- Carter Strickland, Reporter, HornsNation
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AUSTIN, Texas -- In the beginning, when nobody knew, the questions were everywhere.
Manny Diaz? One year as a coordinator at a not-big-time school in a big-time conference? Not a guy on Mack Brown's original list? Didn't play college football? Was a production assistant at ESPN before being a graduate assistant at Florida State?
Could it all go from (Coach) Boom to bust?
A year later with more than a few creative turns of phrases -- "We all want to be singing out of the same hymnal" -- and blitz packages -- there are more than 100 -- Diaz has become as crucial to Texas as burnt is to orange. The Longhorns improved in just about every major statistical category from Will Muschamp's 2010 season -- points allowed (23.7 to 22.2), rushing yards allowed (138 to 96), touchdowns allowed (21 to 15) and opponent's third down efficiency (37 to 34 percent).
Now the time has come for year two. Diaz knows the personnel. The personnel know him. He understands the league. And he doesn't care what anyone else expects, because he has expectations of his own that most likely exceed those of others.
"Whether people think -- and I have been on both sides of it -- you have a good team coming back or you don't have a good team coming back, it doesn't matter," Diaz said. "We still, in our room, when we meet as a defense, we set our expectations for how we should perform."
The way Texas has preformed has been a testament to Diaz. Upon his arrival from Mississippi State, he inherited a defense that had been ranked in the top 10 in total defense the previous two years. And while he might have kept a few players from defecting after Muschamp went to Florida, Diaz did not have a direct hand in recruiting any of the defensive starters. Still Texas managed to finish No. 11 in total defense despite having an offense that put it in precarious positions week after week.
Diaz did it with personality and scheme.
"Each scheme works in its own way," defensive end Alex Okafor said. "Each scheme has its own strengths and weakness. But coach Diaz, he is just a different personality than Muschamp. Coach Muschamp is more intense. Coach Diaz is more laid back."
That's not to say Diaz allowed the nuances of what Muschamp had built to slip past him. He knew there was a foundation of success in place, but he also knew he had a few blocks of his own to add.
"We have had some success here in the past years, and we have been able to bridge a lot of concepts together," said defensive backs coach Duane Akina, a 12-year assistant at Texas. "I think this is a different league than the Southeast Conference, and as the year went on, I think you could feel how he shifted gears."
It's that versatility, and willingness to make those changes, however subtle, that allowed Texas to survive a year in which the offense could not score and in which the defense was feeling its way through some new schemes. What also proved to be key is that the players bought in to Diaz.
"The players trust in the leadership," Akina said. "That is key in what you are doing."
They have trusted because the schemes have worked. And what Diaz was doing in meetings and on the practice field were working too. Now because of all that work, Diaz and his defense are poised to work on being one of the top defenses in the country.
Not that Diaz is too mindful of stats.
"It is very hard sometimes to judge defensive performance by the stats that are available to the general public," he said. "That is one big point we had to make with all the offseason attention that we got is that we will still value our opinion and the opinion of people we play against. That is how we will know whether we are playing well or not playing well."
There is also another more tangible measureable that the general public can easily see and fixate on -- the scoreboard. Diaz has that in check too.
"If the offense gets us 40 and we hold them to 39 we have met our goal," he said.
If Texas scores 40, it might be Diaz's job to revive fans or even sideline personnel who pass out from surprise. But the idea is there. So too is the personnel. From defensive tackle Brandon Moore -- "There will be a ball thrown to the flat and here he comes. If you're a running back or a wide receiver on the screen and that guy is coming, then it is like the sun disappears" -- to safety Kenny Vaccaro, who returned for his senior season, Texas is stacked with its first 11 and has one of the deepest defensive lines in the country.
"Our goal is to be undefeated, and the defense is responsible for that," Diaz said.
Do that and those around Texas will have one more question about Diaz: How long can they keep him?
1hEthan Sherwood Strauss