Mississippi State’s decision to fire Joe Moorhead on Friday was the latest sign that college football’s coaching clock has been reset.
If it wasn’t clear when Florida State axed Willie Taggart in November and Arkansas cut Chad Morris a week later, it should be obvious now after Moorhead became the third Power Five coach from that cycle who failed to last into Year 3. Patience for sub-par seasons and slow climbs is gone.
Which means Miami’s Manny Diaz is on the clock.
Unless he learns from his inaugural 6-7 debacle, Diaz is in danger of becoming another two-and-out coach. He’s already following Taggart’s dream job nightmare far too closely.
Diaz took over the ’Canes with the similar kind of fanfare that accompanied Taggart’s hire at FSU. Both were young, engaging coaches with deep local roots and intimate knowledge of their fan bases. Both were well-regarded recruiters who could energize boosters.
Both did everything right — until the games started.
They failed immediately. Taggart lost by 21 to Virginia Tech in Tallahassee, and Diaz dropped an unwatchable opener against Florida in Orlando. They flopped repeatedly against lesser programs. Taggart was blown out at Syracuse and nearly lost at home to Samford, while Diaz ended the year with an inexcusable three-game losing streak (Florida International, Duke and Louisiana Tech).
The ugly details were eerily similar. Neither coach could settle on a long-term quarterback among multiple flawed options. The offensive lines leaked at historic levels. Fans soured with every senseless penalty, useless timeout and out-of-place gimmicks during seven-loss seasons.
Even the turning points that never were happened against the same team — Louisville. FSU’s 28-24 comeback win wasn’t the mark of a culture shift, just as Jarren Williams’ six-touchdown, no-interception performance wasn’t proof that Diaz had discovered an offense or a quarterback.
We know what happened with Taggart; a 17-point home loss to Diaz’s Hurricanes ensured Taggart didn’t make it through Year 2.
What Diaz does in the next few weeks will have an enormous impact on whether he meets a similar fate next November or, like Moorhead, next January.
Taggart never lived up to his reputation as a great recruiter, failing to sign a top-10 class or a prep quarterback. Diaz’s 2020 class sits 17th nationally after the first signing period (two spots better than Taggart’s second class) and includes a blue-chip quarterback (four-star prospect Tyler Van Dyke), but he needs a strong close on the recruiting trail to generate some positive momentum around his program. A grad transfer quarterback wouldn’t hurt, either, especially if it’s better than the one Taggart brought in (Wisconsin’s Alex Hornibrook).
Taggart shook up his staff after his first season, allowing offensive coordinator Walt Bell to become the head coach at UMass. Bell’s replacement, Kendal Briles, boosted FSU’s scoring but not by enough to overcome an iffy defense.
Diaz’s Hurricanes fired offensive coordinator Dan Enos a day after they were embarrassed in a 14-0 Independence Bowl loss to Skip Holtz’s Bulldogs. The impending hire could be the defining move of Diaz’s career.
As much as the ’Canes underachieved as a whole — and they underachieved massively — Diaz’s defense still played at a top-25 level, if not better. That’s a good foundation for success, especially in the most consistently mediocre division in the Power Five.
With the right offensive play caller (like Moorhead), it’s not a stretch to think that Miami will at least return to respectability, if not into contention for the ACC Coastal.
But if Diaz makes the wrong hire and the defeats keep mounting next fall? Friday’s news was a reminder that the clock begins to tick quickly in the South.