Who ranks as the ACC's top coach for 2018?
It's tough to rank the ACC coaches prior to the 2018 college football season. When Boston College's Steve Addazio, Syracuse's Dino Babers and Pitt's Pat Narduzzi rank at the bottom of the list, that's a good sign of how deep the ACC is in terms of coaching talent. At the top of the conference, Clemson's Dabo Swinney is the unquestioned No. 1 coach for 2018. Miami's Mark Richt takes the second spot, followed by Louisville's Bobby Petrino and Virginia Tech's Justin Fuente in the top five.
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.
How did we compile the rankings for the ACC coaches? For starters, it's an impossible task. However, we tried to weigh every possible factor into this ranking. 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 Clemson is different than winning 10 games at Syracuse.
Every team has different built-in resources available, and hierarchy in college football also plays a vital role in how successful programs are. Those factors, along with career biography/resume, success in developing talent and landing prospects on the recruiting trail factored into the ranking. Additionally, how well programs value staff (is the head coach better as a CEO or hands-on approach) and the facilities or program resources matter into forming an outlook of how coaches have performed at different stops throughout their career.
Again, wins and the overall body of work to this point 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 have 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. Athlon's editorial staff has voted on a ranking of coaches for all 10 conferences. Here are the results for ACC:
Ranking the ACC's College Football Coaches for 2018
14. Steve Addazio, Boston College
Important to note: In any other league, Addazio would rank higher than 14th. That's how deep the ACC is this year in coaching talent. Consistency might be the best way to sum up Addazio's tenure at Boston College. In five years at the helm, he's recorded a 7-6 mark in four of those seasons. The Eagles have reached .500 in ACC play in three out of Addazio's five years and are 31-33 overall since 2013. Prior to taking over at Boston College, Addazio went 13-11 in two seasons at Temple. He also had a stint as an assistant at Florida under Urban Meyer (2005-10) and additional stops at Syracuse, Notre Dame and Indiana. After finishing 2017 with wins in five out of the last seven games, the 2018 version of Addazio's Eagles might be the best of his tenure in Chestnut Hill.
13. Dino Babers, Syracuse
Babers has recorded back-to-back 4-8 seasons to begin his tenure in Syracuse, but the pieces are beginning to fall into place entering 2018. The Orange have pulled off a couple of big upsets (Virginia Tech in 2016 and Clemson in '17) and had close losses to Florida State, Miami, LSU and NC State last season. With three signing classes and the progression of the roster to fit his schemes, Babers has Syracuse poised to improve in 2018. Prior to taking over with the Orange, Babers went 19-7 in two years at Eastern Illinois (2012-13) and 18-9 at Bowling Green (2014-15). He also has stops as an assistant from a handful of programs, including Purdue, Arizona, Texas A&M, Pitt, Baylor and UCLA. Babers is regarded as one of college football's top minds on offense and is 45-32 overall in six years as a head coach.
12. Pat Narduzzi, Pitt
After beginning his tenure in the Steel City with back-to-back 8-5 records, Narduzzi's third year resulted in a 5-7 mark. But the Panthers lost three games by six points or less and won three out of their last five contests, providing optimism for a rebound in 2018. Narduzzi is 21-17 overall and 14-10 in ACC play since taking over at Pitt. From 2007-14, Narduzzi worked under Mark Dantonio at Michigan State and was regarded as one of college football's top defensive coordinators. He also has stints in his career at Cincinnati, Miami (Ohio) and Northern Illinois.
11. Dave Doeren, NC State
NC State is coming off the best season under Doeren's watch. The Wolfpack finished 9-4 last fall, earning a 6-2 record in ACC play and finishing second in the Atlantic Division behind Clemson. Additionally, NC State finished No. 23 in the final Associated Press poll, which was the program's first top 25 finish since 2010. Prior to the 2017 campaign, Doeren posted three winning seasons and bowl trips from 2014-16. Doeren is 34-30 overall and 15-25 in ACC play since taking over in 2013. Prior to NC State, Doeren went 23-4 as the head coach at Northern Illinois (2011-12) and also had stints as an assistant at Kansas and Wisconsin. After taking a step forward in 2017, can Doeren continue to elevate NC State in the Atlantic?
