Clemson's Dabo Swinney takes the top spot among ACC coaches
The ACC has one of the easiest calls to make atop the league when it comes to coach rankings. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney is the unquestioned No. 1 coach, but the league features a lot of tough calls in the middle and bottom.
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 Alabama is different than winning 10 games at Kentucky.
Every team has a different variety of 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 career biography 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 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 the ACC:
Ranking the ACC's College Football Coaches for 2019
14. Manny Diaz, Miami
Diaz – a native of Miami – is the perfect fit to replace Mark Richt. After accepting the head-coaching job at Temple in mid-December, Diaz returned to Coral Gables once Richt decided to retire. Diaz spent the last three years working as Richt’s defensive coordinator, helping the Hurricanes rank near the top of the ACC on that side of the ball. He also has stops as a defensive play-caller from stints at Mississippi State, Louisiana Tech, Texas and Middle Tennessee. Diaz has no previous experience as a head coach. However, Diaz and his staff seem to be pushing all of the right buttons going into the 2019 campaign.
13. Steve Addazio, Boston College
Consistent is the best word that sums up Addazio’s tenure at Boston College. After directing Temple to a 13-11 mark over two years, Addazio was hired prior to the 2013 campaign. The Eagles have won seven games in five of his six years at the helm and also made five bowl appearances. Addazio has not won more than seven games in a season and is 18-30 with no winning mark in ACC play during his tenure at Boston College.
12. Geoff Collins, Georgia Tech
Collins is a home-run hire for Georgia Tech. The Georgia native previously worked in Atlanta from 1999-2001 and again in ’06 in off-field roles and had stops as an assistant at Western Carolina, FIU, Mississippi State, and Florida before landing his first opportunity as a head coach. Collins spent two years at Temple and guided the program to a 15-10 mark with two bowl trips in that span. Considering the talent lost and overall transition in scheme, progress is likely to be slow in Collins’ debut this fall. However, the long-term outlook for the Yellow Jackets is bright under the new staff.
11. Pat Narduzzi, Pitt
Pitt recorded its first losing mark under Narduzzi’s watch in 2017, but this program rebounded in a big way last fall. The Panthers claimed their first ACC Coastal Division title and finished 7-7 overall in 2018. Last season’s success bumped Narduzzi to 28-24 overall in the Steel City. He’s guided Pitt to three bowl games over four years and also has three winning records in ACC play. Narduzzi was regarded as one of the nation’s top defensive coordinators during his tenure as an assistant at Michigan State (2007-12). However, Pitt has yet to finish higher than eighth in the ACC in scoring defense.
10. Willie Taggart, Florida State
Taggart’s debut in Tallahassee didn’t go according to plan, but he also inherited a bigger mess than most realized prior to the 2018 season. Florida State finished 7-6 in the year before Taggart’s arrival and some of the concerns that popped up in 2017 weren’t a one-year aberration. Instead, the depth, attrition and lack of development at a couple of positions became an even bigger concern in 2018. Taggart and his staff were left with a mess along the offensive line, which sank Florida State to 5-7 and the program’s first season without a bowl since 1981. While last season was certainly a disappointment in Tallahassee, Taggart’s track record suggests there will be improvement in 2019. He went 2-10 in his first year at WKU (2010) and went 7-5 in back-to-back seasons (2011-12). After a 6-18 start to his tenure at USF, the Bulls won 18 games under his watch the next two years. He also had a one-year stint at Oregon (7-5) in 2017. Taggart is 52-57 overall as a head coach. A revamped staff and some work on the recruiting trail seem to have the Seminoles poised to improve this fall.
Related: ACC Football Predictions for 2019
9. Scott Satterfield, Louisville
Louisville couldn’t lure Jeff Brohm home, but athletic director Vince Tyra still hit a home run by hiring Scott Satterfield to replace Bobby Petrino. Satterfield spent the last six seasons at Appalachian State, compiling a 51-24 mark at his alma mater. The Mountaineers moved from the FCS level to FBS in Satterfield’s second year (2014) and never recorded a losing mark over the next five seasons. Appalachian State won at least nine games in each of Satterfield’s last four years at the helm, including the 2018 team that won the Sun Belt title. Satterfield’s background is on offense, but the Mountaineers were also strong on defense during his tenure. Satterfield ranks as the best hire among new coaches for 2019.
8. Dave Doeren, NC State
Doeren has quietly led NC State to 18 victories over the last two years, which is the most in a two-year window for this program since the Wolfpack won 19 from 2002-03. Additionally, NC State’s No. 23 finish in the Associated Press poll in 2017 was the first top 25 ranking since 2010. After a 3-9 mark in his first year in Raleigh, Doeren has not won fewer than seven games in a single season. He’s 43-34 with five bowl trips in his tenure at NC State. Prior to taking over in Raleigh, Doeren went 23-4 at Northern Illinois from 2011-12.
