Manny Diaz is still working to put together the Miami Hurricanes’ offensive staff in time to hit the recruiting trail effectively, but the coach’s defensive staff has been in place for nearly a week now.
On Friday, Miami announced the hiring of Blake Baker as defensive coordinator, prying the assistant coach away from his job as defensive coordinator and safeties coach of the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs.
Diaz opted to keep the rest of the staff intact, which means most of the coaches’ recruiting abilities are known at this point. Defensive line coach Jess Simpson, linebackers coach Jonathan Patke, cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph and safeties coach Ephraim Banda all spent time recruiting for the Hurricanes’ Class of 2018.
Baker, however, has never had a job as a position coach or coordinator with a Power 5 Conference school, so he’s never spent time hunting for four- and five-star prospects. He does, however, give Miami another set of relationships to lean on in Texas, which hasn’t been much of a recruiting destination for the Hurricanes in recent years.
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Only two Miami scholarship players — kicker Bubba Baxa and tight end Brian Polendey — hail from Texas. In his five years as an assistant coach at Louisiana Tech, Baker managed to reel in quite a few three-star prospects and particularly found success recruiting Texas.
In five seasons with the Bulldogs and a sixth with the Arkansas State Red Wolves, Baker served as either the primary recruiter or secondary recruiter in signing 16 three-star prospects, according to 247Sports.com.
His top-ranked signee arrived in Ruston as part of Louisiana Tech’s 2018 recruiting class.
BeeJay Williamson, a three-star safety, was the third highest ranked player in the Bulldogs’ 2018 class. The defensive back from Horn in Mesquite, Texas, was the No. 125 player in the state and No. 67 player at his position for the cycle.
Louisiana Tech also pulled its top player in the 2018 class from the Jaguars as three-star safety Maureese Wren joined his teammate in committing to the Bulldogs from Dallas County.
“He had a good rapport with the kids. Anytime that he came in he was always extremely friendly and then when he’d talked to the kids it was more of a real personal demeanor,” Horn coach Mike Overton said. “Some coaches are real business-like, matter-of-fact and I thought he was really personal every time he talked to kids.
“He had a good personality and I think personality is everything in recruiting.”
Williamson, who also claimed offers from the Texas Tech Red Raiders and Colorado Buffaloes, was the highest ranked player Baker signed in his time with Louisiana Tech and his No. 2 also came from Texas. Johnny Shaw, a three-star cornerback from West Orange-Shaw, was the Bulldogs’ top-ranked high school signee in the Class of 2014, although he transferred before ever playing a game at Louisiana Tech. Shaw, who hails from Orange in the Beaumont-Port Arthur metropolitan area near the Louisiana border, also had an offer from the Texas Christian Horned Frogs.
Baker joins Patke, Banda and Diaz as coaches who all have ties back to Texas. Patke played for the FCS Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks and coached with the FCS Incarnate Word Cardinals. Banda played played at Incarnate Word, then coached under Diaz with the Texas Longhorns. Baker was also on the same Texas staff with Diaz and Banda. Last recruiting cycle, Miami made a late run at flipping four-star defensive tackle Keondre Coburn once Patke was promoted from graduate assistant status, but the four-star defensive tackle wound up sticking with the Longhorns.
In total, four of Baker’s 16 three-star commitments in his tenure came from Texas. Most of his work, understandably, came in Louisiana. He was the primary recruiter on Derek Turner, a three-star safety from West Feliciana in St. Francisville and the No. 4-ranked high school signee in the Bulldogs’ 2018 class, and the secondary recruiter for Rashid Bonnette, a three-star athlete from Loreauville and the No. 1 player in Louisiana Tech’s Class of 2015.
Baker, of course, will have more to sell in Coral Gables. Even though Miami is coming off a disappointing season, Baker should continue to use Diaz’s appealing style of defense, which has already lured five blue-chip prospects this cycle. At just 36, Baker can also use his age as a recruiting tool, particularly because the whole defensive staff is young and able to sell a long-term vision of an up-and-coming program.
But, perhaps most importantly, he now has a legitimate star to point to as a player who came through his system. Jaylon Ferguson, a defensive end who recently wrapped up his career in Louisiana, became the all-time sacks leader last month with 45 in his career and now could be an early-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Baker can take at least some credit for developing the record-setter.