Success with any college football team starts with coaching. Even if a program doesn’t have the resources of the nation’s elite jobs, a good coach can elevate a program into national title contention. However, similar to any position on the field, statistics may not tell the full story when judging a coaching tenure.
This is not simply a list of coaches ranked by accomplishment or wins. While those aspects are important, it doesn’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. It's always easier for programs 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 coaches: How well are the assistants paid? 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 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 knowing what they accomplished so far and their career trajectory? Remember, you don't get the assistants - only the head coach. And head-to-head wins do not matter for this ranking.
Ranking the ACC’s Football Coaches for 2015
1. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
Record at Florida State: 58-11 (5 years)
Career Record: 58-11 (5 years)
Fisher has returned Florida State to the nation’s elite, guiding the Seminoles to a 27-1 mark over the last two seasons and the 2013 national championship. Under Fisher’s watch, Florida State has averaged 11.6 wins a season and has three consecutive finishes in the final Associated Press poll. Replacing Jameis Winston won’t be easy, but Fisher is one of the nation’s best at talent evaluation, and the Seminoles will continue to win at a high level under his watch.
2. Bobby Petrino, Louisville
Record at Louisville: 50-13 (5 years)
Career Record: 92-34 (10 years)
Petrino’s return to Louisville was a success, as the Cardinals finished 9-4 in their first season in the ACC. And Petrino’s team was neck-and-neck with the top teams in the conference, losing by just six points to Clemson and was defeated by Florida State after leading the defending national champs going into the fourth quarter. In Petrino’s 10 years as a college head coach, he’s won at least eight games every season but one. The Cardinals have some key pieces to replace for 2015, but the program is in good shape for the long haul with Petrino in control.
3. David Cutcliffe, Duke
Record at Duke: 40-48 (7 years)
Career Record: 84-77 (13 years)
Cutcliffe has elevated Duke into an annual bowl team in the ACC, and after winning the Coastal Division title in 2014, the Blue Devils finished second last season. How big of a difference has Cutcliffe made with Duke since 2008? The 10-win 2013 campaign, and the 19 victories in a two-year span are the best marks in school history. Cutcliffe is regarded for his work with offenses and quarterbacks, but he deserves more credit for his work as a head coach, especially at a program like Duke where it’s not easy to maintain success.
4. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
Record at Georgia Tech: 58-35 (7 years)
Career Record: 165-74 (18 years)
2014 wasn’t necessarily a make-or-break year for Johnson at Georgia Tech, but it was fair to wonder where the program was headed after a 14-13 mark from 2012-13. The Yellow Jackets entered 2014 with low expectations and delivered with a surprising 11-3 season and a Coastal Division title. In Johnson’s seven seasons in Atlanta, Georgia Tech has never finished under .500 in conference play. Additionally, the Yellow Jackets have played for the ACC Championship three times.
5. Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
Record at Virginia Tech: 231-115-2 (28 years)
Career Record: 273-138-4 (34 years)
Beamer is college football’s longest-tenured coach entering the 2015 season. Virginia Tech has won 231 games under Beamer’s watch, which includes a streak of eight consecutive seasons of at least 10 wins from 2004-11. While Beamer’s longevity deserves plenty of consideration here, it’s also worth noting Virginia Tech is just 22-17 over the last three seasons and has not finished in the final Associated Press poll in that span after recording 12 top-25 finishes in 13 years from 1998-2011. The Hokies tied for second in the Coastal Division in 2013 but slipped to fourth in 2012 and fifth in 2014. Can Beamer return this program back to the top of the Coastal in 2015?
6. Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Record at Clemson: 61-26 (7 years)
Career Record: 61-26 (7 years)
Swinney has helped Clemson football reach its potential with four consecutive seasons of at least 10 victories. The Tigers have not lost more than two games in ACC play during that span and finished No. 8 in the final Associated Press poll in 2013. Swinney is also regarded for his work on the recruiting trail, as Clemson has averaged a 13.2 finish – including two top-10 classes – among all 128 teams over the last five seasons. It’s no secret the Tigers invested heavily in their coordinators – Chad Morris (now at SMU) and defensive play-caller Brent Venables – to allow Swinney to focus on being the program CEO. What type of impact will Morris leaving have on the offense? That’s the big question facing Clemson in 2015 and beyond.
7. Steve Addazio, Boston College
Record at Boston College: 14-12 (2 years)
Career Record: 27-23 (4 years)
Even though he’s won only 14 games in two seasons at Boston College, Addazio is off to an impressive start with the Eagles. In the two years prior to Addazio’s tenure, Boston College went 6-18 and missed out on a bowl appearance in both seasons. But Addazio has made the Eagles a tough out in the ACC once again, and the program is coming off back-to-back bowl appearances. Addazio’s tenure is even more impressive when you consider he was able to mesh his systems with the returning talent in 2013, as well as recruit a graduate transfer (Tyler Murphy) at quarterback with a slightly different approach on offense. With only nine returning starters, Addazio has a tough assignment just getting Boston College back to a bowl in 2015. However, the track record suggests the Eagles will be pushing for a winning record once again.
