Ranking college football coaches is no easy task. Similar to any position on the field, statistics may not tell the full story when judging a coaching tenure.
While it’s difficult to rank coaches, this aspect of college football is arguably the most important to winning a national or conference title. No matter how much talent a program has, winning a national title is difficult if the coaching is questionable.
Wins are a telling and important statistic, but they don’t provide a complete picture of how successful coaches are. Winning 10 games at Alabama is different than winning 10 games at Kentucky. Also, every program has a different amount of resources available. Hierarchy in college football also plays a vital role in how successful programs are. A good coach can elevate a program. However, it’s easier for programs like Alabama, Florida, Ohio State and Texas with more built-in advantages to contend for a national title on a more consistent basis.
A couple of other factors to consider when ranking assistant coaches: How well are the assistants paid? A good program is willing to spend big to keep its assistants. And a staff with two of the nation’s top coordinators could be a sign the head coach is better as a CEO and may not be as strong in terms of developing gameplans. How is the coach in the X’s and O’s? Can the coach recruit? Are the program’s facilities on par with the rest of the conference? Much like assistants, a program needs good facilities to win big. If a team is winning at a high level with poor facilities and a small budget, it’s reflects positively on the head coach. Is the coach successful at only one stop? Or has that coach built a solid resume from different jobs?
Again, wins are important. But our rankings also take into account a blank slate. If you start a program from scratch, which coach would you hire?
Considering how important coaches are to teams or even making preseason predictions, Athlon is taking a look at how all 128 college football coaches rank nationally and by conference.
Ranking the ACC's College Football Coaches for 2014
1. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
Record at Florida State: 45-10 (4 years)
Career Record: 45-10 (4 years)
Florida State’s Program Rank:No. 1 in the ACC, No. 11 nationally
In four years in Tallahassee, Fisher has returned Florida State to national prominence. The Seminoles slipped at the end of the Bobby Bowden era, but Fisher has three seasons of at least 10 wins and has claimed back-to-back ACC titles. Florida State is 26-2 over the last two years and won the national championship last year, defeating Auburn in the final title game of the BCS era. Another factor working in Fisher’s ranking is his record against Florida State’s rivals. Fisher is 4-0 against Miami and 3-1 against Florida. Fisher’s success isn’t just limited to the on-field results, as he’s an excellent recruiter and talent evaluator and has a good eye for finding assistant coaches. With Fisher at the helm, there’s no more debate: Florida State is back and will be a factor in college football’s national championship picture for the foreseeable future.
2. David Cutcliffe, Duke
Record at Duke: 31-44 (6 years)
Career Record: 75-73 (12 years)
Duke’s Program Rank: No. 14 in the ACC, No. 72 nationally
Cutcliffe’s career mark with the Blue Devils is only 31-44, but as we mentioned in the introduction, not all coaches can be judged solely on wins and losses. Duke is one of the toughest coaching jobs in a BCS conference. From 2000-07, the Blue Devils won only 10 games and had six seasons of at least 10 losses. Cutcliffe needed some time to establish a foundation, but Duke has turned a corner under his watch. The Blue Devils went 15-33 in Cutcliffe’s first four years. However, Duke is 16-11 over the last seasons and claimed the Coastal Division title in 2013. And in terms of recruiting, the Blue Devils have the No. 13 roster in the ACC, which only adds credit to the job Cutcliffe has done in Durham. Prior to his stint at Duke, Cutcliffe went 44-29 at Ole Miss, including a 10-3 record in 2003. Sustaining success with the Blue Devils won’t be easy. However, Cutcliffe is a sharp offensive mind and the program has made steady progress under his watch. Expect Duke to consistently be in the mix for bowl games under Cutcliffe in future seasons.
