Clemson's Dabo Swinney takes the top spot among ACC coaches
Ranking the ACC coaches for 2020 starts with Clemson's Dabo Swinney at No. 1. The Tigers have emerged as a consistent threat to win the national title under Swinney and rank as the No. 1 team for 2020. There's a gap between Swinney and the next tier, which features North Carolina's Mack Brown, Duke's David Cutcliffe, Virginia's Bronco Mendenhall and Wake Forest's Dave Clawson. Louisville's Scott Satterfield and Florida State's Mike Norvell could rise up this list significantly over the next couple of years.
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 or 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 2020
14. Jeff Hafley, Boston College
Hafley is a rising star in the coaching ranks and isn’t stepping into a complete rebuild at Boston College. The Eagles have made a bowl game in each of the last four seasons and return a strong foundation to push for a winning mark in 2020. Hafley comes to Chestnut Hill after a successful one-year stint as Ohio State’s co-defensive coordinator. The New Jersey native was instrumental in helping the Buckeyes show marked improvement on that side of the ball. After finishing seventh in the Big Ten in points allowed, the defense jumped to first in Hafley’s only year in Columbus. Hafley spent time as an assistant at Albany (2002-05), Pitt (2006-10), and Rutgers (2011) before spending seven years in the NFL with the Buccaneers, Browns and 49ers. Although he doesn’t have any experience as a head coach, Hafley is regarded for his work on the recruiting trail and on the defensive side of the ball.
13. Manny Diaz, Miami
Diaz had a rocky debut in 2019, but the return of 12 starters and help through the transfer portal could allow Miami to take a big step forward in his second year at the helm. The Hurricanes finished 6-7 – the program’s third losing mark since 1998 – after ending 2019 on a three-game losing streak with defeats to FIU, Duke and Louisiana Tech. Diaz’s side of the ball (defense) more than held its own last fall, but the offense averaged only 25.7 points a contest and struggled to find consistency. The second-year coach hopes changes to his offensive staff provide a spark in 2020, which would allow Miami to contend in a wide-open Coastal Division. Diaz started his on-field coaching career at NC State in 2002 and was hired at Middle Tennessee as defensive coordinator in ’06. After four years with the Blue Raiders, Diaz called the plays at Mississippi State (2010), Texas (2011-13), and Louisiana Tech (2014) before a one-season return to Starkville (’15). After three successful years as Miami’s defensive coordinator (2016-18), Diaz was hired as Temple’s head coach. However, he didn’t stay in Philadelphia for long after Mark Richt decided to step down after the bowl loss to Wisconsin. Year 2 is a critical one for Diaz.
12. Geoff Collins, Georgia Tech
Considering the massive scheme overhaul and program transformation, it was no surprise Collins finished 3-9 in his debut last fall. Georgia Tech is on the right path under Collins, but it may take another year or two for the results to show in the win column. The Georgia native worked on the Yellow Jackets’ staff as a graduate assistant from 1999-2001 and in an off-field role in ’06. Collins has stops on his resume from on-field assistant stints at Western Carolina (2002-05), UCF (2008-09), FIU (2010), Mississippi State (2011-14), and Florida (2015-16). He landed his first opportunity to be a head coach at Temple in 2017 and proceeded to go 15-10 over two seasons. Collins is regarded as an excellent recruiter and his background on defense should help Georgia Tech show improvement on that side of the ball in 2020.
11. Dave Doeren, NC State
The 2020 campaign is an important one for Doeren. After back-to-back nine-win seasons (2017-18), the Wolfpack slumped to 4-8 last fall. Roster turnover and a host of injuries factored prominently into the regression, but 12 returning starters provide a chance for a quick turnaround. Doeren arrived in Raleigh after going 23-4 over two years at Northern Illinois (2011-12). NC State finished 3-9 in his debut but won at least seven games in each of the next five seasons. Out of Doeren’s seven years at the helm, the program has just two winning marks in ACC play. Overall, Doeren is 47-42 with the Wolfpack and 70-46 as a head coach at the FBS level.
10. Dino Babers, Syracuse
Babers enters 2020 looking to get Syracuse back on track after finishing 5-7 last season. The five-win campaign marked a significant drop-off from the 10-3 record in 2018. The Orange are 23-26 and 12-20 in the ACC under Babers’ watch. Outside of the 6-2 conference record in 2018, Syracuse has finished 2-6 in league play every year under Babers. Prior to taking over at Syracuse, Babers went 18-9 at Bowling Green (2014-15) and won the 2015 MAC title. He finished 19-7 at Eastern Illinois from 2012-13 and went to the FCS playoffs in both years. Babers accumulated a wealth of experience from stints as an assistant at UNLV, Northern Arizona, Purdue, San Diego State, Arizona, Texas A&M, Pitt, UCLA, and Baylor before becoming a head coach. The Hawaii native is one of the top offensive-minded coaches in the ACC and should help this program rebound back into a bowl for 2020.
Related: ACC Football 2020 Predictions
9. Pat Narduzzi, Pitt
Narduzzi took over at Pitt after a successful stint as Michigan State’s defensive coordinator (2007-14), so it’s no surprise the Panthers should boast one of the nation’s top defenses in 2020. Assuming the defense plays up to expectations, and the offense improves under veteran coordinator Mark Whipple, Pitt will be a sleeper team to watch in the ACC Coastal race. The Panthers won the division in 2018 with a 7-7 overall mark and have finished with at least seven victories in four out of the last five years. Narduzzi hasn’t won more than eight games in a single season at Pitt. However, the Panthers are a solid 24-16 in ACC play and finished with at least five league victories in three out of his five years at the helm.
