Diaz moving forward at MSU

New Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz met with the media for the first time on Wednesday. Diaz spoke about returning to the Bulldogs after four years and what his plans are for the future.

Below is a transcript from Diaz’ media session:

Opening Statement…
“I’m delighted and excited to be here. I’m really excited about being at Mississippi State. I would like to thank Dan (Mullen) and Megan (Mullen), their relationship really meant a lot, Scott Stricklin, just the people. The more you’re in this profession the more you realize you win with people, and the people that we here that I had always maintained a relationship with were a big part in getting this thing done. I also need to make sure I thank (Louisiana Tech head coach) Skip Holtz, (Louisiana Tech athletic director) Tommy McClelland and (President) Dr. (Les) Guice at Louisiana Tech. I’m probably coming off one of the most gratifying and most fulfilling years of coaching that I’ve had. We had a special team this past year at Louisiana Tech, and the players there did an outstanding job defensively and really had a special season. It’s always fun to go, but it’s always hard to leave in this profession. I left behind some really good people and some really good players there at Louisiana Tech.

That being said, I don’t look at this as a going back. I look at this as a going forward. I know I’m a much better coach today than I was here four years ago. Mississippi State is a very different place today. This football program is at a much different place today than it was four years ago. I have always felt a sense of pride in the continued steps that Dan and the program have taken in the time I’ve been gone, cumulating this year with being No. 1 in the country. You always felt a little pride in terms of having a hand in kind of getting it going in that direction. A lot of players in this year’s class were the fifth-year seniors and guys who redshirted when I was here. Seeing those guys have a great year this year winning ten games, from afar, was neat to see. It’s a different dynamic. I look at this as going forward, not going backwards. I’m really anxious to see all the players when they come back for school and get started.”

On watching film from the 2014 season…
“I have. We’ve actually jumped right into it. As a defensive staff, we have been in our meeting room going through cut-ups all day (Tuesday) and all day today. Obviously, Geoff (Collins) and I have known each other a long time. Geoff and I knew each other long before any one cared who Geoff and Manny were. I think he was at Western Carolina and I was at NC State just getting started. We’ve always maintained a great relationship. I was very excited for Geoff when he came here, and I have the upmost respect for the job he did defensively this year. I think defense is a culture. I think the culture Dan has instilled here will always breed playing out defense that’s No. 1 on the plan to win, and everyone that comes to this program understands the first way you win football games is that you must play great defense. It’s not a suggestion. It’s an expectation. It’s an expectation that will continue regardless of who is defensive coordinator. I’m happy to be in charge of making sure that happens.”

On being a different coach that four years ago…
“So many things have changed. I think through experience. It could be tactically in terms of how the scheme evolves over time. Like all of us in any profession just how you learn from experience. Sometimes the experiences of life it cements what you really know matters and is important for success. Any time in this profession that you’re able to rub elbows with other people and be other places and be exposed to ideas and go up against different styles of offense, that obviously grows you as a coach. There’s no doubt that when you have a chance to put it all together again and get it going and really install the latest version of this defense this past year at Louisiana Tech, and then to have the year that we did and have it look the way that you want it to look in terms of leading the nation in turnovers, second in the nation in tackles for loss, first in points off turnovers, but the stat I’m probably most proud of is we led the nation in field position for our offense. Our offense at Louisiana Tech had the No. 1 field position advantage of anyone in the country. That’s my main goal here. What I have to do is I’ve got to get the ball back for (quarterback) Dak Prescott. That’s realistically what I’m trying to accomplish. We have an offense that I think is really exciting and has some exciting players on it, and you win football games by giving them the football as close to opponent’s goal line as you possibly can. When you do that, that’s part of the plan to win, and that’s how one side compliments the other.”

On anticipating staff changes…
“I don’t think so, no. We’ve already jumped right in. I think it’s an outstanding staff of guys. Deshea (Townsend), David (Turner) and of course Tony (Hughes) who I was with the time before. They are really good coaches but also really good people. The more you’re around this, that really matters. This is a hard job in terms of what we do. You have to have people you trust and respect. You have to have everybody pointing the same direction. We all have to be singing out of the same hymn book. The greatest thing about college football is that there are so many ways to win. There can be so many different styles and there are so many ways to do it. You watch it every year. There are vastly different styles of teams that could win, but you have got to be committed to who you are. The teams that try to be a little of everything, the teams that are not fully committed, those are the ones you can’t put a finger on why they struggle, but they just do. Those are really good guys, and we’re getting on the same page in terms of what we’ve done. There are things terminology wise that have not changed from what we installed here four years ago. There will be a comfort sense for the players so that when they walk back in on Monday it will sound the same as it was when they left last month.”

