Part of the reason the ACC might be on the rise is because of the talented group of coaches the conference as collected.
The league features both up-and-comers and established overachievers who have taken their programs to new heights.
1. Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
Beamer has lifted the Virginia Tech program from the dregs of the college football world to a team usually on the short list of national championship contenders. That said, 2012 was not a banner year for Beamer or the Hokies. They broke an eight-year run of 10-win seasons by going 7-6. One year doesn’t drop Beamer in the ranks, though. In the nine seasons since Virginia Tech joined the ACC, it has won the league four times and advanced to the conference championship game twice more. Beamer has also guided the Hokies to three Big East championships and a national championship appearance in 1999.
2. Dabo Swinney, Clemson
When Swinney isn’t on the wrong end of Steve Spurrier wisecracks, he is winning a lot of football games at Clemson. In four full seasons, he has led the Tigers to at least shares of division titles three times with two appearances in the ACC Championship Game and a conference title in 2011. Clemson is helping reshape perception of the league as well, having beaten Auburn and LSU from the SEC a year ago. Expectations are especially high for Swinney and the Tigers in 2013. They get two more shots at elite SEC teams – at home against Georgia and at South Carolina – and they get Florida State in Clemson. This could be the year that elevates Swinney and Clemson to the next level.
3. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
At every stop, Johnson’s presence has led to marked improvements over where the programs were before he got there. He led Georgia Southern to back-to-back Division I-AA national championships before elevating Navy into a perennial bowl program. In five seasons at Georgia Tech, Johnson has led the program to three ACC Championship Game appearances and a now-vacated conference title in 2009. Behind Johnson’s trademark triple-option attack, the Yellow Jackets are winning nearly two-thirds of their ACC games.
4. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
Fisher’s overall and conference records are better than most of his ACC colleagues, but he drives a badass Dodge Challenger while most of the other coaches drive Honda Accords (or worse). There’s nothing wrong with an Accord, but it’s just not going to beat a Challenger off the line, y’know? Through three seasons, Fisher has won an ACC title and appeared in the ACC Championship Game another time. Coaching at Florida State comes along with great benefits but also higher expectations. Winning a conference title every three years in Tallahassee doesn’t equal future Hall of Famer. Fisher has the track record and talent to do more. How quickly he grooms a special talent in Jameis Winston could determine how fast his assent up this list becomes.
5. Larry Fedora, North Carolina
There’s a reason Fedora was viewed as one of the highest-profile coaching prospects a season ago. There is also a reason why, even after he had only been at North Carolina for a year, big-time programs were rumored to have gone tire-kicking to see if he would be interested making another move. Fedora, a former offensive coordinator at Florida and Oklahoma State, has shown an ability to coach an exciting brand of football while also performing well on the recruiting circuit. In four seasons at Southern Miss, Fedora led the Golden Eagles to bowl games each year and to a conference title in 2011, beating Kevin Sumlin’s Houston team in the championship game. Success followed Fedora to Chapel Hill, where the Tar Heels would have been in the ACC Championship Game if not for sanctions left behind by former coach Butch Davis.
6. Al Golden, Miami
In five seasons, Golden did what few thought possible: He turned Temple into a winner. Such progress came neither quickly nor easily. His first Owls team went 1-11 and the next two endured losing records as well. However, he bounced back to share the Big East title in 2009 and led Temple to an 8-4 mark before accepting the job with Miami. Between NCAA investigations and trying to rejuvenate a once-elite program that has not sniffed that level since joining the ACC, Golden’s process hasn’t been easy with the Hurricanes, either. Miami was in line to advance to its first ACC Championship Game in program history last year before self-imposing a postseason ban as part of the Nevin Shapiro investigation.
7. Randy Edsall, Maryland
Go ahead and make your jokes about the job Edsall has done in winning six games over two years after taking over a Maryland program that won nine games in 2010. Think, if you like, that he is overrated on this list. Then realize how wrong you are based on what Edsall did at UConn, taking a bad Division I-AA team to a two-time Big East champion. The beginning of the Maryland era for Edsall hasn’t gone well. It’s difficult to pin 2011 on him, though, considering Maryland quarterbacks were entirely snakebit with four suffering season-ending injuries. Consecutive top-35 recruiting classes should make Maryland fans believe better days are yet to come.
