While the college football world focused on the pageantry of the Army-Navy game and the pomp of the Heisman Trophy ceremony this Saturday, Penn State slid under the radar and made one of the more consequential coordinator hires of this offseason.

Faced with the dilemma of replacing defensive coordinator Brent Pry after he was hired as Virginia Tech’s new head coach, James Franklin pulled the ideal replacement from out of the unemployment ether. Manny Diaz, recently deposed as Miami’s head coach in what was more coup d’etat than outright firing, is the Nittany Lions’ new defensive coordinator.

It’s about as good an outcome as both sides could ask for.

For Franklin, replacing Pry is one of his career’s greatest challenges.

Franklin and Pry were attached at the hip, working together for 11 years. Franklin trusted Pry enough to name him co-defensive coordinator upon landing the Vanderbilt job. Trusted him enough to bring him along on his first Penn State staff as linebackers coach, then promote him to defensive coordinator after 2 seasons.

Franklin isn’t just looking for a new defensive coordinator. He’s looking for a new right-hand man.

Why Manny Diaz will work at Penn State

There’s a reason Diaz got the Miami job without any previous head coaching experience — the man can prepare a defense.

In his 6 seasons at Miami as defensive coordinator and then head coach, the Hurricanes were a Top 20 defense in a multitude of categories.


  • Total defense (20th)
  • Scoring defense (12th)
  • Yards Per Play (9th)
  • Tackles for loss (5th)


  • Sacks (1st)
  • Tackles for loss (3rd)
  • Yards Per Play (9th)


  • Total defense (4th)
  • Pass defense (1st)
  • Tackles for loss (1st)
  • Third-down percentage (1st)


  • Total defense (13th)
  • Pass defense (13th)
  • Rush defense (17th)
  • Sacks (7th)
  • Tackles for loss (6th)


  • Sacks (17th)
  • Tackles for loss (4th)


  • Tackles for loss (11th)

The astute observer will notice the diminishing returns the past 2 seasons, which go a long way in explaining why Diaz was available in the first place. From a Penn State perspective, the hope is that’s reflective of Diaz’s struggles in becoming a head coach rather than his defensive acumen.

There is one red flag in Diaz’s past in that regard, though at this point it it pretty far in the past.

His tenure at Texas ended in disaster in 2013. Diaz’s defense turned Taysom Hill into a college football cult hero, as Hill gained  259 of BYU’s school-record 550 rushing yards. It was only Week 2, but the indignity was too much for the Longhorns to keep Diaz around.

The humiliation was short-lived. A year later, Diaz coordinated Louisiana Tech’s defense to a nation-best 42 takeaways. He’s been back at the Power 5 level ever since, save for the 17 days he spent as Temple’s head coach before Mark Richt’s surprise retirement brought him back to Miami.

What Diaz’s hire won’t do for Penn State

Thus far, every Diaz defense improved in Year 1 of his tenure. That bodes extremely well for a Nittany Lions defense that was 7th nationally in scoring this season.

With all respect to Michigan’s magical season, Ohio State remains the gold standard in the Big Ten East. The key to beating the Buckeyes is somehow stymying their explosive offense, which the Wolverines were able to do this season behind defensive ends Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo.

A Diaz defense, which traditionally gets a lot of sacks and TFLs, will have potential to cause the same kind of havoc.

But that wasn’t the only thing that put Michigan ahead of Ohio State this year. The other? An offensive line that mauled the Buckeyes up front, allowing the Wolverines to control the game’s tempo and keep Ohio State’s offense off the field.

For all the things Diaz’s hire should do to benefit Penn State, the ability to make the Nittany Lions control the line of scrimmage on offense is not one of them. And that remains the actual biggest concern facing Franklin this offseason.

The past 2 seasons, Penn State finished 69th and 112th nationally in tackles for loss allowed. Despite that horrid stretch, Phil Trautwein appears headed into his 3rd year as Franklin’s offensive line coach.

Unless Penn State’s offensive line makes a dramatic jump in 2022, the addition of Diaz as defensive coordinator will do little to bridge the gap with Ohio State. It merely prevents the Nittany Lions from falling farther back in an increasingly crowded Big Ten East pack.