On timeline of his decision to become defensive coordinator…
“It really happened pretty quickly. Then end of last week is really when the first legitimate conversation happened, of course with the bowl game being on Dec. 31. Sunday was the day we sort of sat down and talked it out. Dan is a guy that I personally like and respect, and professionally we wanted to sit down and talk about how we’re not the same people we were four years ago. It doesn’t seem like a long time, then you start comparing ages of your kids in time. None of us have aged a bit, but those kids have. Time does fly. Part of it was us getting together and talking about where we are professionally and how what are expectations were.”

On working well with Mullen…
“I think we see the game in the same way. Dan’s a guy that has always tried to challenge the establishment of ‘is there a better way to do it?’  Dan wants everything we do as a program to be  well thought out. He knows that preparation is where confidence comes from, and we can’t just be haphazard and throw things on the wall and hope it sticks. I enjoy working for him because he challenges me and challenges me intellectually. You always want to know that what you’re doing is sound. In some ways I think I can do the same for him. I enjoy practicing against one another and going about it to where iron sharpens iron.”

On facilities changing since 2010…
“It’s amazing the difference. Just walking through the (Seal Complex), that building was a dream when I was here. It might have been a drawing. I remember the idea of it becoming real, but a shovel wasn’t even close to touching the ground. I haven’t seen that building since Sunday. Getting a chance to see that and seeing the renovations of the stadium, I mean, that’s a different place. The depressing thing for me is that we have eight more months to get in there and play. But just listen to the guys talk that have been here for the long haul and talk about the difference in the atmosphere now with that one end closed off, it’s dramatic. The (Seal Complex), that’s a game changer with the way you recruit. The whole level of expectation in terms of our players having as fine of a facility in the country, that’s a big deal. There was something missing when I was here in the past. We had an older building, but there was something in that building every day I was here that’s not in this building. We’re about to go find it and go get it back.”

On talking with players…
“They will all be coming back in town the next couple of days. We’re in a situation now because this week school is out and we’re dead in recruiting. They’ll all be coming back and our convention starts this weekend then we hit the road after that. It’s always tough in the month of January because sometimes we’re gone more than we’re here, but I’ll try and get in front of all those guys and communicate with them and begin that relationship and begin to earn their trust.”

On returning players and developing schemes to compliment talent…
“This is a player-development job. I’m first and foremost looking forward to seeing how they work in our offseason program. Then you’ll go watch them in the spring. The first thing they have to do regardless of who is coaching is they have to better than they were a year ago. For any team to be successful, it’s a big push for your players to continue to improve. That’s what really great players are obsessed with, just constant improvement. After that, when you get through spring practice, you get a chance to see the guys in summer, then you can say, ‘You know what? This is what this guy does really well.’ Certainly, we have always tried to be multiple enough defensively to try to cater to the strengths of the players to put them in the best position to succeed.”

On taking in returning players’ input…
“The input they show is what they do in practice and where they are productive. If you let them all vote you will get 11 different votes. They couldn’t decide what to have on a pizza let alone what to run defensively. They know the core of who we are won’t change dramatically. They know we’re going to be aggressive. They know we’re going to be hunting the negative play. They know we’re going to be trying to force the offense into making mistakes. It’s a relentless level of attack. I have not been around a player that does not enjoy doing that. As you know, we still play in the Southeastern Conference in the western division, and no one will have any sympathy for us having to learn something in year one. It’s very similar to coming here the time before. The expectation is that we have to have this thing battle ready by the time the foot hits the ball in August and September.”

On similarities between his first arrival and second arrival…
“Obviously, the expectation level has change, for a good thing. In the transition between 2009 and 2010 we were trying to learn what it was all about. Even as the year was going on, because that was a special year and a very rewarding year to coach on that team, but you still didn’t know. We were learning what it took to get over that hump. Now that you see what they have done since then, in the player’s level of expectation for their performance has changed. That will be the thing coming in as a coach, to push that and say what we have done is all outstanding. The thing is, the 10 wins are all erased now. Just like everybody else we start at zero. We’re in a league that the way people get after each other is second to none so we have to attack this thing, and, really, we have to raise our expectation. As high as it’s been, our standards have to be beyond. We have to be better. If we’re the same as we are last year we’re not going to get the same results. We’re going to be worse. We’ve got to find a way to get better with what we have coming back.”

