Duke hires Penn State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz as head coach to replace Mike Elko

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Duke has Penn State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz as its next coach, the team announced Thursday. Diaz just wrapped up his second season on coach James Franklin’s staff as the No. 10 Nittany Lions prepare to face No. 11 Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 30. 

“Manny’s previous experiences have prepared him for this opportunity, and he is, quite simply, an outstanding football coach who will capitalize on the positive momentum of this program,” Duke athletic director Nina King said in a press release. “An elite communicator and collaborator, Manny possesses the dynamic ability to cultivate impactful relationships with internal and external constituents surrounding a successful football program. As Duke’s head football coach, I am confident that Manny will lead the young men in our program to reach and surpass their aspirations of achievement both on and off the field.”

Under Diaz, Penn State’s defense finished the regular season atop the FBS, limiting opponents to 223.3 yards on average. The Nittany Lions were also third in scoring defense at an average of 11.4 points allowed, only trailing Big Ten foes Ohio State and Michigan, which served as Penn State’s only two defeats in 2023. Diaz’s unit previously finished No. 16 in total defense among FBS teams during the 2022 season as the Nittany Lions ended the year with a Rose Bowl victory against Utah

“We are grateful and humbled for this opportunity and could not be more excited to be the head football coach at Duke University,” Diaz said in a press release. “I’d like to give a special thanks to Dr. Price and Nina for their trust in me and our family as well as a true commitment to this program. Duke University is an elite institution in every facet, and we are excited to be a part of it. I’m beyond excited to get to work.”

This will be Diaz’s second coaching stint in the ACC after guiding Miami from 2019-21. He was 21-15 overall with the Hurricanes before being replaced by Mario Cristobal. Diaz was previously Miami’s defensive coordinator from 2016-18 before earning the promotion after ex-Hurricanes coach Mark Richt retired. 

Diaz will replace Mike Elko, who left Duke after two seasons to take the job at Texas A&M, where Elko was previously defensive coordinator. Elko guided the Blue Devils to nine wins during his 2022 debut in Durham, North Carolina, and started this season 5-1 before injuries derailed the season to 7-5. 

Duke is set to conclude its 2023 season against Troy in the Birmingham Bowl on Dec. 23. Associate head coach and running backs coach Trooper Taylor is serving as interim coach until Elko’s replacement is finalized.

Diaz’s ACC experience could pay off

Diaz’s time at Miami ended in controversy through no fault of his own. The Hurricanes entered 2021 ranked 14th in the AP Top 25 but dropped out after a 2-4 start to the season, including three losses to unranked opponents. Amid swirling rumors about his future with the program, Diaz rallied the troops and closed the year with a 5-1 record and wins against a pair of top-20 teams in NC State and Pittsburgh.  

It ultimately wasn’t enough to save his job. Miami publicly pursued Mario Cristobal, then the coach at Oregon, while Diaz was under contract. On Dec. 6, 2021, the Hurricanes finally pulled the plug on Diaz’s tenure and reeled Cristobal in not long after. 

Still, Diaz never had a losing regular season as an ACC head coach. He posted a 12-5 conference record in his last two years with Miami and led the Hurricanes to three straight bowl berths — though they had to pull out of the 2021 Sun Bowl due to a rise in COVID-19 cases in the program. All three of Miami’s signing classes under Diaz finished top five in the ACC, and the Hurricanes’ 2021 crop took the No. 11 spot in 247Sports’ Team Composite rankings. 

Wave of change for Penn State

Penn State will have to replace both its coordinators in the same athletic year for the first time since 2015-16. That year, the Nittany Lions fired offensive coordinator John Donovan and lost defensive coordinator Bob Shoop to another job. PSU relieved offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich of his duties in November, one day after the team mustered just 15 points in a loss to Michigan. 

Franklin acted quickly to find Yurcich’s replacement. Penn State introduced former Kansas play-caller Andy Kotelnicki as its next offensive coordinator on Dec. 1, giving the program a bright young offensive mind that’s on the rise in the college football coaching sphere. 

With the early signing period less than two weeks away, Penn State will likely want to keep that same expedited timetable when it comes to finding Diaz’s replacement. Whoever takes the mantle will be PSU’s fourth different defensive coordinator since Franklin took over in 2014.

 

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