First, a few disclaimers on these ACC Coaching rankings:
- These rankings are forward looking. If it were about career accomplishments, Frank Beamer would easily be number one. However, it is about the competitive advantage they are currently creating for their program, not the number of wins they've accrued to this point in time.
- They are ranked by the competitive advantage they create for their team without creating probation or other NCAA challenges for their program. That is to say, these rankings do not include quality of character or how they handle disciplinary options. If it did, Dabo would surely be higher and Jimbo Fisher - who just had two separate players punch two different women in the face at bars - would potentially be lower.
- Consistent with my lack of decisiveness regarding Notre Dame, I've left Brian Kelly off the list. It may also be that I have no idea where to rank him so I'll let you all handle that part in the comment section.
- Finally, remember these are just for fun and very subjective. Have fun debating!
14. Scott Shafer, Syracuse
Shafer was a very solid defensive coordinator under Doug Marrone. In 2010, he improved the defense to the point that they were ranked 7th nationally in total defense and 13th nationally in scoring defense. Following the 2012 season, coach Doug Marrone left to take the same position with the Buffalo Bills, one that is now held by Rex Ryan.
2013 was likely to be tough regardless of the head coach since they moved into the challenging ACC Atlantic while losing starting QB Ryan Nassib. A 6-6 regular season concluded with a win in the Texas Bowl. 2014, though, showed regression rather than progress. They finished 2014 by losing 9 of 10 and never reached 21 points in those nine losses. Whether or not Shafer can design an offensive attack potent enough to survive in the ACC, or can attract an OC who can do so, is a serious question. Rivals ranked both his 2014 and 2015 recruiting classes 12th in the ACC, and the 2016 class is currently ranked 12th. While it's possible for him to grow and improve as a coach, as Dabo Swinney did, the prognosis is bleak.
13. Al Golden, Miami
It's like he was given the keys to a Mercedes, though it is a 2004 model with a lot of mileage. That being said, Miami isn't Syracuse, and 6-7 is pitiful. Since leaving Temple and becoming the head coach of the Hurricanes, Golden has only surpassed seven wins once (2013:9-4). Dating back to his first year at the helm of Temple in 2006, he has never won a bowl game, going 0-3. Overall, he's a mediocre 28-22 at Miami.
On the administration's part, the hire wasn't a curious one. He took over a Temple football program that didn't win a game in 2005. In his first season, they played a "home" game against Clemson in Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte) for "financial reasons."
"The game was a Temple home game, but the school moved it for financial reasons to Bank of America Stadium, 130 miles from Clemson's campus. A crowd of only 30,246 showed up to watch Temple, which has been outscored 308-50."
After winning just 10 games in his first three seasons in Philadelphia - though improving each year - Temple won nine games and played in a bowl game in 2009. In 2010, they won another eight. That turnaround made Miami's decision to hire Golden look like a wise one. Unfortunately, after peaking at nine wins in 2013, they took a major step back last season.
Sitting at 6-3 heading down the season's stretch they lost conference games to Florida State, Virginia, and then Pittsburgh. That netted them a weak matchup in the Independence Bowl against a 6-6 South Carolina team that had just allowed 225 rushing yards to Clemson, including a career high 191 to freshman RB Wayne Gallman. Miami only managed 21 points and lost the bowl game, finishing the season at 6-7. The Hurricanes have not won a bowl game since the 2006 MPC Computers Bowl.
They're now over a decade out from when they were a premier program. That means a 16-year old recruit was five year old when Miami was beating Florida in the Peach Bowl. Now, they play uninspired at home against the Pittsburghs of the world, so raucous crowds don't show up. Raucous crowds don't show up, so they play uninspired. It's a vicious cycle, and they're much worse on the road. Last year, VT was the only team they beat away from Miami. Among all ACC coaches, Al Golden may be most squarely on the hot seat. One nice thing to say about Al Golden is that he has done a good job cleaning up a program that was once fraught with NCAA issues... but you still have to win games.
12. Mike London, Virginia
Add another to my list of incorrect hiring opinions. I thought Al Golden and Randy Edsall were good hires and I was impressed with Mike London too.
After winning an FCS Championship with nearby Richmond, it made sense that London could be successful at Virginia, and in part he has been. Their recruiting has picked up to some degree, and they made the Chick-fil-A Bowl in his second season (2011). Still, that's the only bowl game they've been to in his tenure (and they lost). They've yet to beat VT since the Hokies have joined the ACC, and they've only won five ACC games since that 2011 season in which they won five conference games, but went on to be dismantled by Auburn in the GA Dome.
