Bob Di­aco gets chance to re­vive ca­reer with Soon­ers

The Oklahoman - - COWBOY PREGAME - Joe Mus­satto STAFF WRITER SEE OU, 5B

NOR­MAN — Ok­la­homa’s new­est coach will make his de­but next Satur­day at TCU.

Bob Di­aco was pro­moted to out­side lineback­ers coach as a re­sult of Mike Stoops’ exit. Up un­til Mon­day he had worked as a de­fen­sive an­a­lyst for the Soon­ers.

The 45-year-old from Cedar Grove, N.J., is known to be both in­tense and quirky.

In his first news con­fer­ence as Con­necti­cut’s head coach in De­cem­ber 2013 he quoted St. Au­gus­tine, in Latin, and Garth Brooks. His un­con­ven­tional in­tro­duc­tion at UConn came less than a month af­ter win­ning the Broyles Award, given to the na­tion’s top as­sis­tant, while serv­ing as Notre Dame’s de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor.

It’s that po­ten­tial that has the Sooner staff ex­cited.

“Tak­ing the leash off of him was like let­ting a wild tiger loose,” de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Ruf­fin McNeill said.

McNeill and Di­aco are work­ing to­gether for the first time, but McNeill said they’ve known each other for years.

“My wife ab­so­lutely loves him,” McNeill said with a laugh. “She would di­vorce me for Bob.”

Di­aco joined Ok­la­homa’s staff in March as a de­fen­sive an­a­lyst. The ti­tle re­quired a leash. An­a­lysts work in an offfield role, of­ten pour­ing over tape and de­vel­op­ing game plans be­hind the scenes. They don’t count to­ward the limit of 10 as­sis­tant coaches.

Di­aco hasn’t been al­lowed to coach in prac­tice or par­tic­i­pate in team meet­ings. His in­ter­ac­tion with play­ers has been lim­ited.

That changed this week.

“He brings great en­ergy to the group,” sopho­more line­backer Ken­neth Mur­ray said. “Any­time some­body is mak­ing plays, he’s right there with us. Great coach, guy that knows what he’s do­ing. Ob­vi­ously it’s fun hav­ing him coach­ing us now.”

Di­aco will have the chance to re­vive a once-promis­ing ca­reer. Since co­or­di­nat­ing a Notre Dame de­fense that car­ried the Fight­ing Ir­ish into a na­tional cham­pi­onship ap­pear­ance, Di­aco’s ca­reer has taken a down­ward turn.

He went 11-26 as the head man at UConn from 2014-16.

He was fired af­ter a 3-9 cam­paign in his third sea­son.

Mike Ri­ley hired Di­aco as his de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor at Ne­braska last sea­son in what turned out to be the fi­nal year for that staff.

Ne­braska fin­ished 4-8 as the Black­shirts were bul­lied by op­pos­ing of­fenses.

They ranked 101st na­tion­ally in to­tal de­fense un­der Di­aco.

Though Ok­la­homa’s de­fense doomed the Soon­ers in the Cot­ton Bowl, Di­aco will have more tal­ent to work with in Nor­man and a more nar­rowly de­fined role as out­side lineback­ers coach rather than co­or­di­nat­ing an en­tire de­fense.

Di­aco will also keep the Iowa in­flu­ence alive on OU’s de­fense. He played line­backer for the Hawkeyes from 1992-95. Though Bob, Mike and Mark Stoops all pre­ceded him at Iowa, Di­aco was a dis­ci­ple of leg­endary Iowa coach Hay­den Fry like the Stoops brothers.

“He’s energetic around the guys, a re­ally smart guy, re­ally cares about them and is in­vested in get­ting to know them,” Lin­coln Ri­ley said. “Him be­ing here as op­posed to some guy just off the streets that they don’t know is a big ad­van­tage.”

[AP PHOTO]

Bob Di­aco was pro­moted to out­side lineback­ers coach as a re­sult of Mike Stoops’ fir­ing. Up un­til Mon­day, Di­aco had worked as a de­fen­sive an­a­lyst for the Soon­ers.

Jmus­satto@ ok­la­homan.com

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