Will 7-5 finish after rout at Duke save Manny Diaz? Here is his slim path to survival | Opinion

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There may still be a small path to survival for Manny Diaz. That is all Saturday meant, but, for him, it was everything.

The path is narrow, and uphill, and strewn with hazards and peril. Few wagering on the odds would bet he’d find a way through. But there remains that pin of flickering light at the far end -- the chance, just the slightest chance, that Diaz may yet save his job as University of Miami football coach.

We must couch everything in maybes and mights here, of course, because all of it could be moot, the decision to move on from Diaz already made behind closed doors.

What we can be sure of is that if any hope for Diaz remained, a loss Saturday at Duke would have ended it entirely, unequivocally.

To a coach on the edge of a precipice, a loss to Duke almost always is the perfect final push.

Miami won, 47-10. It was perfunctory. The Canes were 21-point favorites. Still, after a slow start, down 10-3 early, UM utterly dominated behind quarterback Tyler Van Dyke (again) and strong, strong defense.

The Hurricanes ended their regular season 7-5 and still fighting. Fighting for their own battered pride. Fighting, by the look of it, to save their coach’s job.

All Diaz can do is ignore the outside noise and stay in business-as-usual mode.

“Attack recruiting,” he answered a what’s-next question. “On the road tomorrow. I’ll be in a couple of homes. It’s a 2 1/2-week sprint to [early] signing day.”

Does he feel secure in his job status?

“I feel secure in how that football team played together,” he said. “All I’ve been told is, ‘Hey, let’s go win a football game.’ Everything else is out of my control. All I know is that every week I’ve been on a one-week mission.”

Diaz already is formulating plans for a pre-bowl practice schedule. His job goes on , even as many or most assume it is about to hit a sudden wall.

It was child’s play, Saturday was in Durham, N.C. It was name-your-score stuff.

Van Dyke, the young phenom who has declared himself the Canes’ QB moving forward, passed for 381 yards and three touchdowns. It was his sixth straight game with 300-plus yards and three or more TDs, longest such streak of any FBS-level passer in the nation.

“It’s been a crazy year. Lot of high and lows,” he said.

He meant to get important UM records for two of his receivers -- and did. Mike Harley is the new record-holder for most career catches, and Charleston Rambo now is for most catches and most yards receiving in a season.

“In the history books,” said Rambo.

Miami clinched a winning record for 2021 as it looks head now to a still-undetermined bowl game.

Earlier in the week the program suffered a loss with the news offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee would be leaving to become SMU’s new head coach.

“I’d be real happy for coach Lashlee,” said Van Dyke. “He deserves it.”

All of that is known.

This still isn’t:

Will Diaz be back? Or be fired?

Life left in his UM career? Or Dead Man Coaching?

With athletic director Blake James sacked last week and the search on for his replacement, maybe the new AD will demand to make a new coach his first imprint. Or might UM make the hire with the understanding Diaz gets another year? All to be determined.

Saturday just meant Diaz’s slim path to survival might remain.

If they let him coach in the bowl game that would be a big sign the decision to oust him is not yet foregone. He’d then have to win the bowl game, you’d think, considering Diaz’s 0-2 bowls record at UM contributes to the school’s 1-10 skid in postseason games since 2008.

I think if Diaz coaches in and wins the bowl to finish 8-5 he might have built an argument for one more year, a fourth season.

Miami players have not quit on the coach or season, like what got Dan Mullen fired by the Florida Gators last week.

“If they weren’t all in you’d see it,” Diaz said. “This team is united.”

It is fact more than excuse to say injuries hit the Canes hard this season.

It is a fact two wins were against No. 18 North Carolina State and No. 17 Pitt, and that three ACC losses were by a combined eight points.

By the standard of five national championships, the standard any UM coach must accept, 8-5 would be no cause for anything close to celebration. But neither is is unmitigated disaster. Might have been, but Diaz and the Canes fought back from a 2-4 start, not a small thing.

Of course, the idea Diaz might still have some life in his UM career is predicated on the notion Miami cannot do better than him; i.e., will not pay what it takes to clearly upgrade at head coach.

You want to spend hugely to pry Mario Cristobal from Oregon? Or Lane Kiffin from Ole Miss? Do it and I’ll be at the lead of the line in favor, writing, “Thank you for your service, Manny, but The U just got better, instantly.”

But if UM is on the cheap and settling for change for the mere sake of it, hiring somebody without a proven track record -- that is when the case to give Diaz one more year seems plausible.

Over the years, about just about every team down here, I get asked, “Should so-and-so be fired?” Rather, I usually get told that. My response almost aways is, “Who’s next?” Will he be better? Is he an upgrade?

I won’t say Diaz deserves to be fired until I know who the replacement is.

I will say that closing a regular season on a 5-1 run -- it would be 6-1 with a bowl win -- is not an end game that typically leads to a change.

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