I don't think all hope is lost for UVA, but the time is running out, and Mike London needs to win sooner, or there may not be a later that includes him in Charlottesville.
11. Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
Again, let me reiterate that Frank Beamer is #1 on the list if we're talking about all-time accomplishments. Beamer's program averaged 10.5 wins from 2004 to 2011. Following a loss to Clemson in the 2011 ACC Championship, they lost to Michigan in the Sugar Bowl after an OT TD reception was shockingly overturned.
Since that season, they've won seven, eight, and seven games, including two bowl wins over the past three seasons. It seemed like they were back on track after beating the eventual national champion Buckeyes in the Horseshoe in week 2 last year, but they followed that up with back-to-back home losses to ECU and GT. They'd later lose a 3-6 game to Wake Forest. While I have a ton of respect for Frank Beamer, at this point it's hard to say he is a significant competitive advantage for Virginia Tech. Another seven win campaign and the folks in Blacksburg need to start succession planning. As we just learned with Coach Jack Leggett, it can be hard to part with a legend, but it can be for the best.
10. Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh
Pat Narduzzi was arguably the best defensive coordinator in the country while at Michigan State and should be a phenomenal hire for the Pitt Panthers. That said, after seeing Will Muschamp flop and seemingly being wrong about a few recent ACC coaching hires, I'll let him prove himself before I put him any higher. This is his first head coaching opportunity.
9. Larry Fedora, North Carolina
After a four year run at Southern Miss that culminated with a 12-2 season and a Top 25 ranking, Fedora left his position as the head coach for the Golden Eagles to take the same role in Chapel Hill. He promised an aggressive, attacking offense, and he delivered that, but not much else.
Partially hampered by investigations into the massive fraud committed by the University before his arrival, he's failed to gain momentum, going just 21-17 in three years in Chapel Hill. Their defense has been atrocious, but may improve now that Larry Fedora fired former Clemson DC Vic Koening and replaced him with Gene Chizik.
Things may be about to improve, however if I were a Tar Heel fan, I'd be extremely concerned about the team's culture.
"You can tell on a lot of guys' faces. A lot of guys really don't care." - Marquise Williams
8. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest
Dave Clawson obviously hasn't done anything at Wake Forest yet, but I believe it was about as strong of a hire as the Deacons could have made. He's been a head coach since 1999 when he took over for Fordham and went 0-11 in year one. He turned that program around and led them to 10 and then 9 wins before going to Tennessee as Phillip Fulmer's OC, replacing David Cutcliffe. After Fulmer was dismissed, Lane Kiffin chose not to bring Clawson back, so it was off to Richmond. Once again, they were awful upon arrival, but quickly improved before Clawson left for Bowling Green. The story there was no different, as they won the MAC just before he accepted the head coaching position at Wake Forest.
Now at Wake Forest, he took over for a program devoid of offensive talent and with a total dearth of ACC-level offensive linemen. They lost a chunk of talent from last season's secondary, so they're not about to magically turn around this year. However, Clawson has proven to be one who can take over struggling programs and lead them to respectability.
7. Dave Doeren, NC State
Dave Doeren was extremely successful at Northern Illinois (23-4) and after a flop of a first season (3-9), NC State showed a lot of progress a year ago (8-5). They ended the season on a high note by whomping UNC, then beating UCF in their bowl game. They should continue to improve and could be a consistent second tier team in the conference.
6. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
In his seven seasons at Georgia Tech, Paul Johnson has three seasons with fewer than eight wins, three with more, and one right at eight. After an excellent 2014, where he proved me wrong time and time again, his stock is surely up. Though one should be careful not to fall into the trap of recency bias, Paul Johnson is undoubtedly in the upper half of the ACC's coaches.
The biggest knock on PJ may be his recruiting ability. In part due to their style of play, Georgia Tech, which should consistently recruit athletes like Tashard Choice, Calvin Johnson, and Demaryius Thomas, hasn't recruited at a high level the past few years. His 2016 class is currently ranked last in the ACC according the 247Sports. Of course, this also highlights how good he is at in-game coaching and constructing a system that works against more talented teams.
We'll learn a lot about his system this season as they bring back almost no skill position players, but return a veteran O-line and QB Justin Thomas - who guided a historically efficient offense a season ago.
5. Steve Addazio, Boston College
Addazio doesn't have a very long track record as head coach, but what he's done at Boston College in just two years has been impressive.