10. Larry Fedora, North Carolina
Fedora heads into 2018 looking to get North Carolina back on track. After winning the Coastal Division and recording 11 victories in 2015, the Tar Heels are just 11-14 over the last two seasons. Additionally, the three-win campaign of 2017 represented the program's fewest victories since 2006. Fedora is 43-34 overall since taking over in Chapel Hill in 2012 and has four winning seasons in his six-year tenure. Prior to North Carolina, Fedora went 34-19 in four years at Southern Miss, which included a 12-2 campaign in 2011. He also has stops on his resume from stints as an assistant at Oklahoma State, Florida, MTSU, Air Force and Baylor.
9. Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia
Virginia was arguably the biggest surprise in the ACC last season, as the Cavaliers finished 6-7 in Mendenhall's second year in Charlottesville. That represented a four-win jump from his debut in 2016. Mendenhall is no stranger to success. From 2005-15, he went 99-43 at BYU. The Cougars did not have a losing record under Mendenhall and won at least eight games in nine seasons. Mendenhall also has stops on his resume from stints as an assistant at Northern Arizona, Oregon State, Louisiana Tech and New Mexico.
8. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
Johnson has compiled a career record of 182-93 as a head coach at three different stops -- Georgia Southern, Navy and Georgia Tech. During his 21-year tenure as a head coach, Johnson has posted only four losing seasons. Johnson heads into 2018 at Georgia Tech looking to steer the program back on track following last year's 5-6 record -- the program's second losing mark over the last three seasons. However, Johnson has recorded only one losing mark in ACC play since taking over in Atlanta in 2008. Additionally, he's guided the program to an ACC title in 2009 and two Orange Bowl trips (2009, '14). Johnson previously went 45-29 at Navy from 2002-07 and 62-10 with two FCS national championships at Georgia Southern from 1997-01.
7. Willie Taggart, Florida State
Taking over as Florida State's head coach is a homecoming of sorts for Taggart. The Florida native starred as a quarterback at Bradenton Manatee High School and grew up a fan of the Seminoles. After a successful high school career, Taggart played quarterback at WKU from 1994-98. He transitioned to coaching with the Hilltoppers in 1999 under Jack Harbaugh and remained in Bowling Green until 2006. Taggart spent the next three years working with Jim Harbaugh at Stanford as the running backs coach from 2007-09, before returning to WKU as the program's head coach in 2010. Taggart inherited a program in need of major repair. After a 2-10 record in his first year, the Hilltoppers showed marked improvement, going 14-11 over the next two seasons. Taggart was hired at USF prior to the 2013 season and went 6-18 in his first two years. The Bulls went 19-7 over the next two seasons, which helped Taggart land the top spot at Oregon. In his only year in Eugene, Taggart went 7-5 in the regular season. Taggart is 47-50 overall as a head coach but didn't inherit the best situations at WKU and USF. He should have no trouble elevating Florida State back into contention for the ACC title in the near future.
Related: ACC 2018 All-Conference Team
6. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest
Clawson arrived at Wake Forest in 2014 with a reputation of turning around programs. He landed his first head coaching job at Fordham in 1999 and went 29-29 over five seasons, including 19 wins over the final two years. Clawson took over at Richmond in 2004. After a losing record in his debut, the Spiders posted three consecutive winning records, including an 11-win campaign in 2007. After a one-year stint as Tennessee's offensive coordinator in 2008, Clawson was hired as Bowling Green's head coach prior to the 2009 season. The Falcons went 14-23 in Clawson's first three years but finished 18-8 from 2012-13 and won the MAC title in his last season. After four years in Winston-Salem, it's clear he has the Demon Deacons on the right path. Wake Forest went 9-15 in the two seasons prior to Clawson's arrival and went 6-18 over his first two years (2014-15). However, the Demon Deacons are 15-11 over the last two seasons, including a .500 mark (4-4) in ACC play last fall.
