Diaz’s hiring will be made official later Monday by Mississippi State, with a three-year contract as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Diaz, 40 and for the past year the defensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech, takes the post vacated in December when Geoff Collins left during Orange Bowl camp for Florida.
UPDATE: Mississippi State has announced that Diaz' three-year contract will be worth $1.8 total. His first-season salary is $575,000, rising to $600,000 the second year and $625,000 the third year. A buyout is written into the contract as well.
Diaz may have been away for a player-generation but is still remembered, and regarded, by most at Mississippi State for his work in 2010. In that one season as Mullen’s coordinator, his defense made major improvements from the 2009 season. Scoring defense improved by a whole seven points to 19.8 per-game; rushing yardage and touchdowns dropped dramatically as well; and turnovers increased.
Better defense allowed more offensive turns and that side of State’s squad took advantage as well. The results was a 9-4 season in Mullen’s second year with a 4-4 SEC mark and Gator Bowl rout of Michigan. Two of Diaz’ players, middle linebacker Chris White and end Pernell McPhee, both seniors, were named first-team All-SEC. Another, safety Nickoe Whitley, was a Freshman All-SEC.
Diaz’ arrival for 2010 was a case of ideal timing to be sure. He took over a Bulldog defensive roster ready for a breakout season and with more than just senior stars. In the Gator Bowl lineup were plenty of future professional players too with McPhee and White joined by sophomore tackle Fletcher Cox, sophomore tackle Josh Boyd, senior linebacker K.J. Wright, sophomore linebacker Cameron Lawrence, sophomore cornerback Johnthan Banks,, and junior safety Charles Mitchell. Still Diaz’ one-year presence played a part in developing their individual careers as well as setting the course for the whole defense.
It also attracted attention outside the SEC and following the season Diaz was offered the same position and double the salary at Texas. An irresistible opportunity did not turn out well because Diaz arrived just as the Longhorn program’s downward spiral was accelerating. When the 2012 season began disastrously the defense took the first fall and Diaz was released in September, though Texas fortunes did not improve and the entire staff was gone by December.
Diaz was able to find work quickly though, hired as coordinator at Louisiana Tech last January. His arrival coincided with the program’s turnaround after a 4-8 season. The ’13 Bulldogs defeated Illinois in the Heart of Dallas Bowl to finish 9-5, 7-1 CUSA with a loss in the conference championship game to Marshall 26-23. Other defeats were at Oklahoma and Auburn. Ten of Diaz’ players were named first, second, or honorable mention All-CUSA defense.
Now he will return to the SEC’s Bulldogs. He takes over a defense in many ways similar to the 2010 unit, which featured lots of individual potential but had yet to put everything together collectively. In 2014 Mississippi State piled up yardage and scored points in bunches enough to win ten games, a regular-season record, and achieve number-one national ranking for the first time ever.
But two of the three defeats showed yardage wasn’t enough as Ole Miss and Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl topped 500 yards themselves. Collins had left before the Orange Bowl defense was scripted, but he was in charge of the Oxford debacle. Though there are notable losses from this unit plenty of proven players and more redshirted and incoming personnel are available and in need of different coordination for 2015 success.
Diaz is a Miami, Fla., native ironically enough, and a Florida State alumnus who began coaching as a graduate aide at his alma mater in 1998. He took a comparable position at North Carolina State in 2000 and a year later went full-time as linebackers coach, then safeties and special teams coach. Middle Tennessee hired him in 2006 as defensive coordinator, a job he held for four seasons.
It was during the last year that Mississippi State visited Murfreesboro under first-year coach Mullen. While the Bulldogs won handily, 27-6, the staff came away impressed with Blue Raider defensive schemes. So when Mullen needed a coordinator after the season he called Diaz, the then-36-year-old accepted the opportunity, and 2010’s success was the result.
In a coaching-twist, Diaz put in a word for Collins to take over Bulldog linebackers in 2011. Two seasons later Collins was overall coordinator, for all 2013 and the 2014 regular season. Before this past year Collins broke new ground by being given a two-year contract as a coordinator with a specified pay increase for the second year. Now Diaz will benefit from that precedent himself, though exact figures are pending.
In 15 seasons of college coaching Diaz has worked with 13 bowl teams.
Diaz had his formal interview Monday, which allowed him to see one major new aspect to the Mississippi State program since he left. Because now the coordinator and all staff are officed in the Seal Football Complex. He will get to see a number of 2010 redshirts coached as rookies but who all have completed their playing careers this season, at least on the defensive side.
The lone defensive coach still on staff from Diaz’ year remains, safeties coach Tony Hughes, who is agreeing to his own 2015 contract along with line coach David Turner and cornerbacks coach Deshea Townsend.
Mississippi State is also working on the planned extension and increase for Mullen’s seventh year here, though no timeframe has been set for announcement. Most staff will be heading out of town this weekend for the annual coaches convention.