8. Dave Doeren, North Carolina State
Only Doeren’s relative inexperience prevents him from ranking higher on this list. He has two years of head-coaching experience at Northern Illinois, where his Huskies became the first MAC team to qualify for a BCS game last season. In his two seasons, Doeren has gone 23-4 and lost just one conference game. Of course, competitively speaking, the Northern Illinois team he inherited was better suited to make a run in the MAC than will be this North Carolina State team in the ACC. Doeren comes with strong pedigree, having served as defensive coordinator for Bret Bielema at Wisconsin.
9. Jim Grobe, Wake Forest
Winning at Wake Forest has not been an easy task throughout the history of the program. Grobe has done a decent job, winning an ACC championship in 2006 and leading the Demon Deacons to their only three-year bowl streak. Over his 12 seasons, Grobe has posted a 73-74 record. He loses more conference games than he wins. Yet he has also taken Wake Forest to greater heights than it has ever reached previously.
10. David Cutcliffe, Duke
It’s easy to look at Cutcliffe’s 21-40 record with the Blue Devils – including 9-31 in ACC games – and think it’s ridiculous to have him above the bottom of this list. Then again, the last coach to win consistently at Duke was Steve Spurrier in the late 1980s. Last year Cutcliffe led the Blue Devils to their first bowl game since 1994. They lost in the Belk Bowl, but Cutcliffe is generating something often not found until winter on Duke’s campus – hope. Duke was even one win at Georgia Tech away from giving itself a chance at playing in the ACC Championship Game. Cutcliffe got a raw deal at Ole Miss, where he went 44-29 with a winning record in six of seven seasons before getting fired for a 4-7 campaign.
11. Mike London, Virginia
London’s excellence on the FCS level has not translated into the ACC through three seasons at Virginia. London, who previously served as the Cavaliers defensive coordinator from 2006-07, led Richmond to the 2008 FCS national championship and back to the quarterfinals in 2009. Virginia came calling for London after firing Al Groh – London’s boss at Virginia. The results have been mixed, but largely disappointing. The Cavs posted 4-8 seasons on either side of an 8-5 campaign capped by a loss in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in 2011. London isn’t on the hottest of seats this season, but he could find himself in trouble in a hurry.
12. Paul Chryst, Pittsburgh
The beginning of the year left questions about whether or not Chryst would survive his first season. By the end, he guided the Panthers to a bowl game, though the BBVA Compass Bowl isn’t exactly a fan-favorite. Chryst made a name for himself as Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator and has a strong track record. There is no reason to think he will continue to appear this low on preseason lists moving forward.
13. Steve Addazio, Boston College
Year 1 at Temple looked good for Addazio, a former offensive coordinator for Urban Meyer at Florida. Addazio led the Owls to a 9-4 record and a second-place finish in the MAC East. Temple’s step into the Big East proved not nearly as fruitful. The Owls finished 4-7 and just 2-5 in league games. Still, Addazio landed the Boston College job and will try to turn around a once-proud program that won eight games or more for nine consecutive years from 2001-09. The last two seasons have seen the Eagles go 6-18.
14. Scott Shafer, Syracuse
With the Orange now officially part of the ACC, Shafer is the only coach with no previous head-coaching experience. He served as defensive coordinator under predecessor Doug Marrone, who became the new Buffalo Bills coach this offseason. Shafer has worked for successful head coaches. In addition to Marrone, he has served as defensive coordinator for Jim Harbaugh at Stanford and Rich Rodriguez in a forgettable stint at Michigan.
Topics: ACC, Boston College Eagles, Clemson Tigers, Duke Blue Devils, Florida State Seminoles, Football, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Maryland Terrapins, Miami Hurricanes, North Carolina State Wolfpack, North Carolina Tar Heels, Pittsburgh Panthers, Syracuse Orange, Virginia Cavaliers, Virginia Tech Hokies, Wake Forest Demon Deacons