3. Bobby Petrino, Louisville
Record at Louisville: 41-9 (4 years, 2003-06)
Career Record: 83-30 (9 years)
Louisville’s Program Rank:No. 6 in the ACC, No. 29 nationally
Petrino is a polarizing figure in college football. There’s no doubt he’s made mistakes, but he’s also an outstanding coach – and likely one of the best in the nation. After stops at Arkansas, Western Kentucky and in the NFL with the Falcons, Petrino has returned to Louisville. From 2003-06, the Cardinals went 41-9 under Petrino’s direction and finished No. 5 in the final Associated Press poll in 2006. Petrino transformed Arkansas from a 5-7 program in 2008 to an 11-2 team in 2011. However, his tenure ended with the Razorbacks after he lied to athletic director Jeff Long following a motorcycle crash in 2012. After sitting on the sidelines for a year, Petrino was hired by Western Kentucky to replace Willie Taggart, and the Hilltoppers finished 8-4 in Petrino’s only season. Again, there’s no question Petrino comes with baggage. But the Montana native is a proven winner – 83 wins in nine years – and one of the top offensive minds in college football.
4. Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
Record at Virginia Tech: 224-109-2 (27 years)
Career Record: 266-132-4 (33 years)
Virginia Tech’s Program Rank:No. 4 in the ACC, No. 27 nationally
Beamer is the dean of college football coaches with 33 consecutive years of head coach experience. The North Carolina native worked as an assistant at Citadel and Murray State from 1973-80 and was promoted to the top spot with the Racers in 1981. In six seasons as Murray State’s head coach, Beamer went 42-23-2 and finished his tenure with four consecutive winning records. Beamer started his tenure at Virginia Tech with losing records in four out of the first six years. However, the Hokies have been one of the nation’s most consistent teams since 1993. Virginia Tech has played in 21 straight bowl games and has won at least 10 games in eight out of the last 10 years. While the program has been remarkably consistent, the Hokies are 15-11 in the last two seasons. Even though that record marks a slight drop from the early 2000s, there’s no reason to hit the panic button in Blacksburg going into 2014.
5. Al Golden, Miami
Record at Miami: 22-15 (3 years)
Career Record: 49-49 (8 years)
Miami’s Program Rank: No. 3 in the ACC, No. 21 nationally
Golden is a tough coach to rank among his ACC peers. On the positive side: Miami has increased its win total in each of the last two seasons after winning six games in Golden’s debut. The Hurricanes are also seeing an uptick in recruiting, bringing in the No. 12 (2014), No. 14 (2013) and No. 10 (2012) classes after signing the No. 33 group in 2011. But here’s the bad news: This is Miami – the No. 3 coaching job in the ACC. The Hurricanes are still looking for their first appearance in the conference championship, and Golden has yet to produce a ranked team in the final Associated Press poll. With the No. 2 roster in the ACC, Miami needs to win at a higher level. Prior to taking over in Coral Gables, Golden took Temple from a 1-11 record in 2006 to a program with back-to-back winning seasons in 2009-10. Some of the Owls’ success under Golden was due to the transition to the MAC, but Golden helped to mold Temple from one of the worst programs back to respectability. 2014 should be a telling year for Golden and his overall leadership at Miami, as the Hurricanes have the talent to win the Coastal. However, enough questions remain that Miami could finish third in the division.
6. Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Record at Clemson: 51-23 (6 years)
Career Record: 51-23 (6 years)
Clemson’s Program Rank:No. 2 in the ACC, No. 20 nationally
Swinney has helped Clemson shake the underachieving label recently, recording a school-record 32 victories over the last three years. The Tigers are 14-2 in the last two seasons of ACC play and have two BCS bowl appearances in three years. Clemson finished No. 8 in the final Associated Press poll in 2013, which is the best final ranking for the program since Danny Ford guided the Tigers to a No. 8 ranking in 1982. Swinney is at his best in the program CEO role. Coordinators Chad Morris and Brent Venables are two of the nation’s highest-paid assistants, and Morris’ arrival in 2011 sparked instant improvement on offense. Prior to hiring Morris, Swinney was just 19-15. One trouble spot for Swinney is his record against rival South Carolina and Florida State. The Gamecocks have won five in a row over Clemson, while the Tigers are 2-4 under Swinney against the Seminoles. In order for Swinney to take the next step as a head coach, he has to consistently beat Florida State and South Carolina.
7. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
Record at Georgia Tech: 47-32 (6 years)
Career Record: 154-71 (17 years)
Georgia Tech’s Program Rank:No. 9 in the ACC, No. 46 nationally
Johnson has been a successful coach at three different jobs, starting with Georgia Southern in the FCS ranks in 1997. The Eagles went 62-10 under Johnson, which included back-to-back FCS Championships. At Navy, Johnson went 2-10 in his first year (2002) but finished his tenure with a 45-29 record and a No. 24 final ranking in the 2004 Associated Press poll. Johnson was hired at Georgia Tech in 2008 and is 47-32 in six years. Additionally, the Yellow Jackets have not finished under .500 in conference play under Johnson’s watch and won the ACC title in 2009. Despite his success, there seems to be unrest at Georgia Tech. But here's something to keep in perspective: Georgia Tech ranks as the No. 9 job in the ACC. The Yellow Jackets have 19 wins in conference play over the last four years – only Virginia Tech has more during that span in the Coastal Division. Johnson is also regarded as one of the ACC’s top X’s and O’s coaches. Sure, the option might not be the most exciting offense to run at a BCS program, and the recruiting at Georgia Tech isn’t getting any better. However, Johnson has finished first or second (outright or shared) in the Coastal in five out of the last six years.
8. Steve Addazio, Boston College
Record at Boston College: 7-6 (1 year)
Career Record: 20-17 (3 years)
Boston College’s Program Rank:No. 12 in the ACC, No. 60 nationally
Addazio brought instant improvement in his first season at Boston College. The Eagles went 6-18 from 2011-12 under Frank Spaziani, but Addazio guided Boston College to a 7-6 record in 2013. Addazio had plenty of talent in the upperclassmen ranks to help his transition, and his work on the recruiting trail should ensure the Eagles continue to be a factor in the bowl picture. Before taking over at Boston College, Addazio went 13-11 in two years with Temple. The Owls went 9-4 in the MAC in 2011 but slipped to 4-7 in the tougher Big East Conference. As a Connecticut native, Addazio is familiar with the recruiting scene in the Northeast and what it takes to win at Boston College. The Eagles lose several key players from last year’s seven-win team, so some regression in the win total should be expected. However, Addazio has this program trending in the right direction for 2015 and beyond.
9. Larry Fedora, North Carolina
Record at North Carolina: 15-10 (2 years)
Career Record: 49-29 (6 years)
North Carolina’s Program Rank:No. 5 in the ACC, No. 28 nationally
Fedora could be a spot or two higher on this list, but there’s not much separating the middle of the pack when it comes to ACC coaches. The Texas native has North Carolina on the right track, and the Tar Heels should be in contention for the Coastal Division title in 2014. Fedora’s record at North Carolina is 15-10, with a 9-7 mark in ACC play. The Tar Heels were ineligible to play for the Coastal Division title in 2012 or play in a bowl, but Fedora guided North Carolina to a 5-3 conference record – the first for the program since a 5-3 mark in 2004. Prior to his stint at North Carolina, Fedora coached at Southern Miss and recorded a 34-19 mark with a No. 20 rank in the final Associated Press poll in 2011. If the Tar Heels take a step forward as expected in 2014, Fedora will rank higher on this list next season.
10. Paul Chryst, Pittsburgh
Record at Pittsburgh: 13-13 (2 years)
Career Record: 13-13 (2 years)
Pittsburgh’s Program Rank:No. 7 in the ACC, No. 37 nationally
Coaching uncertainty surrounded Pittsburgh from 2010-12. The Panthers went through three head coaches – Dave Wannstedt, Mike Haywood and Todd Graham – in two seasons. However, Pittsburgh got it right went they hired Chryst. Yes, his record is only 13-13, but this program is on the right track. Chryst went 6-7 in his debut but guided the Panthers to a 7-6 mark in his second year and Pittsburgh’s ACC debut. Prior to taking the top spot with the Panthers, Chryst was a successful offensive coordinator at Oregon State and Wisconsin and spent some time in the NFL with the Chargers. The talent level in the Steel City is promising. Quarterback Chad Voytik, running back James Conner and receiver Tyler Boyd are three potential standout sophomores, and the offensive line seems to be on the right track after struggling over the last few years. Chryst needs more time to build the roster, but all signs suggest Pittsburgh is trending in the right direction going into 2014.
11. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest
Record at Wake Forest: First Year
Career Record: 90-80 (14 years)
Wake Forest’s Program Rank: No. 13 in the ACC, No. 71 nationally
After successful tenures at three previous stops, Clawson finally gets his chance to run a BCS program. From 1999-2003, he recorded a 29-29 mark at Fordham. The Rams went 0-11 in his debut and made steady improvement over the next five years, including a 10-3 record with an appearance in the FCS playoffs in 2002. Clawson was hired at Richmond in 2004 and guided the Spiders to a 29-20 record with two playoff appearances. After a one-year stint as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator in 2008, Clawson was hired at Bowling Green and led the Falcons to a bowl game in his debut. Under Clawson’s watch, Bowling Green won 32 games, claimed the MAC title in 2013, and made three bowl trips. Considering his history of improving programs that were struggling prior to his arrival, Clawson is the right pick to take over at Wake Forest.
12. Dave Doeren, NC State
Record at NC State: 3-9 (1 year)
Career Record: 26-13 (3 years)
NC State’s Program Rank: No. 8 in the ACC, No. 44 nationally
Doeren’s first season was disappointing, but there’s no reason to panic at NC State. The Wolfpack had only eight returning starters last year, and the offense had its share of quarterback injuries. With Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett eligible at quarterback, combined with another year for the players to adapt to the coaching staff, NC State could be the most improved team in the ACC. Prior to taking over at NC State, Doeren went 23-4 at Northern Illinois and led the Huskies to an appearance in the Orange Bowl during the 2012 season. Sure, Doeren has plenty to prove in the ACC. And going winless in conference play in your debut isn’t exactly a strong introduction to the rest of the ACC. However, he has a track record of success as a head coach and was a regarded assistant during his tenure at Wisconsin and Kansas.
13. Scott Shafer, Syracuse
Record at Syracuse: 7-6 (1 year)
Career Record: 7-6 (1 year)
Syracuse’s Program Rank: No. 11 in the ACC, No. 58 nationally
Shafer picked up where Doug Marrone left off, guiding Syracuse to a 7-6 record with a victory over Minnesota in the Texas Bowl. After a 3-4 start, Shafer rallied the Orange for a solid second half of the season and won four out of the final six games. Syracuse’s only losses over the final six games were to national champion Florida State and a one-point defeat to Pittsburgh. Prior to his promotion to head coach at Syracuse, Shafer served as the defensive coordinator under Marrone and also has stops in his career as an assistant at Michigan, Stanford, Western Michigan, Illinois and Northern Illinois. The Orange had some key faces to replace going into 2013, so Shafer deserves a lot of credit for guiding this program back to a bowl in its first season of ACC play. Now the task for Shafer is to sustain success, which seems like a reasonable goal considering he signed the No. 50 recruiting class in 2014 – an improvement on the No. 73 class from 2013. Shafer could be higher on this list, but Doeren’s success at Northern Illinois gave him a slight edge for the No. 12 spot.
14. Mike London, Virginia
Record at Virginia: 18-31 (4 years)
Career Record: 42-36 (6 years)
Virginia’s Program Rank: No. 10 in the ACC, No. 51 nationally
London enters 2014 squarely on the hot seat and in need of a major turnaround to remain Virginia’s head coach in 2015. Considering the Cavaliers have the No. 6 roster according to the recruiting rankings, it’s hard to grasp why Virginia has just two ACC wins over the last two years. Tough non-conference scheduling and inconsistent quarterback play have played a large role in the Cavaliers’ recent struggles, but this program should be winning at a higher level. Prior to taking over in Charlottesville, London went 24-5 in two seasons at Richmond, including a FCS title from the 2008 season. And he went 4-8 in his first year at Virginia but went 8-5 with an appearance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in 2011. But even with momentum on the recruiting trail and staff changes, London has yet to build on his successful 2011 record.