With ACC Media Days hitting the news this week, just like the SEC last week, we are ranking the ACC coaches. The lists may not be as high profile as the SEC, but there are still quite a few track records to admire in this conference. And the one guy who stands above all others might be a much bigger shocker than the SEC rankings were:
14. Dave Doeren- N.C. State
This is probably not fair since Doeren’s only had one year at N.C. State so far, but when you factor in the 3-9 season, which was the Wolfpack’s worst season since 2006, the year before Doeren’s predecessor, Tom O’Brien, arrived, and you look at the lack of recruiting for 2015 so far, plus the fact that Northern Illinois showed hardly any drop-off after he left and Rod Carey took over, the guy has a few strikes working against him. The only advantages so far are that the Wolfpack nailed a Top 30 class for this recruiting year, and, never mind. That’s it. This is not to say Doeren can’t move up this list in the future, but right now, he’s got to prove something to move out of last place on this list.
13. Mike London- Virginia
If this were 2011, Mike London would have been higher on this list after the quick two-year turnaround he had with the Cavaliers, taking them to the Chick-fil-A Bowl. But after the future looked bright then, London could be on the hot seat coming off the heels of a 2-10 season, his second losing season in a row. He’s been with the program for four straight years now and has an 18-31 record. Given what he inherited, it was clear from the start that London would need time to build a program, but that time is almost up. The consolation about last year is that there is upside with consecutive strong recruiting classes, including this class where two five-stars were brought in. Maybe now, with the cupboard more full, London will be able to take Virginia forward and become competitive consistently.
12. Scott Shafer- Syracuse
Shafer’s position at Syracuse luckily has created some stability for the Orange after spending four years as an assistant while Doug Marrone was rebuilding the program. With Marrone gone to the NFL, Shafer’s 7-6 debut season was nothing to be ashamed of. Sure, he was expected to build off the 8-5 season in 2012, but with a move to the ACC a little bit of a fall off had to be expected, and Shafer held the program together. However, he hasn’t proven anything to move up this list yet, and recruiting hasn’t looked great. As of right now, the Orange have a Top 30 class for 2015, but the two classes before that were outside of the Top 50, so right now there’s not a lot of talking points to put Shafer higher on the list. He is simply near the bottom right now because he has more to prove, which makes him very similar to the next guy on the list…
11. Paul Chryst- Pittsburgh
Dave Wannstedt was fired after a disappointing 7-5 campaign, and when Todd Graham bolted after one disappointing 6-6 year, Paul Chryst was supposed to bring his high-powered offense from Wisconsin to Pittsburgh and get the school back to 6 wins. But not only is he a mere 13-13 in his first two years, coming off the heels of a 7-6 season, but his scoring offense last year failed to crack the Top 80, averaging just over 26 points per game. There are some excuses, however, not least of which is the move to a much more competitive conference. And he was the third head coach in three years for the Panthers, creating a good bit of turmoil. However, if he’s to move up on this list, he’ll have to do it on the field. Recruiting has been decent, but Chryst has only put together one Top 40 class so it hasn’t been great. It’ll take coaching to build a winner.
10. Dave Clawson- Wake Forest
Dave Clawson is only this high on the list right now because of his track record since he has yet to coach a single game with Wake Forest. However, his career at Bowling Green, Richmond, Fordham, and even at Tennessee his one year as offensive coordinator suggests two things: his teams get better every year, but his players struggle when his system is first introduced. With that in mind, expect the Demon Deacons to struggle significantly their first couple of years, and Clawson will probably fall down this list. But long-term, he’ll move up. His first recruiting class was awful, finishing last in the ACC, but it’s showing a little bit of improvement this year. If his coaching is enough, eventually he should be able to beat up on the bottom half of the conference to put together winning teams and improve recruiting. I maintain this was a good hire and Clawson is sure to be successful, but he’ll be off to a rocky start, so it’s hard to put him any higher on this list.
9. Paul Johnson- Georgia Tech
The excitement surrounding Paul Johnson’s first two years in Atlanta is drawing to a close. Back to back seasons with only 7 wins and terrible recruiting classes show that the program is regressing, and things are not looking any brighter. Re-introducing the Triple-Option offense to the ACC when he took over in 2008 was exciting, and it worked with the personnel that he didn’t recruit. But we now see why that style of offense is fading in major college football. If you can’t recruit the personnel to run it, and people figure out your system, the offense is easy to defend. Sure, it’s good for 6 or 7 wins a year, and that’s why Johnson is above the other coaches on this list. You know you’ll get a winning team, and with talent, a team good enough to compete for an ACC championship the way the Yellow Jackets did in 2008 and 2009. But if Georgia Tech wants more, it doesn’t look like Johnson is their guy. He’s proven enough to have a consistent winning team in Atlanta, but he is struggling to build anything beyond that.
