Manny Diaz's debut season as head coach of the Miami Hurricanes included an ineffective offense, fourth-quarter defensive collapses, dreadful special teams and a 6-7 record. However, that nightmare of a year followed an offseason in which he had gone undefeated.
The brain behind the Turnover Chain created Portal U, signing marquee players such as Tate Martell, Jaelan Phillips and Trevon Hill, among others. Diaz arrived at a booster event on an 88-foot yacht. He attempted to rebrand the program after a stale end to Mark Richt's tenure.
None of it mattered when the final record read 6-7. But the same trap could be approaching in 2020.
This offseason, Diaz and Co. returned to the transfer portal and brought back Houston quarterback D'Eriq King, Temple defensive end Quincy Roche and FIU kicker Jose Borregales. They'll join an incoming recruiting class that ranks 17th nationally.
It's easy to label Miami's latest moves as false hope, a precursor to another inevitable disappointing year. But this optimism—seemingly more than ever—is based on real production, not simply the possibility for improvement.
Yes, Martell arrived as a much-hyped player and provided 14 yards of total offense in 2019. He also had thrown only 28 passes at Ohio State, whereas King posted a 50-touchdown season at Houston in 2018. His billing is entirely based on what he's accomplished.
Miami has a problematic offensive line, but a mobile quarterback of King's ability can atone for some of those woes.
Roche tallied 19.0 tackles for loss and 13 sacks at Temple last season, earning AAC Defensive Player of the Year honors. He'll line up opposite Gregory Rousseau, the nation's leading returning sack leader, to form a devastating combination up front.
Borregales went 21-of-29 on field goals last season and hit two 50-yarders in FIU's upset of Miami. That's a considerable upgrade from the three Hurricanes who ended a combined 12-of-20, with missed kicks playing prominent roles in four losses.
In that trio alone, every unit of the roster improved measurably.
Plus, Diaz hired Rhett Lashlee as offensive coordinator after he guided SMU to the seventh-most points per game (41.8) last year. Lashlee previously coached at Auburn, where he oversaw a prolific scoring attack with a dual-threat quarterback in Nick Marshall.
With Lashlee, Miami is finally embracing an offense that stretches the field both vertically and horizontally. Based on his performance to date, King seems like an ideal option to engineer that style.
Here we go again?
"The New Miami" of 2019 was no better than the old Miami, a program that enters 2020 with one 10-win season in 16 years.
The 'Canes faltered so badly that Diaz dismissed offensive coordinator Dan Enos, who he once called the No. 1 recruit of last offseason. They ranked 90th in points per game, 96th in red-zone touchdown rate, 103rd in yards per carry, 128th in sacks allowed and 129th in third-down offense, and they failed to score a single point in the Independence Bowl.
The defense surrendered a fourth-quarter or overtime winner in Miami's first four losses, and missed kicks didn't help in any of those games, either.
Yet every offseason, analysts look at Miami's roster with respect to Coastal Division competition. We often highlight how Miami is clearly the most talented team and expect a division crown. The result is one Coastal title in 15 years.
We're already doing the same in 2020. Misery loves company, and Andy Bitter of The Athletic has also experienced this Miami-themed roller coaster in January.
Miami's level of success mostly hinges on Lashlee and the quarterback. Despite a below-average offense in 2019, the Hurricanes' seven losses were by a combined 51 points, including five one-score letdowns. If this new offense and kicker are even worth 10 points of improvement while the defense is stable, Miami easily has 10-win upside.
Considering the history of Lashlee, King and Borregales, isn't that a reasonable thought? Defense, as a whole, has never been a serious issue under Diaz; Roche only bolsters the unit.
Additionally, Miami's nonconference slate includes Temple, Wagner, UAB and Michigan State. And beyond games against Coastal Division foes, the 'Canes host rival Florida State and get a rebuilding Wake Forest—avoiding Clemson in crossover play.
Given the program's recent results, no matchup should be labeled a guaranteed win, perhaps other than Wagner. But none of Miami's 2020 opponents are unquestionably better, either.
Yes, a pessimist sees the positive developments and wonders how Miami will manage to mess up this time. After all, we have 15 years of evidence for that happening.
But this familiar offseason trap sure is appealing once again.