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Diaz ranked as a top coordinator in college football

Manny Diaz received high praise but so did several other Big Ten foes.

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Manny Diaz, top defensive coordinator in college football
Sep 10, 2022; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions defensive coordinator Manny Diaz (center) gestures from the sideline during the second quarter against the Ohio Bobcats at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

State College — In today’s world, mistakes are often more publicized than successes. For whatever reason, criticism is more easily doled out than acclaim. This was my expectation when James Franklin hired Manny Diaz to be Penn State football’s defensive coordinator last year. A failure would be headlined in bold letters for the world to see, but a success would likely not garner much attention. Such has largely been the case this offseason after a stellar 2022 on the defensive side of the football for Penn State. But this week, Diaz’s work received some well-deserved recognition, as he was recognized as a top defensive coordinator in college football. 

Manny Diaz ranked as a top defensive coordinator in college football

Penn State is no stranger to stout defenses. But in his first season as defensive coordinator, Manny Diaz elevated Penn State’s defensive production in almost every statistical category. The Nittany Lions held opponents under 20 points nine times in 2022, something the Lions only did six times under previous defensive coordinator Brent Pry in 2021. In a dominating end to last season, Diaz’s defense only allowed 61 total points in Penn State’s final five games. Diaz’s philosophy brought a much more aggressive style to Happy Valley, as negative plays such as sacks and turnovers increased dramatically from the year prior. 

Diaz was always considered a top defensive mind. But Diaz needed to reaffirm his status in the coordinator ranks last year after a failed head coaching stint at Miami. And it appears that his work paid off. This week, Max Chadwick of Pro Football Focus released a list of his top 10 defensive coordinators in college football. After only one year at Penn State, Manny Diaz was ranked as a top defensive coordinator in college football. Diaz came in at number five on Chadwick’s list, behind Glenn Schuman and Will Muschamp of the defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs. 

Starting over

Of course, I’d be remiss to not state the obvious. Three other Big Ten coordinators, including Jesse Minter of Michigan and Jim Knowles of Ohio State, are ranked ahead of Diaz. But that doesn’t take away from the high degree of success that Diaz experienced last season. And with 75% of its production returning, Penn State football could be primed for another massive year on the defensive side of the football. 

But Diaz continues to go about his work with a chip on his shoulder. When we spoke with him about his mindset going into year two on Tuesday, Diaz made it clear that last season’s success means nothing.

“We do not pick up where we left off a year ago,” Diaz said. “And that comes back to how we run to the football, how we leverage the football, how we set edges, our toughness, and how we tackle in the spring.”

Soon enough, we’ll find out if this mindset will pay off. Defensive success will be a critical part of the formula if Penn State hopes to reach its expectations in 2023. Still looking up at the competition in the Big Ten East, it’s clear good will not be good enough. If Penn State wants to compete for a conference title and beyond this season, Manny Diaz’s defense must be elite. 



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A third-generation Penn Stater, Matt is Editor-in-Chief for Basic Blues Nation, co-host of the podcast PSU Tailgate Talk, and a credentialed member of the Penn State football media. Matt also works as a staffer in the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Matt lives in central Pennsylvania with his wife and a small army of pets.

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