louisiana Tech, Mississippi State, and Texas.
Diaz joined Miami in 2016 as its defensive coordinator, coming up with the idea for the Turnover Chain, awarded to players who intercept a pass or recover a fumble. He initially kept the Cuban-style link in a humidor, he said.
The Hurricanes begin fall football camp on Friday, just a month before they open the 2019 season against the Florida Gators at Camping World Stadium in Orlando. As such, Diaz likened the start of the season to setting sail at sea.
“It’s a never-ending series of things that need to be fixed,” he said, referring to what motivates him. “But that’s what you want. We’re compelled to see our players improve.”