Auburn Football: Manny Diaz Should Be a Defensive Coordinator Candidate


It’s a time of change for the Auburn football program. Just two years after he was hired as Gus Malzahn’s defensive coordinator, Ellis Johnson was shown the door following a disappointing second half of the season, which culminated with an historic 55-44 loss to top ranked Alabama.

“At this time I felt it was best for our program to make a change with our defensive coordinator,” Malzahn said in a statement released by the university. “Ellis is a true professional and I would like to thank him for his contributions at Auburn.”

Johnson has had a great career as a DC, and by all accounts he is a good man, but it just didn’t work out at Auburn. For whatever reason, the Tigers have struggled on the defensive side of the football under Johnson, and have finished in the bottom half of the SEC in every major statistical category in each of the last two seasons.

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Through the 12-game regular season this year, Auburn ranks tenth among 14 SEC squads scoring defense, allowing 26.1 points per game. The Tigers have the ninth best total defense (388.7 yards per game), have given up the eighth most rushing yards on average (149.1 yards per game), and finished worse than only one other squad defending the pass (239.2 yards per game).

Overall, the Auburn defense allowed 5.6 yards per play and has surrendered at least 31 points in each of the team’s last six SEC games (averaging 39 points per game), four of which were losses.

As Johnson said in the same release, his firing is part of the business. Though it is the roughest part, he’ll find work soon if he wants it. Either way, the university still owes the veteran DC somewhere between $1.7 million and $2.2 million through the year 2017.

And, because it’s part of this business, we’ll take a look at some of the candidates that could join the Auburn football coaching staff as defensive coordinator from now until Malzahn names one.

The first? Louisiana Tech’s Manny Diaz.

He might not be a sexy name right now – yes, many Auburn football fans want Will Muschamp and he would be a fantastic hire – but it wasn’t that long ago that Diaz was the hottest name in coaching.

Diaz was the defensive coordinator at Texas for three seasons (2011-13), but was fired early in 2013 after a disappointing start by the Longhorns. Looking back, he certainly wasn’t the root of the issues the program faced, and head coach Mack Brown left at the end of the season.

Dec 29, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns defesive coordinator Manny Diaz (center) and cornerback Quandre Diggs (6) react against the Oregon State Beavers during the second half of the Alamo Bowl at the Alamodome. Texas beat Oregon State 31-27. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

His first two years in Austin, the Longhorns had one solid defense and one great defense. In 2012, Texas allowed only 212 passing yards per game in the pass-happy Big 12. A year earlier, Diaz coordinated the best unit in the Big 12 and the squad led the league in total defense, rushing defense and pass defense.

Prior to becoming the DC at Texas, Diaz had one very successful season at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs ranked in the nation’s top 25 statistically in 2010, won nine games, and held Gus Malzahn and Cam Newton to 17 points.

“We had to earn it,” Malzahn said about the 2010 game prior to this year’s contest against Louisiana Tech, “and we were fortunate to win that night.”

Diaz’s defense held the Tigers to 190 rushing yards that day, which was the second fewest of the 2010 National Championship season.

Before his season at MSU, Diaz worked as the defensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee State for four seasons, as a position coach at NC State, and was a member of the staff at Florida State during the glory years of the late 1990s.

Diaz learned from guys like Mickey Andrews and Chuck Amato at FSU and NC State, and he’s a linebackers coach (like Ellis Johnson), but also has coached safeties specifically in addition to his coordinating duties.

A Diaz-coached defense faced Auburn again this season, a game the Tigers won 45-17. Louisiana Tech surrendered 473 total yards in the loss, 285 on the ground and 219 through the air. The Tigers averaged 6.8 yards on 70 plays. The defense allowed five touchdowns and Quan Bray had a punt return for a score.

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  • Since the loss at Jordan-Hare Stadium knocked the Bulldogs to 2-3, they’ve won six of their last seven games. Most recently, LA Tech captured the Conference USA West title with a 76-31 win over Rice.

    Against the Owls, Diaz’s defense allowed only 34 rushing yards, forced four turnovers, including three interceptions, and had three sacks. Tech scored 20 points off those turnovers, which increased the squad’s lead as the nation’s leader with 12.5 points off of turnovers per contest.

    Plus, the Bulldogs now rank second in the nation with 24 interceptions, setting a new school record. They also have 96 tackles for a loss, 30 sacks and have forced 11 fumbles.

    The Bulldogs have limited opponents to 349.6 yards per game, which isn’t dominant statistically but includes performances against a couple of great programs – Auburn and Oklahoma. In conference play, Louisiana Tech has allowed 19.9 points per game, and they’ve done it with an offense that has scored 38.8 points per game overall (44.6 against C-USA opponents).

    A couple of additional items to consider: Diaz is a Miami native and is very familiar with the southeastern states the Auburn football program recruits most. Furthermore, his defensive system is somewhat unique – it’s simple to understand for the players, but difficult to decipher for offensive coaches. If you’re interested in the nuts and bolts, X’s and O’s of it,  See more here.

    “I’ve got a lot of respect for him,” Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said before this year’s game with Louisiana Tech. “He has a very unique style that’s unique to him — and he’s been really good at it.”

    You can watch Diaz in action again this weekend as the Bulldogs face Marshall in the C-USA Championship. The game airs Saturday at 11AM Central on ESPN2.

    Next: ESPN Reports Mutual Interest Between Muschamp and Auburn

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