The 36-year-old defensive coordinator and linebackers coach accepted the same position at Texas on Wednesday, just two days after first being contacted about the job.
“It all happened very quickly,” Diaz told the Daily Journal on Wednesday night. “Not something I’d ever searched out, had never made a phone call. It just sort of came about, but sometimes that’s what gets your ears up. When they call like that out of the blue, you have to listen.”
Diaz was contacted by Texas on Monday night and flew to Austin on Tuesday morning, spending about 24 hours there. He was offered the job Monday night.
Upon returning Tuesday, Diaz spoke with MSU head coach Dan Mullen, who was out of town, over the phone and athletics director Scott Stricklin face-to-face before making his decision. Each made their case for him to stay, to no avail.
“I wanted to make sure he felt comfortable about it,” Stricklin said. “I asked questions and wanted to make sure he understood how much we thought of him, how much we wanted him to stay. I also want to be respectful of his thoughts and his thought process.”
Said Diaz, “There’s probably two or three places in the country that I would’ve entertained leaving to, and either fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, Texas was absolutely one of them.”
While Texas had a down year in 2010, going 5-7, it ranked sixth in the nation in total defense. The Longhorns are only five years removed from a BCS national title.
“It’s a place that they’re accustomed to winning, they’re accustomed to playing great defense,” said Diaz. “They’re in a state where football is king. It means a lot to them to be great at football.”
Diaz’s profile has risen rapidly.
He was a production assistant for ESPN in the mid-1990s before becoming a volunteer assistant coach at Florida State in 1998. He spent two years there and then became an N.C. State assistant from 2000-05.
After a strong four-year run as Middle Tennessee State’s defensive coordinator, Diaz was hired by MSU coach Dan Mullen last January.
The Miami native did a lot in one year.
Diaz took over a defense that ranked among the SEC’s worst in 2009 and made it into one of the best. Behind an aggressive style, the Bulldogs ranked third in the SEC in scoring defense (20.3 points per game), third in rushing defense (121.7 yards per game), and fourth in red zone defense (77.8 percent).
State throttled Michigan, 52-14, in the Gator Bowl on Saturday, with dynamic quarterback Denard Robinson limited to a season-low 59 rushing yards.
In a news release, Texas head coach Mack Brown said Diaz’s name kept coming up in conversations with other coaches around the country.
“Manny’s a guy who has been involved in developing modernized schemes that have given coaches around the country problems,” Brown said. “Very rarely did I talk to a person I trust who didn’t bring Manny’s name up. I think he’s in the same mode of the great defensive coordinators we’ve had over the past several years at Texas.”
Diaz replaces Will Muschamp, the former coach-in-waiting who left after three seasons to become Florida’s head coach.
“It’s a very, very unique situation that just doesn’t come around every day,” Diaz said, “and you got there and you looked at it, and you just had to go there and see what you can do.”
The next defensive coordinator will be MSU’s fifth in as many years. Chris Wilson, hired along with Diaz last year as co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach, is likely a top candidate.
Stricklin deferred to Mullen on the search.
“Dan will handle that, and I’ll be there to offer any assistance and advice or anything he needs,” Stricklin said. “But obviously, he has a pretty keen eye for talented coaches, and I expect he’ll put that to good use here.”
Mullen did not return calls seeking comment.
MSU is still looking to replace Mark Hudspeth, who served as receivers coach for two seasons before taking the head post at UL-Lafayette last month.
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571