So we have all heard that FIU is interested in Geoff Collins and Manny Diaz as their new Head Coach. It is so very bizarre how one of the men who helped lead State back to respectability, and one of the guys trying to keep us there are being mentioned as candidates for this job. The more interesting question is how much the stock of the two guys who resurrected our defense from the dead, that being Manny Diaz and Chris Wilson.
Let's all take a trip back in time to 2010. State was coming off a surprising 5-7 season. We had a losing record, but no one thought that we would have come close to 5 wins. The missing component was a decent defense. Mullen brought in a former Head Coach to run his defense when Mullen first arrived in Carl Torbush. At the time, it seemed like a home run hire. He was a successful head coach at both Louisiana Tech and North Carolina. The results were slightly less than a home run. State showed signs of life on the offensive side of the ball for the first time since the year 2000, but the defense gave up big play after big play. The only real bright spots were the play of Johnthan Banks, Corey Broomfield, and Pernell McPhee. Torbush knew he wasn't going to be welcomed back, so he took another position, Defensive Coordinator at Kansas if I am not mistaken.
Enter stage right Manny Diaz, Defensive Coordinator at Middle Tennessee State and Chris Wilson, Defensive Ends Coach at Oklahoma. Diaz was the coordinator and Wilson was name Co-coordinator. Together, they helped transform the "Bend but don't break" defense that took State from an SEC also ran to the Gator Bowl in 2010. State on many occasions gave up a lot of yards, but rarely a lot of points. They had a knack for creating turnovers and making the play when they needed to. If the offense didn't have it going, they stepped up and only rarely kept the Dogs out of a game. They effectively contained eventual Heisman winner Cam Newton better than any other team that year. It was a good, solid defense that was a lot of fun to watch.
It was so much fun to watch, it caught the attention of Mack Brown. Urban Meyer decided to follow through on a retirement pledge he made to his daughter for the 2011 season, (which he went back on in 2012) so Will Muschamp decided to stop waiting on Brown to retire and took over at Florida. Diaz left State for the supposed greener pastures of Austin, and seemed to be righting the ship as a bad 2010 Texas team that was putrid on defense showed a lot of improvement in 2011. Things looked to be good for Diaz.
As for Wilson, with Diaz gone, Mullen promptly promoted Wilson to Defensive Coordinator and brought in Collins to be Co-coordinator. The defense got off to a rough start in the Auburn game, but eventually settled into a group of players that was very similar to the group in 2010. The defense kept the team in a lot of games that we might could have won if we could have ever found some offensive consistency that year. Wilson's stock seemed to be on the rise.
But one year later, both Diaz and Wilson have the targets of their schools' fanbases squarely on their back. At Texas, the one thing that Diaz improved on in his only year at State and first year at Texas was one of the worst things the Texas defense did in 2012: allow big plays. Texas got to a point where they had to outscore the other team this year. That's not what Texas fans are accustomed to. They finished 8-4, but the defense was a non factor in almost every loss.
Over here in Starkville, State's defense looked like it was going to be one of the best in the league after they shelled Auburn. Turns out, Auburn was just an awful team. The following week, State went to Troy and looked awful defensively. Most of us just assumed it was a trap game, but we were wrong. As State built up a 7-0 record against average at best competition, poor at its worst, we didn't realize just how bad our defense could be. Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, and Ole Miss showed us how poor it was. We couldn't stop the run to save our lives, and our stellar talent in the secondary was wasted because of poor communication, but mostly due to a nonexistent pass rush. The one thing State fans have been able to count is a defense that competes, and the only competing going on was which player was going to miss the most tackles. Many of us State fans have been calling for changes at Wilson's position.
So why the sudden change? I am less sure of what has gone on at Texas because the only game I saw them play was against Ole Miss. Here at State, Wilson made no adjustments at all throughout the year. As we got gashed on the ground repeatedly, there was never a change in scheme or personnel. I know it's difficult to change things in the middle of the season, but it isn't impossible. To make matters worse for Wilson, the defense looked like it was playing in the FCS against those teams. From what I read, Texas had similar problems. they kept doing the same thing over and over.
If I am Diaz, I take the first job I can get. I don't think Brown is ready to retire (not sure he ever will be). If Brown needs a scapegoat, I think Diaz becomes the sacrificial lamb. As for Wilson, I'm not sure he was ready for the DC position. I think he could be good at that job, but Mullen has to reign him in, and make it clear what he expects of the defense next year. If we were going to make a change there, I think we would have seen it by now.
There is good news and bad news for Wilson. The bad news: State is facing a spread, run oriented offense in Northwestern in the Gator Bowl. The good news: If State can shut down, or at the very least slow down, the Northwestern offense, the Bulldog faithful might restore some trust in their DC. I honestly hope that is what happens. A change now or the perception that Wilson is fighting for his job could hurt recruiting. The defense has to get better and Wilson knows that, and let's all hope that he spends the extra weeks of bowl practice getting the guys ready.