8. Al Golden, Miami
Record at Miami: 28-22 (4 years)
Career Record: 55-56 (9 years)
2015 is a critical season for Golden at Miami. The Hurricanes are just 16-16 in four years of ACC play under Golden and 28-22 overall. For a program that has the ability to recruit at a top 10-15 level, a .500 mark in conference games is a troubling sign. Golden did inherit some obstacles when he took over the program, including the Nevin Shapiro scandal and NCAA investigation, which was a cloud hanging over the program for over two years. Prior to taking over at Miami, Golden went 27-34 at Temple, which included a 17-8 record over the final two years (2009-10). With one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks in Brad Kaaya, Miami has the potential to challenge for the Coastal Division title. But potential has been the key word surrounding this program for a few years. It’s time for Golden to deliver.
9. Dave Doeren, NC State
Record at NC State: 11-14 (2 years)
Career Record: 34-18 (4 years)
If NC State picks up in 2015 where it left off last season, it’s a safe bet Doeren will rank higher on this list next year. The Wolfpack showed marked improvement in Doeren’s second season, going from a 3-9 and winless team in the ACC in 2013 to an 8-5 squad in 2014. NC State also finished 3-5 in ACC games and won four out of its final five games, including a 35-7 rout over rival North Carolina. Prior to NC State, Doeren went 23-4 at Northern Illinois and guided the Huskies to an appearance in the Orange Bowl in the 2012 season. Recruiting at NC State is on the rise too, as the Wolfpack have signed back-to-back top-35 classes after not finishing higher than 54th from 2011-13.
10. Larry Fedora, North Carolina
Record at North Carolina: 21-17 (3 years)
Career Record: 55-36 (7 years)
The ongoing NCAA investigation/uncertainty at North Carolina certainly isn’t helping Fedora’s tenure in Chapel Hill. However, the Tar Heels have regressed in wins since posting an 8-4 record in 2012. North Carolina finished 7-6 in 2013 and slipped to 6-7 in 2014. Aside from the regression in the win column, the biggest concern for Fedora has to be fixing a defense that ranked 14th in the ACC in yards per play allowed. The hire of Gene Chizik as the team’s coordinator should address that side of the ball, and North Carolina has one of the league’s most talented offenses in place. Could 2015 be the best year of Fedora’s tenure with the Tar Heels?
11. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest
Record at Wake Forest: 3-9 (1 year)
Career Record: 93-88 (15 years)
Prior to taking over at Wake Forest, Clawson was a successful head coach at three previous stops. From 1999-2003, Clawson went 29-29 at Fordham, with 19 of those victories coming in the final two seasons. After five years with the Rams, Clawson went 29-20 with two FCS playoff appearances at Richmond, followed by a 32-30 mark at Bowling Green from 2009-13. Clawson didn’t inherit a loaded roster and finished 3-9 with just one of those wins coming in conference play. However, Clawson seems to have Wake Forest moving in the right direction with a talented, young core in place for 2015 and '16.
12. Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh
Record at Pittsburgh: First Season
Career Record: First Season
If we are buying stock in coaches for 2016 and beyond, Narduzzi is on the must-have list. The former Michigan State coordinator is ready to be a head coach after leading one of the nation’s top defenses from 2007-14. The Spartans ranked in the top five nationally for fewest yards per play and points allowed per game from 2011-13. Narduzzi’s defense was a big reason why Michigan State won at least 11 games in four out of the last five years. Pittsburgh is on its fourth coach in six seasons. However, Narduzzi seems like the right coach at the right time for the Panthers.
13. Mike London, Virginia
Record at Virginia: 23-38 (5 years)
Career Record: 47-43 (7 years)
London entered 2014 on the hot seat but managed to earn another season in Charlottesville after the Cavaliers finished 5-7 and lost five games by eight points or less. London enters 2015 in the same situation, as his contact expires at the end of 2016 and there’s pressure to get Virginia back into a bowl game after three consecutive losing seasons. Recruiting has been a strength for London and his staff, with the Cavaliers averaging a 31.8 finish nationally since 2011. The 31.8 mark ranks No. 6 among ACC teams, ahead of three other Coastal Division teams in Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Duke. But despite the success on the recruiting trail, Virginia has won only five games in ACC play over the last three seasons. 2015 is a make-or-break year for London.
14. Scott Shafer, Syracuse
Record at Syracuse: 10-15 (2 years)
Career Record: 10-15 (2 years)
Shafer went 7-6 in his first season at Syracuse (2013), but the Orange regressed to 3-9 last season. The four-win decline had a lot to do with injuries to key players, including quarterback Terrel Hunt. Improving the offense has to be a priority for Shafer and coordinator Tim Lester, especially since the Orange managed only 24 points in their final three games. Prior to Shafer’s promotion to head coach, he worked as a defensive coordinator with the Orange from 2009-12. Additionally, he made stops as an assistant at Michigan, Stanford, Western Michigan, Illinois and Northern Illinois. Syracuse seemed to be trending in the right direction after 2013. But after a three-win campaign last year, can Shafer get the program back into contention for a bowl? With a new athletic director coming, the pressure is on Shafer to produce.