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Duke taps Penn State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz as next head football coach

Penn State Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers coach Manny Diaz walks the sidelines during an NCAA college football game against Illinois Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Champaign, Ill.
Charles Rex Arbogast
Penn State Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz walks the sidelines during an NCAA college football game against Illinois Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Champaign, Ill.

Duke University has found its next football coach.

And like his predecessor, his background is on the defensive side of the field.

Manny Diaz will take the reins of the Blue Devils, Duke athletic director Nina King announced Thursday night. Diaz, 49, succeeds Mike Elko, who left Duke on Nov. 27 after two winning seasons to become the head coach at Texas A&M.

Diaz will be formally introduced at an on-campus press conference Saturday.

"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," King said in a statement. "An elite communicator and collaborator, Manny possesses the dynamic ability to cultivate impactful relationships with internal and external constituents surrounding a successful football program."

This will not be Diaz’s first time working in the Atlantic Coast Conference, nor will it be his first stint as a head coach. The Miami, Florida native was the head coach at the University of Miami from 2019 through 2021. He guided the Hurricanes to a 21-15 record and three bowl appearances over three seasons before he was fired for failing to live up to the outsized expectations of the university's administration.

Elko hired three of Diaz's former Miami assistants to his Duke staff: strength coach David Feeley, defensive line coach Jess Simpson, and cornerbacks coach Ishmael Aristide.

Most recently, Diaz has been the defensive coordinator at Penn State over the last two seasons. In each of those years, the Nittany Lions had a top 10 nationally ranked defense in points-allowed per-game, giving up 18.2 in 2022 and 11.4 this season. Penn State has gone 21-4 with Diaz leading the defense, including a win in last season’s Rose Bowl. Penn State is allowing just 3.91 yards per play this season, which is the best mark by a Football Bowl Subdivision team since 2012.

"Duke University is an elite institution in every facet, and we are excited to be a part of it," Diaz said in a statement. "I'm beyond excited to get to work."

This also won’t be Diaz’s first time coaching football in North Carolina’s Triangle. From 2000 to 2005, he was an assistant coach at N.C. State under Chuck Amato, working with linebackers, safeties and the special teams.

Another Triangle connection for Diaz: He coached under current UNC-Chapel Hill football coach Mack Brown at Texas, serving as the Longhorns defensive coordinator from 2011 through 2013 until Brown fired him after Texas gave up 550 yards to BYU.

Under Elkowho came to Durham after three straight losing seasons for the Blue Devils under David Cutcliffe — Duke enjoyed consecutive winning seasons for the first time since the 2017 and 2018 campaigns. Elko’s tenure included a nine-win season in 2022 — marking just the seventh time in program history the Blue Devils have won that many games — a home win over then-ranked No. 9 Clemson where the students rushed the field, and the Blue Devils’ first time hosting ESPN’s College GameDay. Elko went 3-2 against North Carolina, N.C. State and Wake Forest. He was named ACC Coach of the Year in 2022 and led Duke to an AP Top 25 ranking of No. 16 this season.

Elko was lured away from Duke to Texas A&M — where he had previously been the defensive coordinator — with a six-year contract that will pay him $7 million annually, plus incentives up to an additional $3.5 million.

The details of Diaz's contract were not immediately made public.

Diaz is a graduate of Florida State University, where he was an assistant coach on the Seminoles’ 1999 national championship team. He is the son of Manuel Alberto Diaz, the former mayor of Miami and the former chair of Florida’s Democratic Party.

Duke is set to play against Troy on Dec. 23 at the Birmingham Bowl. When Elko left, Trooper Taylor — a holdover from Cutcliffe’s staff — was named interim head coach. It is unclear whether Diaz or Taylor will coach the Blue Devils in that game.

According to Duke's press release, Diaz will not coach for Penn State in the Peach Bowl.

Mitchell Northam is a Digital Producer for WUNC. His past work has been featured at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, SB Nation, the Orlando Sentinel and the Associated Press. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and is also a voter in the AP Top 25 poll for women's college basketball.
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