8. Steve Addazio- Boston College
Although Steve Addazio didn’t recruit the players, putting together a 7-6 season his first year at Boston College was remarkable given the fact that the team had just come off of a 2-10 season. Addazio’s inaugural success is enough to put him at this spot on this list because of what he inherited. Recruiting hasn’t been great since he took over, but it’s no worse than the recruiting that took place before he took over, so there’s not much to worry about yet. However, if Addazio is to move up this list, he’ll have to stock the cupboard a little bit more. Remember, his second year at Temple was a drop to 4-7 after he went 9-4 his first year with players coached, recruited, and developed by Al Golden. Addazio has shown a pretty good ability to coach X’s and O’s, but player development and recruiting is still a question. Those two issues will have to be addressed in the future if he is to stay in Boston and build a consistent winner. Until then, he has still not done enough to be in the top half of this list.
7. Larry Fedora- North Carolina
Investigation aside, Larry Fedora’s first two years at North Carolina have gone pretty well given everything he had to deal with. So an 8-4 record to a 7-6 record is nothing to celebrate too much, but after being ineligible for postseason play in 2012, he was dealt a rough hand, so given the circumstances, it’s enough to keep him in the top half of ACC coaches. What also puts him there is the recruiting. Currently, with another investigation hanging over the entire athletic department, Fedora has managed to put together a Rivals Top 20 class for next year so far. That’s on top of the Top 25 class he has coming in this year. Expectations are higher for the Tar Heels too. The prospect of competing for the Coastal Division title would have seemed crazy by Year three when Fedora took over, but he’s got them in pretty good position to do so. With that in mind, this year will determine how far up or down he moves on this list, because, thanks to him, the pieces are in place now for a very good season.
6. Bobby Petrino- Louisville
From a coaching perspective, Bobby Petrino could be the best in all of college football, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Nobody is even questioning that he will do a great job at Louisville and keep the Cardinals relevant on the national scale. Heck, his arrival even raises expectations for Louisville this year beyond what they should be with the coaching change and the loss of Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback. Petrino will probably move up this list as time goes on, but he has to stay in this spot for now because of two reasons: First, this is his first year at Louisville in the ACC. He’s proven himself everywhere, but I can’t put him ahead of the other guys when he hasn’t coached an ACC game yet. Second, how much stability will he bring to Louisville? From a pure coaching perspective, I would have no doubt about Petrino, but having him in charge of my program may not be something I want. If he doesn’t bolt for another job that’s better the minute it comes up, he’ll get himself into trouble and be forced out of that job. I’m sorry, but those questions will always be there with him. I don’t blame Louisville for making the hire, but they can’t complain if he’s gone in a year.
5. Al Golden-Miami
When Al Golden took over at Miami, revelations of new possible sanctions due to the Nevin Shapiro scandal turned the job into a possible death sentence for a coaching career. He had to slump through the first two years and part of last year with the investigation hanging over his head, including a two-year self-imposed bowl ban, The result was a 6-6 season followed by a 7-5 season. So what did he do when the investigation ended and the postseason ban was lifted? Try a 9-4 record, two straight Top 20 recruiting classes, and a Top 15 class so far for next year. Okay, so none of that is up to Hurricane expectations, which should be Top 10 classes and ACC championships, but given the fact that the program was about to fall off of a cliff, Golden’s ability to bring it back to stability so quickly is nothing short of remarkable. He now has the Hurricanes a solid favorite to win the ACC Coastal this year and play Florida State for the conference championship. The program is finally on the rise, back to where Miami football should be, and if Golden can keep it going in that direction, look for him to jump up this list in the future.
4. Dabo Swinney- Clemson
Since taking over at Clemson in 2008, Dabo Swinney has taken all the right steps to bringing the Tigers to the next level. With three straight 10-win seasons, two straight 11-win seasons, and superstar players in Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins representing the school on a national stage, there’s no question Swinney has the Tigers heading in the right direction. Even if a fall-off is expected this year due to losing Boyd and Watkins, Swinney has put together three straight Top 15 classes and has the No. 2 class in the country on Rivals so far for next year. Recruiting is continuing to get better, and he’s scored major victories over the past few years, including one against Georgia last year. However, Swinney can build his profile by ending the 5-game losing streak to South Carolina, but that likely won’t happen this year. Even with that streak, though, he’s got Clemson fans thinking big for the future and is a major part in the “explosion” of ACC football Duke Head Coach David Cutcliffe was talking about at ACC Media Days this week. The expectations are continuing to raise for the Tigers, and what probably has fans most exciting is that Clemson won’t back down from any competition, which has included the ACC, South Carolina every year, and big games with Georgia, Auburn, and TCU. Under Swinney, Clemson does not appear to be going anywhere.
