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3 defensive coordinators Mark Richt should consider for 2019

Replacing Manny Diaz won’t be easy. But it won’t be impossible, either

NCAA Football: Savannah State at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Miami Hurricanes fans might want names like Greg Schiano, Jim Leonhard, and Bob Shoop but with Miami’s current struggles in both recruiting and on-field success- the ‘Canes might have to settle a little further down the pecking order. The Hurricanes are more than likely going to look for someone young that can recruit and coach linebackers.

Keep in mind when Manny arrived in Coral Gables many had their doubts. While at Mississippi State he was known as an all-risk / all-reward type of coordinator whose defenses had a ton of sacks and tackles for loss but also were prone to giving up big plays. That was a similar result at Miami over three years as the coordinator for the ‘Canes. Diaz was known as the guy at Texas who was annihilated by BYU on his way to being fired midseason. He resurfaced at Louisiana Tech before taking jobs at MSU and then Miami.

Current safeties coach Ephraim Banda would be a reasonable on-staff choice as he was both close with Manny Diaz and is a good recruiter. If Banda is too inexperienced of an option, he’s never been a play caller, here are 3 choices Miami can look to as defensive coordinators heading into 2019.

Derek Nicholson, Southern Miss

Derek Nicholson is the current linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator of the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. Nicholson is a former Florida State Seminole linebacker who made the All-ACC team in 2008, and All-ACC Academic squad from 2007-2008. He comes from a football family with he, his father and brother all having played in the NFL. Nicholson has coached under Terry Bowden, Charlie Strong and Jay Hopson with the latter two being defensive-minded head coaches.

While at Southern Miss, Nicholson has worked with the defensive line and linebackers. The Golden Eagles posted the 17th best defense in the nation per the S&P+ in 2018, even while suffering through the nation’s 120th ranked offense. So yes, Nicholson knows how to roll out a strong defensive group in the face of poor offensive and kicking game assistance.

Nicholson is young, has coached in a 4-3, 3-3, and 3-4 defense and as a former Seminole and Florida high school coach he knows the recruiting area well.

Bowl Game: None.

Bert Watts, Fresno State

Bret Watts, the current defensive coordinator at Fresno State, might seem like a random choice. However, if you do further research, he’s a former Florida high school football coach including stops at Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville) and Bartram Trail (St. Johns). Watts progressed quickly up the ladder moving up from his high school coordinator position to working with the Colorado Buffaloes and Denver Broncos.

In 2013, Watts returned to the college level as defensive coordinator at UC Davis from 2013-2016 before being named an assistant coach of the Bulldogs in 2017. In 2018, he was named the defensive coordinator. The Bulldogs wrapped up 2018 with the 9th ranked defense in the nation per the S&P+. Watts is a former Cal Bears linebacker who played for current boss Jeff Tedford at Cal.

Watts runs a hybrid 3-4 defense that brings four man pressure often behind 2-high safety coverage.

Bowl Game: vs. Arizona State, Saturday, December 15th at 3:30pm on ABC

Tim DeRuyter, Cal

Tim DeRuyter is the current Cal Bears defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach. DeRuyter got his break in coaching as a graduate assistant under Fisher DeBerry at Air Force in 1985. DeRuyter has spent stints at both Air Force and Navy which are national recruiting schools as service academies. He has coaching experience at Ohio, Texas A&M, and Cal as a coordinator, and at Fresno State as a head football coach

While at Fresno State DeRuyter won 26 games his first three years before hitting a drastic decline of only four wins the final two seasons before being fired. At Cal his defense finished 12th per the S&P+ in 2018, even with the 121st ranked offense across the board. Cal head coach Justin Wilcox is a defensive mind that likes a 4-2-5 defense.

DeRuyter has ran a variety of schemes in his coaching career and Cal is currently in a 4-2-5.

Bowl Game: vs. TCU, Wednesday, December 26th at 9pm on ESPN


Miami has a recruiting base, current roster, and reputation for having an aggressive defense. Defensive coordinators would normally be knocking down the door to get ahold of talent like Jonathan Garvin, Amari Carter, Trajan Bandy and Shaquille Quarterman. The issue is the ensuing debacle on offense, in the kicking game, and currently on the recruiting trail. However, if Nicholson was hired he has experience recruiting Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia and the Carolinas which are the areas that Miami has focused on for talent (as well as the rest of the nation).

DeRuyter and Watts would need a refresher course in Florida recruiting politics and to the big names on the board but really if Miami can just swing back their recent string of decommitments the ‘Canes defense will reload instead of rebuild in 2019.