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Duke hires Penn State DC and ex-Miami coach Manny Diaz to lead Blue Devils

Manny Diaz

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

Matthew OHaren/Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Duke hired Penn State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz as its head coach.

The school announced Diaz’s hiring in a news release and is finalizing plans for a news conference Saturday to introduce Diaz as the replacement to Mike Elko, who was hired by Texas A&M.

The move marks a return for the 49-year-old Diaz to the Atlantic Coast Conference as well as to the state of North Carolina. In addition to three seasons as Miami’s coach, he spent six seasons on Chuck Amato’s staff from 2000-05 at North Carolina State, about 20 miles from Duke’s campus in Durham.

The Blue Devils followed their successful recent formula by hiring a defensive-minded coach with little head coaching experience. Elko thrived as a former coordinator and first-time head coach.

In a statement, athletic director Nina King called Diaz “the right fit” and an “elite communicator and collaborator.”

Diaz went 21-15 with Miami from 2019-21 while reaching two bowl games in his only head-coaching stint. He also went 16-9 in ACC play, but the school fired him on the same day it hired current coach Mario Cristobal in an attempt to hasten a return to the national elite.

Diaz has spent the last two seasons with the Nittany Lions both as coordinator and linebackers coach. His defense finished in the top 20 of the FBS rankings in total and scoring defense in 2022, and stands at No. 1 in total defense (223.3 yards) and No. 3 in scoring defense (11.4) this season as Penn State (10-2) prepares to face Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl.

Diaz also had stops as defensive coordinator at Miami, Mississippi State, Louisiana Tech, Texas and Middle Tennessee.

Elko’s departure after 16 wins in two seasons marked an unusually short coaching tenure in Durham.

The last time a Duke coach stayed three or fewer seasons came when Steve Spurrier left for Florida after a 1987-89 run that included the program’s last ACC title in his final season. Elko and Spurrier are the only Duke coaches to stay three or fewer years since 1925, spanning the Blue Devils’ time in the Southern Conference before becoming a charter ACC member in 1953.

Elko won nine games and a bowl in his debut season, then guided Duke to a seven-win regular season with a weekend win against Pittsburgh. This year’s team opened with a rout of preseason ACC favorite Clemson, cracked the AP Top 25 amid a 4-0 start and even hosted ESPN’s “College GameDay” for the first time in football — after multiple visits for the storied men’s basketball program — ahead of a ranked-vs-ranked matchup against Notre Dame.

King had said the school would move swiftly in finding Elko’s replacement as it had done before. The school needed 12 days to hire Elko after David Cutcliffe’s exit, then needed 10 days before hiring Diaz.

The challenge for Diaz will be to hire a staff and stabilize the program amid the transfer-portal churn.

The clock is already ticking on departures as NCAA rules permit players to enter the transfer portal for 30 days after a coaching change, allowing them to explore moves elsewhere. That list includes starting quarterback Riley Leonard. The portal window opened for teams to seek out help from other schools.

Duke (7-5) is set to face Troy in the Birmingham Bowl on Dec. 23.

This marks the third hire for one of the school’s marquee programs in King’s nearly three years as athletic director, following Elko’s arrival and Jon Scheyer’s ascension as the designated successor to Mike Krzyzewski when the Hall of Fame basketball coach retired in 2022.