Manny Diaz's fast turnaround
The Longhorns rank atop the Big 12 in most defensive categories
AUSTIN, Texas -- Mack Brown had to sell the recruits first.
"How are we going to make this fly as a positive?" the Texas coach thought.
All Brown had done for an entire season was to try and turn seemingly overwhelming negatives into positives. And while he spins as well as any pundit, this was news that could leave Brown and his program corkscrewed into the ground.
"If you all will hold your commitment till I get through, and if you don't like who I hire, I will let each one of you go without a fight," Brown told the recruits. "But if you'll trust me, and just let me hire the best guy I can hire, you'll be happy in the end.''
Manny Diaz has put smiles on every face. The up-and-comer with an uppercut-style of defense also has put Texas back in a bowl and fear back into the Longhorns' opponents.
"Oh they are good," Baylor coach Art Briles said. "They are really good."
In the past five weeks only two defenses have been statistically better -- LSU and Alabama. Texas has allowed 249 yards per game over that time span. In the past three weeks, it has allowed one scoring drive of more than 60 yards. The defense ranks first in many of the top Big 12 stats and is second in points allowed per game at 21. (Oklahoma allowed .2 points per game fewer than Texas.)
"We're not trying to be the best in the Big 12," linebacker Emmanuel Acho said. "We're trying to be the best in the nation. That's the goal."
The goal nearly a year ago was to find someone who could help the players do just that. Diaz was not at the top of the list.
"He started working up [the list] quickly," Brown said. "The more I would ask, the more I got interested."
Through his old Florida State connections, Chuck Amato and Mickey Andrews, Brown started to hear about Diaz. A few calls were made, and Brown, with plenty of time to spare since his team was going to a bowl, decided to watch Diaz's Mississippi State defense play Denard Robinson and Michigan in the Gator Bowl.
"I thought I would sit there and watch that game and if I got excited about what I saw then I would call him the next day," Brown said. "They were down 14-0 and I was looking at my other lists."
Michigan, which was actually up 14-6, didn't score another point. Brown had Diaz on a plane the next day. Twenty-four hours later, Diaz agreed to bring his unconventional mishmash defense to Texas.
The playbook, hundreds of pages thick and in a black binder, arrived in Acho's hands not too long after that. Acho wouldn't give away just how many different fronts and blitzes Texas has tucked away in that book. During the Kansas week, the Jayhawks' coaching staff counted 180 different blitzes used by Texas through the season. Acho just smiled at that number.
That's what Diaz does, he challenges convention and himself to think of new and different ways to play defense. Sure as safety Kenny Vaccaro said: "It all comes down to the same thing, we put people in different areas and run to the same spots each week. But each week the players run and tackle with a more enthusiasm, because they are in different spots and doing different things."
"To me, I always felt like you wanted it to be fun for the kids," Diaz said. "We want our guys coming into the building on Wednesday saying, 'What do you have this week coach?'
"If you go with same-old, same-old thing, you are going to get the same-old, same-old practice. When you tell the nose guard that he is going to drop back up to Sam linebacker spot, all the sudden he thinks it's like some KGB stuff that came from an East German spy so it has to work. Whether it does or doesn't is sort of irrelevant. If they think it's going to work, then you've got it half whipped right there."
To make sure the defense gets the opponent fully whipped, Diaz also has gotten his players to take ownership of the scheme.
"Coach Diaz, from the time that he came, he told us that if we can figure this defense out and we show the dedication throughout the week to know the tendencies, then he is going to give us all the freedom in the world," senior Blake Gideon said. "Really, whenever he is calling the play, he is giving us the base, and we have the ability to look at an offense and look at each other and make different adjustments. It's that ownership that we are able to have some control out there."
Control over the future is something no one, least of all Brown has. Diaz's name already has started to be floated in circles as possible head coaching material. Brown knows it. He accepts it too.
"What I know is if any of our coaches are leaving, it means we're winning big, usually, so I like it," he said. "When you're winning big, you can hire a good coach here. I constantly look who is out there."
That doesn't mean he wants to look for a defensive coordinator again after the season. But Brown is interested in one search.
"Manny is looking for a house, so I think that's a good thing," Brown said. "And I think he's looking in the city limits."
Carter Strickland covers University of Texas football and recruiting for HornsNationFollow HornsNation's coverage on Twitter: @ESPNHornsNation