Taking over for a team that won only two games in 2012, Boston College was the ACC's surprise team in 2013, winning seven games. Following that surprise season, they were expected to take a major step back. RB Andre Williams - a Heisman Finalist - starting QB Chase Rettig, and WR Alex Amidon were all departing. Somehow, some way, Addazio led them to another bowl game, and they again finished with seven wins, including victories over Southern Cal and Virginia Tech. Now, Addazio needs to show he can grow the program to 8-9 wins per season, in order to hold or improve this ranking. Still, he's been extremely impressive in his time in Chestnut Hill.
4. Bobby Petrino, Louisville
With wins over Miami, NC State, Boston College, and Notre Dame, Louisville entered the ACC with grace. Despite transitioning to a new conference with a new quarterback and a new head coach, the Cardinals established themselves as one of the four or five best teams in the conference. Without Teddy Bridgewater, the Cardinal offense took a step back, but Petrino, who is known as an offensive-minded coach, found a way to win with defense. Now, they've lost more players to the NFL draft than any other ACC team after Florida State. Fortunately, they have one of the better coaches in the conference.
Though their recruiting needs to continue to improve (from Rivals 3* average) to really break through in the ACC, Petrino's 92-34 record as a college head coach speaks for itself. He has led teams to the Cotton, Sugar, and Orange Bowls.
3. Dabo Swinney, Clemson
It seems like just yesterday that "Da-bo Swi-nney" was being chanted in Death Valley, when the then interim head coach managed to guide the Tigers to a win over the Gamecocks and an unlikely bowl berth. He'd be named the head coach soon after, and making a bowl game every season since is among the least of his accomplishments.
After losing 18 games in his first three full seasons as the head coach, Dabo has resurrected Clemson's football program. They've only lost 11 games over the past four seasons - an average of under three losses per year. You have to go back to 1988-1991 to find a four year span when Clemson lost fewer games (and they played five fewer games during those years). You also have to go back to 1991 to find Clemson's last ACC Championship before Dabo was hired.
Dabo may not bring the play calling prowess of a Jimbo Fisher or have the long history of success like a Frank Beamer, but he's been a program builder. A phenomenal recruiter and a man with a vision, Dabo made a point to improve the toughness, particularly mental toughness, of his players. Previously known for losing ridiculous games, the Tigers haven't dropped a game to an unranked opponent since losing in Raleigh in 2011. He's not only helped attract top talent on the field, but also on the sideline, bringing in great assistants like Brent Venables, Chad Morris (now HC at SMU), and Mike Reed.
Dabo Swinney may be the best coach in the ACC at building a brand. He's changed the reputation of Clemson football from "that team who always blows it" to one of the elite Southern football schools, even if they haven't quite cracked the Kraken's quantitative list of Elite Programs.
2. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
I'll refer you back to the intro of this article one last time to explain why I have Jimbo Fisher so high. This is not necessarily to say I would want him as my team's head coach. Having two players punch women in the face in one week is a black eye for the program and speaks to something bigger than winning percentage. However, if we're objectively looking at wins, losses, and championships, there's not many negative things you can honestly say about Jimbo Fisher.
Fisher is 4-1 in bowl games, has won three straight ACC titles, and wears a National Championship ring - all in just five years. He's recruiting even above Dabo Swinney's level (which surely is aided by FSU's history and location, but nevertheless) and is winning at a prolific level. His 2013 squad is among the greatest of all time and netted him the AFCA Regional and Rawlings Football Coach of the Year Awards.
Only tangentially related, check out this Change.org petition to re-instate one of the football players who punched a woman. I'd love to hear your thoughts below.
1. David Cutcliffe, Duke
After much internal debate, David Cutcliffe earns the number one slot, narrowly edging Jimbo Fisher. The complete turnaround Duke has had under Cutcliffe is a testament to the impact he's had on their program. His success has even led to stadium improvements that will pay dividends long after he has departed.
One could argue that no other coach in the conference could win a division title at Duke. Heck, most of them can't win the division at prouder programs.
In 2013, the Blue Devils won the Coastal, nearly upset the far more talented A&M Aggies in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and finished ranked #23 in the AP Poll. That ranking snapped a 52-year streak of ending the year unranked in the Associated Press Poll. Duke has not won a bowl game since the 1961 Cotton Bowl, and while Cutcliffe is 0-3, his three appearances account for over 1/4 of the program's bowl appearances. This current three year streak of appearances is their longest ever.
They finished 13th in Rivals ACC recruiting rankings in both 2014 and 2015, though 2016 is looking much more promising. It's hard to isolate how much credit/blame to cast on the coach vs. the program in recruiting, so I don't knock him too much here. The bigger picture is that he has been able to take the worst program in the ACC and turn them into a competitive bowl team.