Bob Diaco is a key addition for Nebraska's defense.
Despite a three-game improvement in the win column from 2015, Nebraska coach Mike Riley isn’t sitting idle this offseason. Instead, Riley made a significant change to his coaching staff after defensive coordinator Mark Banker was dismissed in favor of former UConn head coach and Notre Dame assistant Bob Diaco. College football’s assistant coach carousel isn’t finished, but Riley’s decision to hire Diaco as the team’s new defensive coordinator is a significant move and potentially one of the best hires of the offseason.
Just how important was getting Diaco for Nebraska? Check out his salary. Diaco is slated to make $825,000 in 2017 and $875,000 in 2018. That’s the highest mark for an assistant in program history.
A changing of play-callers is a significant moment in Riley’s tenure with the Cornhuskers. Nebraska is 15-11 under Riley and has work to do in order to return to the top of the Big Ten West. Dismissing Banker certainly wasn’t an easy decision for Riley considering the two coaches have worked together for over 20 years. And after improving by three games from 2015 to 2016, Riley simply could have stayed with the approach and staff when he was first hired in December of 2014. However, it was clear change was needed in order for Nebraska to take a step forward in 2017 and 2018.
Nebraska ranked seventh in the Big Ten in scoring defense (23.9 ppg) in 2016 and finished 10th in 2015 (27.8 ppg). This unit also ranked near the bottom in yards per play (5.5 in 2016 and 5.9 in 2015), gave up 14 plays of 40 yards or more in 2016 (10th in the Big Ten) and struggled to generate takeaways or pressure on the quarterback.
Under Diaco, Nebraska will shift to more of a 3-4 approach. The Cornhuskers struggled to generate a pass rush out of the 4-3, so moving to a 3-4 scheme should help spark more production from the edge rushers. This scheme should also allow for more flexibility when defending some of the pass attacks Nebraska could face by switching out a linebacker for a defensive back to help with coverage. Additionally, Diaco’s hire should pay off on the recruiting trail. Diaco is just 43 years old and isn’t short on energy or enthusiasm for the job. As a former player at Iowa (1995-95) and graduate assistant under Hayden Fry, Diaco has roots in the Big Ten.
Shifting defensive schemes is never easy, but 2017 would seem to be an ideal time for Nebraska to make the move. Safety Nathan Gerry, tackle Kevin Maurice, end Ross Dzuris and linebackers Josh Banderas and Michael Rose-Ivey have all expired their eligibility. However, linebacker Dedrick Young, end Freedom Akinmoladun and cornerback Chris Jones is a solid trio to build upon this spring.
Diaco comes to Lincoln after a three-year stint as UConn’s head coach from 2014-16. While at UConn, Diaco guided the Huskies to an 11-26 record and an appearance in the 2015 St. Petersburg Bowl. After his playing career ended at Iowa in 1995, Diaco served as a graduate assistant with the Hawkeyes from 1996-97. He later made stops at Western Illinois, Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, Central Michigan and Virginia before landing on Brian Kelly’s staff at Cincinnati in 2009. After one season with the Bearcats, Diaco followed Kelly to Notre Dame. Under Diaco’s direction, the Fighting Irish never finished lower than 27th nationally in scoring defense and never finished a season by allowing more than 5.2 yards per play. The 2012 version of the Fighting Irish defense – which was instrumental in the run to the national championship game – earned Diaco the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant.
How have Diaco's defenses performed in the past? Here are the numbers behind Diaco's defenses as a coordinator or as UConn's head coach:
Defenses Under Bob Diaco
|Pass Eff. Defense|
|2009||Cincinnati (DC)||23.1 (44th)||374.0 (67th)||5.2||37||19||170.3 (89th)||128.4 (59th)|
|2010||Notre Dame (DC)||20.2 (23rd)||358.5 (51st)||5.2||26||25||143.9 (51st)||115.8 (25th)|
|2011||Notre Dame (DC)||20.7 (24th)||344.2 (30th)||5.1||25||14||138.9 (47th)||129.3 (58th)|
|2012||Notre Dame (DC)||12.8 (2nd)||305.5 (7th)||4.8||33||23||105.7 (11th)||111.4 (16th)|
|2013||Notre Dame (DC)||22.4 (27th)||366.2 (31st)||5.1||21||17||168.0 (71st)||120.8 (39th)|
|29.8 (86th)||378.6 (50th)||5.2||13||15||169.8 (71st)||126.7 (59th)|
|19.5 (15th)||355.1 (33rd)||5.2||21||25||165.8 (60th)||112.7 (24th)|
|28.1 ppg (65th)||410.8 (65th)||5.7||17||11||146.01 ypg (41st)||141.01 (98th)|