On former players endorsing him to return to Mississippi State via Twitter…
“The guys that matter are the guys in the locker room. Guys like Johnthan (Banks) and some of the other guys (I) have been able to keep in touch with even since I’ve been gone, certainly Chris (White) and K.J. (Wright), that’s what you want. You’re doing a lot more with these guys than ‘kill the man with the ball.’ A lot of times you’re really trying to change their level of expectations of how they view themselves in their life in going forward. In reality, what makes you a good defensive football player is also going to make you a good father and good husband one day. The lessons are all the same. I think when the players get that’s what you’re in it for, and you’re in it for legitimately the betterment of their self, that’s where you can have a long term relationship with those guys. It’s not just with players I have coached here at Mississippi State. Even in my past stops I have had the ability to keep up with those guys. It was good to hear what Johnthan said, and I appreciate him saying that. I think back to some fun memories that we had back in 2010, and that’s the same level of trust we have to build now. Any time a coach does leave – and I get it, I’ve been on both sides as you all know – it’s a little awkward for the players. There’s kind of a strange feeling, and I get it. But we have to get over it quick. We have to learn who we are and what we’re all about and get rolling.”

On assessing talent level on current team…
“I think it would be unfair to say that for a couple different reasons. One, as a coach you’re never really sure what they are asked to do. You don’t want to make assumptions based on what they look like just on tape. You really want to get them on the grass and go find out what you really have. Second, how would you have made that assumption from watching the 2009 defense on tape? If you look at Chris (White) and K.J. (Wright), for example, their production between their junior year and their senior year was night and day, to the point where it may have vaulted them up a couple rounds in the draft, and they are well aware of that. The expectation for our players is that they have got to play better than they played last year. It’s just the only way it works, and it’s the only way to be a great college football team. I think when the year is over maybe it’s more fair to compare errors in times, but right now, certainly, I know the recruiting efforts have been going well for a while. There are certainly a lot of talented players that are leaving us, that are walking out the door. As I mentioned, at my house when we had the opportunity we would watch Mississippi State because I enjoyed watching the guys. I would tell my kids, ‘He was a redshirt the year we were there. Look at that guy make a play.’ But that means it’s a lot of reps. When fifth year seniors walk out the door, those guys have been going up and down on the squat rack a lot of times over five year. They’ve been on the field coached on their footwork a lot of times, and when they graduate all those reps go away. There will be some big shoes to replace, but that’s the nature of college football.”

On what to look for in players while watching film from 2014…
“The first thing you look for is effort, which you know in a Dan Mullen program with that strength staff that is here there is going to be relentless effort. Of course Geoff (Collins) and those guys did a great job of coaching that. What I look for is I look for toughness. I look for who runs to contact as opposed to who runs through contact. One of the things that I really love about coaching the kids we get through recruiting is the kids here run through contact. I know that every defensive call works better when you have a defense that runs through contact instead of running to contact. You’re getting a feel for that, you’re getting a feel for the physicality of some guys, you’re getting a feel for how they play in space, how they tackle, how they shed blocks and some change of direction things. The mistake you make coming in new is if you start making assessments of people based on what you have seen because you really don’t know. You really don’t know what their state of mind was at that point. You want to get a fresh start because the first thing you have to press upon is that they all have to improve. No matter what they did on film, and no matter how good it is, it has got to be better.”

On decision to remain at Mississippi State for several years…
“I told Dan this is the last defensive coordinator job I ever want to take. It’s the last defensive coordinator job I ever intend to take. You have goals in terms of what you want to do. You have goals in terms of where you want to be, and this is it. This is where I want to coach defense. This is why, and again working out the contract stuff with Scott (Stricklin), we want to make sure that we made a pretty big statement that I want to be the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State. That’s why we all wanted this. That was an issue with all of us to make sure that is what we wanted, and nobody flinched.”

I have covered Mississippi State in some capacity since 2004 and joined the Daily Journal staff in 2013. I enjoy short walks on the beach, performing concerts in my car and watching professional wrestling.

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