7. Mack Brown, North Carolina
Brown’s return to Chapel Hill is one of the ACC’s most intriguing storylines for the 2019 season. And the Tar Heels are certainly hoping for Brown to rekindle the magic from his first stint from 1988-97. During that run, the Tar Heels went 69-46-1, posted three seasons of 10 victories, and played in six consecutive bowl games. After leaving North Carolina, Brown went 158-48 at Texas from 1998-2013. During that run, the Longhorns won the 2005 national title and won 10 or more games in nine consecutive seasons (2001-09). However, Texas had only one top 25 finish over Brown’s last four years in Austin. In addition to his stints at Texas and North Carolina, Brown was the head coach at Appalachian State in 1983 and Tulane from 1985-97. His overall record stands at 244-122-1.
6. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest
Wake Forest is arguably the toughest job in the ACC, but Clawson has guided this program to three consecutive winning seasons. That type of streak has happened only one other time in Winston-Salem since 1953. Additionally, Clawson has led Wake Forest to three consecutive bowl games for only the second time in school history. The Demon Deacons are 28-35 overall under Clawson’s watch. He also went 32-31 at Bowling Green (2009-13), 29-20 at Richmond (2004-07) and 29-29 at Fordham (1999-2003).
5. Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia
Virginia has made significant progress under Mendenhall’s direction and enters 2019 as Athlon’s pick to win the ACC’s Coastal Division. The Cavaliers went 2-10 in Mendenhall’s first year (2016) but improved to 6-7 in 2017. Virginia took another step forward last season with an 8-5 finish and victory over South Carolina in the Belk Bowl. Additionally, with three losses by four points or less, the Cavaliers were just a few plays away from double-digit victories in 2018. Before taking over at Virginia, Mendenhall went 99-43 at BYU from 2005-15. The Cougars never had a losing season under his watch and played in a bowl game in all 11 years in his tenure. Mendenhall has a 115-65 overall record as a head coach.
4. Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech took a step back last season, but Fuente is still one of the ACC’s top coaches. The Hokies went 10-4 with an ACC Coastal Division title in Fuente’s first year (2016) and finished 9-4 in 2017. Roster turnover and injuries hindered Virginia Tech last fall, as Fuente’s team slipped to 6-7 overall. Replacing legendary coach Frank Beamer wasn’t an easy task, but the Hokies are 15-9 in ACC play over the last three years and should be a much-improved squad in 2019. Fuente was instrumental in turning around a struggling Memphis program from 2012-15. The Tigers went 7-17 over his first two years but won 19 games from 2014-15 and also claimed a share of the conference title in '14. The Oklahoma native is also regarded for his work on offense and developing quarterbacks.
3. Dino Babers, Syracuse
In just three years at the helm, Babers has elevated Syracuse into one of the ACC’s top teams. The Orange went 4-8 in back-to-back seasons (2016-17) under Babers, but the foundation set in those two years paid off in 2018. Syracuse finished second in the ACC Atlantic with a 6-2 mark in league play, along with a 10-3 mark overall. Additionally, the Orange finished No. 15 in the final Associated Press poll. That was the program’s first top 25 ranking since 2001. Babers previously had successful stints as a head coach at Bowling Green (18-9 with a MAC title) and Eastern Illinois (19-7). He’s also regarded as one of college football’s top offensive-minded coaches.
2. David Cutcliffe, Duke
Duke is one of the toughest Power 5 jobs at the FBS level, but Cutcliffe continues to reel off winning seasons. The Blue Devils are 67-72 with six bowl trips under his watch and claimed the 2013 ACC Coastal title. While Cutcliffe’s overall record in Durham is under .500, Duke is 52-39 over the last seven years. Also, the No. 23 final ranking at the end of the 2013 season marked the program’s first top 25 finish since 1961. Of the Blue Devils’ 14 bowl appearances, six have come under Cutcliffe’s direction. The veteran coach is also one of the top quarterback gurus in college football. Cutcliffe also went 44-29 from 1998-2004 at Ole Miss, which puts his overall record at 111-101 going into the 2019 season.
1. Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Swinney’s resume at Clemson continues to get better with each season. Since taking over as the program’s interim coach in 2008, Swinney is 116-30 overall and has led the Tigers to two national championships (2015 and ’17). Clemson has made the CFB Playoff in each of the last four years and recorded eight consecutive seasons of 10 or more victories. Swinney has guided the Tigers to four straight ACC titles and lost only two league games over the last four years. After a 19-15 start to his tenure, Swinney is 97-15 since 2011.
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