5. David Cutcliffe, Duke
Duke is one of the toughest Power 5 jobs in college football, but Cutcliffe has transformed this program into a consistent winner in the ACC. In addition to his success as a head coach, Cutcliffe is highly regarded for his work on offense, especially in developing quarterbacks. Cutcliffe joined Tennessee's staff in 1982 and remained with the Volunteers until 1998 when he was hired as the head coach at Ole Miss. The Rebels went 44-29 under Cutcliffe's direction, finishing 10-3 overall and No. 13 nationally in 2003. After another stint at Tennessee, Cutcliffe was hired as Duke's head coach prior to the 2008 season. He inherited a program in need of major repair. The Blue Devils won just four games over the previous four years. Duke finished 4-8 in Cutcliffe's first season and went 11-25 over the next three years. However, the Blue Devils showed marked improvement starting in 2012. The program has played in five bowl games over the last six years, won the 2013 Coastal Division title and finished No. 23 nationally that year. Following a 4-8 mark in 2016, Duke improved to 7-6 last season. Cutcliffe gets the most out of his players, which helps the Blue Devils close the talent gap with the rest of the Coastal.
4. Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech
The transition from Frank Beamer to Fuente has been seamless in Blacksburg. The Hokies are 19-8 under Fuente's two seasons at the helm and claimed the 2016 Coastal Division title. Additionally, Virginia Tech has finished in the top 25 in back-to-back years and is slated to begin 2018 ranked once again. Before taking over in Blacksburg, Fuente brought marked improvement to Memphis. The Tigers won five games in the three years prior to Fuente's arrival but claimed four victories in his first year (2012). After a 3-9 mark in 2013, Memphis won 19 games over the next two seasons and finished No. 24 nationally in the final Associated Press poll that year. In addition to his success as a head coach at two different stops, Fuente is one of college football's top offensive minds and has a strong track record of developing quarterbacks.
Related: ACC Football 2018 Predictions
3. Bobby Petrino, Louisville
In addition to his ability to produce high-powered offenses, Petrino continues to win at a high level, averaging nine wins a year in his 13 seasons as a head coach. The Cardinals are 34-18 since joining the ACC in 2014, finishing at least .500 or better in all four years. The 2016 season was the high point of Petrino's second stint at Louisville. The Cardinals won nine games, finished 7-1 in ACC play and quarterback Lamar Jackson won the Heisman Trophy. Petrino previously worked as Louisville's head coach from 2003-06, compiling a 41-9 record and two finishes in the top 10 of the final Associated Press poll. He left for Arkansas in 2008, going 5-7 in his first year before recording three consecutive winning campaigns. The Razorbacks finished No. 5 nationally after recording 11 wins and a Cotton Bowl victory in 2011. Including an 8-4 record at WKU in 2013, Petrino is 117-48 overall as a head coach in the collegiate ranks.
2. Mark Richt, Miami
The U is a program on the rise with Richt at the controls. The Hurricanes are 19-7 over the last two seasons, with a 12-4 mark in ACC play. Miami won the Coastal Division title in 2017 for the first time since joining the league. Additionally, the Hurricanes were in the mix for a spot in the CFB Playoff deep into last season. Richt arrived in Coral Gables after accumulating a 145-51 record at Georgia from 2001-15. Under Richt's direction, Georgia won two SEC titles (2002 and '05), recorded at least double-digit victories in nine seasons and finished No. 2 in the final Associated Press poll in 2007. Richt has already made a difference in just two years at Miami. Look for the upward trend to continue in 2018.
1. Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Clemson has joined the ranks of college football's annual contenders under Swinney's direction. The Alabama native was promoted to interim coach in 2008 following the dismissal of Tommy Bowden. After a 4-3 mark in the final seven games of that season, Swinney guided the Tigers to a 9-5 mark in 2009 and the Atlantic Division title. Clemson went 16-11 over the next two seasons but has not won fewer than 10 games in each of the last six years. The Tigers have claimed three consecutive ACC titles, won the 2016 national championship and have earned a trip to the CFB Playoff in each of the last three years. Swinney is 101-30 since taking over in Death Valley and has Clemson poised to challenge for the national title once again in 2018.