STARKVILLE — Manny Diaz and Chris Wilson know people don”t want to play against coach Dan Mullen”s offense.
In time, Diaz and Wilson hope opponents say the same thing about facing Mississippi State”s defense.
On Saturday, it became the job of Diaz and Wilson to remake the Bulldogs” defense into one of the nation”s top units.
Mullen officially introduced Diaz and Wilson as his assistant coaches at halftime of the Georgia-MSU men”s basketball game. The moves are pending approval from the Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning.
Diaz will serve as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, while Wilson will coach the defensive line and work as co-defensive coordinator.
“It was obvious on my trip here coach Mullen has set a great vision for this university, he has put together a great staff, and it was something that was easy to be a part of,” Diaz said. “I am happy I am on their sidelines. From what I have seen and from what I have been told, I believe there are the elements of a real good defense. We want to get back to where we are known for a lot of things, but one thing is being a hard-hitting, aggressive, fundamentally sound, but attacking style of defense.”
Diaz, a Miami, Fla., native, has been the defensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee State University the past four years.
With Diaz”s help, the Blue Raiders went 10-3 last season, including a 42-32 victory against Southern Mississippi in the New Orleans Bowl. Diaz has been involved in nine bowl games in 11 years of coaching.
For the season, the Blue Raiders gave up 23.7 points per game. Diaz”s unit gave up 354.8 yards of total offense per game with 136.8 yards rushing per game and 218.1 yards passing per game.
MTSU had 38 sacks, which broke a school record, and it caused 33 turnovers (19 interceptions, 14 fumbles).
In 2007, the Blue Raiders led the Sun Belt Conference in sacks and tackles for loss.
Mullen, who went 5-7 in his first season as head coach at MSU in 2009, said he knew from the Bulldogs” games against MTSU the past two seasons Diaz had a fine defensive mind and was an “innovative” thinker.
The Bulldogs beat the Blue Raiders 27-6 on Oct. 17, 2009, in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and 31-22 on Oct. 25, 2008, in Starkville.
“I try to keep a file of people I would be interested in, and he was somebody I had right at the front of the file after last year,” Mullen said.
Prior to MTSU, Diaz spent six years at North Carolina State. He worked with the linebackers in 2002-03 and with the safeties and special teams in 2004-05. In 2005, the Wolfpack finished eighth in the nation in total defense.
Diaz was a graduate assistant at North Carolina State in 2000-01. He began his coaching career at his alma mater Florida State in 1998.
Diaz knows from scheming to prepare for the MSU the past two seasons how much the Bulldogs have improved on offense. He said the unit”s discipline is in place, and now it is his and Wilson”s task to do the same with the defense.
Diaz and Wilson replace Carl Torbush and David Turner, who left to take defensive coaching jobs at Kansas and Kentucky.
Wilson spent the past five seasons at the University of Oklahoma, his alma mater, coaching defensive linemen. The Sooners finished eighth nationally against the run and tied for sixth in sacks per game.
Oklahoma”s defense finished in the top 10 nationally in rushing defense three times in Wilson”s five years at the school.
“I know a little bit about the history here and what they have been able to accomplish,” Wilson said. “One of the big things was having the chance to play against coach Mullen at Florida a year ago in the national championship game. You knew there was going to be a great system in place and that there was going to be a culture change when you got here. When I had a chance to visit with him and talk with him and see where he was taking this program, it became a no-brainer.”
Wilson was a linebacker at Oklahoma from 1988-91. He earned third-team All-America honors as a junior. The Chicago Bears selected him in the 12th round of the NFL draft, but he never played in the league.
Wilson also has coached at Colorado, Army, Illinois State, Indiana State, Northern Illinois, and Northeastern Oklahoma A&M.
Wilson said Diaz will make the calls on game day and that they will share game planning and deciding what is best for the players. He said their philosophies are simple and similar in that they are aggressive. He said their goal for the defense is for it to play smart, to play hard, and for it to be the most physical football team in the country.
Mullen hadn”t met Wilson before they talked about the opening. He said Wilson is a fantastic coach and a proven recruiter who made a “great impression” on him. He said he has worked in the past with co-coaches for a position and that he didn”t envision it being a problem.
“We”re going to change up a lot of the things we do defensively and how people are inputting things,” Mullen said. “I think just the knowledge and the backgrounds and the innovative thinking and energy we”re bringing is going to be fantastic.”
Mullen said he waited until after the bowl season was completed to begin his search. He said he contacted about 20 possible replacements for both jobs at all levels of football — professional and college — to find the right fit. He spoke to many of the candidates last week at the AFCA Convention in Orlando, Fla.
“I wanted to see what the total pool of candidates would be, and, to be honest with you, it is choice one and one at each position,” Mullen said. “I feel real fortunate. It is a big relief to get our top two choices.”
Mullen said he will discuss the length of Diaz”s contract — one or two years — at a later date.
n JSU back on schedule: MSU Athletic Director Greg Byrne announced Thursday that Jackson State had finalized a contract to again open the football season with the Bulldogs in the 2012 season at Davis Wade Stadium.
MSU beat JSU 45-7 in the 2009 season opener.
“We were excited and pleased with the season opener against Jackson State this year,” Byrne said in his weekly on-line newsletter. “We look forward to renewing it in 2012.”
Assistant sports editor Danny P. Smith contributed to this report.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.