8. Mike Norvell, Florida State
Norvell arrives in Tallahassee after a successful four-year run at Memphis. The Tigers finished 38-15 from 2016-19 and posted two finishes (2017 and ’19) in the top 25 rankings. Additionally, the program won at least eight games every year under Norvell, claimed three AAC West Division titles (with a conference title in 2019), and an appearance in the Cotton Bowl last fall. Memphis also averaged at least 40 points a game in three out of four years under Norvell. Prior to Memphis, Norvell worked as an assistant at Tulsa, Pitt and Arizona State. The task in Tallahassee is pretty simple: Get Florida State back to the top of ACC. Accomplishing that in 2020 is out of the picture, but Norvell looks like the right hire to get the program back on track.
7. Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech
Fuente had a tough assignment in replacing Frank Beamer, but the Hokies are 33-20 over the last four years. After a 19-8 start to his tenure, Fuente is 14-12 over the last two seasons. However, with 19 starters back for 2020, Fuente should be poised to push Virginia Tech back into contention for the ACC Coastal title. Prior to this stint in Blacksburg, Fuente went 26-23 at Memphis from 2012-15. The Tigers went 7-17 in his first two years but went 19-6 over the next 25 games. Fuente is 59-43 overall as a head coach at the FBS level.
Related: College Football Top 25 for 2020
6. Scott Satterfield, Louisville
Satterfield ranked as the best hire of the 2019 coaching carousel by Athlon Sports and is already off to a fast start at Louisville. The Cardinals finished 2-10 in 2018 but jumped to 8-5 overall and 5-3 in ACC play last season. In addition to the overall change in program trajectory, the offense showed marked improvement. After averaging just 19.8 points a game and 5.3 yards a play in 2018, Satterfield’s offense posted 33.1 points a contest and 6.7 yards a snap last fall. The former Appalachian State quarterback started his coaching career at his alma mater in 1998 and later made stops at Toledo (2009) and FIU (2010-11) before taking over as the head coach in Boone in 2012. The Mountaineers went 51-24 and posted three double-digit win seasons from 2013-18.
5. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest
It’s no secret Wake Forest is one of the toughest Power 5 jobs in college football, but Clawson has reeled off four consecutive winning records and guided the program to four straight bowl trips for the first time in school history. Clawson went 6-18 in his first two years in Winston-Salem but established a strong foundation in recruiting and player development to help this program become an annual bowl team in the ACC. Clawson’s reputation as a program builder holds up even more with a deep dive into his past stops. After going 3-19 in his first two years at Fordham, the Rams went 26-10 over the next three seasons. He later went 29-20 at Richmond (2004-07) and 32-31 at Bowling Green (2009-13). Clawson is 126-119 as a head coach at the FBS level.
4. Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia
Virginia’s decision to hire Mendenhall prior to the 2016 season came as a surprise, but the move has paid big-time dividends. After a 2-10 debut, the Cavaliers finished 6-7 in ’17, jumped to 8-5 in ’18, and 9-5 last fall. Last year’s team won the Coastal Division for the first time in school history, ended a 15-game losing streak to rival Virginia Tech, and made an appearance in the Orange Bowl. Mendenhall is 25-27 overall in Charlottesville, but the program is on solid footing and should be a factor in the Coastal Division once again in 2020. Before taking over at Virginia, Mendenhall went 99-43 at BYU from 2005-15. The Cougars posted only two years of fewer than eight victories under his watch and never had a losing mark.
3. David Cutcliffe, Duke
Cutcliffe inherited a Duke program in need of major repair in 2008. The Blue Devils hadn’t posted a winning record since 1994 and were just 4-42 in the four years prior to his arrival. Cutcliffe’s tenure started with four losing marks, but the 2012 squad finished 6-7 with a bowl trip, and the ’13 team won the Coastal Division and finished No. 23 nationally with a 10-4 overall record. Those two seasons started a run of six bowl trips over eight years and just one year (2016) of fewer than five wins. Duke just missed on a bowl trip with a 5-7 mark last fall, but Cutcliffe should have this program back into contention for a postseason bid in 2020. The Alabama native is regarded as one of the top developers of quarterback talent in college football and is 116-108 at the FBS level counting a 44-29 mark at Ole Miss (1999-2004).
2. Mack Brown, North Carolina
Brown’s return to the sidelines in Chapel Hill resulted in a successful debut last year, but the Tar Heels have their sights set even higher for 2020. North Carolina finished 7-6 last fall, which marked a five-game jump in wins from the previous season. And with 17 returning starters and one of the nation’s top quarterbacks (Sam Howell) in place, the Tar Heels are the front-runner to win the Coastal this season. The 2019 campaign marked Brown’s first year back on the sidelines since his tenure at Texas ended following 2013. Brown went 158-48 with the Longhorns and won the national title in 2005. He also finished 6-5 at Appalachian State (1983), 11-23 at Tulane (1985-87), and is 76-52-1 at North Carolina counting his stint from 1988-97. Brown has won at every stop in his coaching career and is one of the top recruiters in college football. And after a strong debut in 2019, momentum is only building for ’20 and beyond with Brown leading the way.
Related: ACC Football 2020 Predictions
1. Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Swinney is the easy pick as the ACC’s top coach once again, as Clemson has emerged as an annual contender for the national title under his direction. The Tigers are 130-31 since Swinney took over as head coach during an interim stint in 2008. After a 19-15 start to his tenure, Swinney has won at least 10 games in each of the last nine years and has hoisted two national championship trophies over the last four seasons. Additionally, Clemson has made five consecutive CFB Playoff appearances and has lost just five games since 2015. Swinney’s vision of building a program and sustained recruiting at a high level has elevated the Tigers into this position. With a loaded roster back for 2020, along with plenty of talent in the pipeline for the next couple of years, Clemson might want to make a little more room in the trophy case.