STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Mississippi State coach
Would the new coordinators mind being roommates?
So Diaz, who came from Middle Tennessee State, and Wilson, who came from Oklahoma, moved in together. They bounced from a corporate apartment to a golf community condo, but the stint solidified their bond and helped them develop the Bulldogs' new defensive scheme.
One night this spring, Mullen enjoyed a quiet dinner with his wife,
Wilson said he and Diaz struck a deal when they became roommates. The coach who cooked didn't have to clean. "Like an old married couple," Wilson said.
The arrangement allowed Wilson and Diaz to build the defense Mullen envisioned when he hired the pair. "Take Chris, and you have him putting in all the soundness of Oklahoma's defense," Mullen said. "Mix with Manny, who is a very outside-the-box thinker. If you watched Middle Tennessee, they come from every different direction."
Wilson and Diaz were hired to improve a unit that ranked 11th in the SEC in scoring defense in 2009, allowing 26.8 points per game. The Bulldogs will have to get better, because the departure of tailback
Wilson inherited an athletic defensive line that features sophomores
Diaz, meanwhile, inherited a linebacker corps led by senior
Diaz may have a slightly different point of view because he didn't originally intend to become a coach. After graduating from Florida State in 1995, Diaz, whose father, also named Manny, is the former mayor of Miami, went to work at ESPN as a production assistant for
Diaz chose coaching, and he went back to Tallahassee as a graduate assistant. When Seminoles assistant
Diaz has brought that same style to Starkville. During one spring practice, he threw linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks at Bulldogs' blockers. They rarely came from the same place twice, and Diaz rarely used the same combination of players.
"Today," Diaz said with a sly grin after the practice, "we were vanilla."
Mississippi State's players love the change. Cox, a former high school sprinter who has bulked up to 300 pounds, relishes the idea of attacking on every play. "I get to move around a lot," Cox said. "I get to get after the quarterback." Wilson will try to ensure Cox gets after the quarterback as quickly as possible. In the spring, he showed his players a drill they've continued to practice on their own throughout the summer. Cox and his fellow defensive linemen have spent plenty of scorching days crouched in their stance inside low metal chutes designed to punish the lazy lineman who allows himself to rise too high while firing out of his stance. Cox says that after a season spent waiting for blockers to make their moves, he and his teammates had to develop quicker first steps. "It's all about stepping straight," Cox said. "Instead of reading and reacting, we're an attacking front."
As roommates, Diaz and Wilson traded notes and devised a scheme they think will best utilize the Bulldogs' athletes. They've since brought their families to Starkville and moved into their own homes, but they hope the time they spent together allowed them to create a defense that will make Mississippi State a player in the SEC. "We work so much together," Wilson said. "The great thing is we're friends, and we're married to the same concepts defensively. That makes things really fun."