3. Frank Beamer- Virginia Tech
You can call this a ranking based purely on legacy. I’ll say that’s fine, and Frank Beamer has a case for being higher. As he enters his
28th season with Virginia Tech, Beamer’s resume that includes jumps from Independent to the Big East to the ACC, 21 straight bowl appearances, 17 Top 25 finishes during those 21 years, and four ACC championships can’t be ignored. Am I supposed to shove all of that aside because of two seasons the Hokies finished unranked? Absolutely not. And going from 7-6 to 8-5 shows that his team may be improving. Beamer has shown no signs of slowing down at Virginia Tech, and the fact that there’s been talk of him losing his touch simply because of two unranked seasons shows that he is a victim of his own success. Beamerball will still show up, and he has earned a permanent spot on the Top 5 of this list. There is only one coach in this conference that has an accomplishment that Beamer doesn’t have (Jimbo Fisher), but until last year, Beamer’s Hokies were the most accomplished team in the ACC from the time they entered in 2004. He would have been No. 1 on this list two short years ago, and his accomplishments surpass almost anybody in the conference. A surefire Hall of Famer with a 224-109 record in Blacksburg, I’ll move Frank Beamer down this list when he does something to deserve being knocked down this list. I’m not putting Golden ahead of him for one 9-win season, and I’m not putting Swinney ahead of him yet after just one great run with a superstar quarterback and receiver.
2. Jimbo Fisher- Florida State
Jimbo Fisher’s plan at Florida State has paid off, and the most successful Nick Saban protege has the Seminoles right where they used to be: dominating the ACC. Taking an SEC approach to recruiting and running a program, Florida State is now an SEC program playing in
the ACC and shows no signs of letting up in the future. As stocked as Saban’s cupboard is at Alabama, Florida State might be second in that regard. Five straight Top 10 classes, Top 5 classes in 2011 and 2014, and another Top 10 class on track for next year might not be the ridiculous stocking up on talent Alabama does, but it is still making for a loaded program that is in a much weaker conference to dominate than Alabama. Florida State is just about at the position where it simply reloads, not rebuilds, so we’re back to the Bobby Bowden 1990s days in Tallahassee. Two straight ACC championships and BCS Bowl wins have also proven his ability to coach in addition to running a program. Last year’s national championship season wasn’t a fluke given that it followed a 12-2 season after 10-4 and 9-4 seasons. Fisher’s on track to be a superstar coach in college football, and many would think he should be No. 1 on this list. But the top guy’s accomplishments are unparalleled.
1. David Cutcliffe- Duke
Yes, David Cutcliffe, who has never won a national championship or a conference championship, has a mere 75-73 record for his career and 31-44 record at Duke, and once got fired, is the top coach in the ACC. What he has done at Duke the past six years is the most impressive feat I’ve ever seen accomplished in college football. There are certain things in the world that are about as close to impossible as they could get without actually being impossible, and winning at Duke was one of them. This was a school, when Cutcliffe took over, that wanted
to give up football but couldn’t because it wanted to stay in the ACC, so it just decided to completely ignore the program. Think they’re doing that now? The Blue Devils finished the football season last year at 10-4, ACC Coastal Division champions, and in the Top 25, while the basketball team was knocked out in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Cutcliffe currently has a Top 20 recruiting class for next year on Rivals. At Duke. At DUKE!!! I don’t know how to emphasize that enough. The last coach to win there was Steve Spurrier, but even Spurrier didn’t have to deal with Miami, Florida State, and Virginia Tech in the conference when he was there in the 1980s. Duke went 2-1 against those schools last year, only losing to the undefeated national champions, FSU. There’s a reason Cutcliffe was ACC Coach of the Year when he went 6-7 with Duke in 2012. Simply finishing the regular season at .500 with that school was considered at the time the best accomplishment in the conference. But following it up with a 10-4 season? There’s another reason Cutcliffe was ACC Coach of the Year in 2013, winning the award two years in a row. I know that I put him ahead of a coach who’s won a national title and another 30-year veteran coach who has won multiple conference titles, but I don’t care. They didn’t win at Duke. They didn’t take on the most difficult task in college football in 2008. We already know of Cutcliffe’s offensive genius. Just look at what he did with Heath Shuler, Tee Martin, Eric Ainge, and Peyton and Eli Manning. That offensive genius has now put two Duke quarterbacks, Sean Renfree and Thaddeus Lewis, in the NFL along with the Manning brothers. If you want some final proof that Cutcliffe belongs at the top of this list, here it is:
It’s a well-known fact that Peyton Manning is the offensive coordinator of any team he goes to in the NFL, and the official offensive coordinator of his team is really just a consultant. Yet when he had to have four neck surgeries and re-learn how to throw the football, who is the coach he listened to? That’s right, the same coach who is the reason he broke ranks with his entire family and went to Tennessee for college. The same coach who developed him into the NFL quarterback he is today. The same coach who, despite being nothing more than his college offensive coordinator, remains the only coach he still listens to for anything. David Cutcliffe.
That makes two impossible things Cutcliffe has accomplished: Winning at Duke and having Peyton Manning view you as an offensive coach worth listening to.
Tags: ACC Acc Media Days Al Golden Bobby Petrino Boston College Golden Eagles Clemson Tigers College Football Dabo Swinney Dave Clawson Dave Doeren David Cutcliffe Duke Blue Devils FBS Feature Florida State Seminoles Frank Beamer Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Jimbo Fisher Larry Fedora Louisville Cardinals Miami Hurricanes Mike London N.C. State Wolfpack North Carolina Tar Heels Paul Chryst Paul Johnson Pittsburgh Panthers Scott Shafer Steve Addazio Syracuse Orange Virginia Cavaliers Virginia Tech Hokies Wake Forest Demon Deacons