Ranking the best coaches in the ACC
Posted July 25, 2013
Updated July 26, 2013
As we approach the start of the college football season – I'll pause while the inevitable "hallelujahs" and "it's about freakin' times" dissipate – I thought it might be a good time to take a look at our beloved yet changing conference and take stock of certain things.
So, before Jadaveon Clowney decleats Romar Morris, or A.J. Blue or (please, no) Bryn Renner, let's start off the preseason with the first in a series of lists.
Today, we'll talk coaches with the understanding that there are several in the league that we really have no significant data upon which to base anything. So, with the full understanding that Dave Doeren at NC State, Pittsburgh's Paul Chryst, Scott Shafer of Syracuse or the Chestnut Hill dude-seeker Steve Addazzio really aren't rank-worthy at this point, I present the five best coaches in the ACC as I see it. I'll do the best I can to back this list with facts but I also reserve the right to completely make things up if it suits my argument.
So, without further adieu…..
1) Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech (86-55, 12th year)
Johnson doesn't like it when you refer to his offense as a "wishbone" or "triple option," as he prefers the much more media-friendly "spread" that so many schools employ in the highest level of pseudo-amateur football. But, facts are facts. And the facts are that Johnson's five Yellow Jackets teams have averaged 55 rushes against 13 passing attempts since he came to Atlanta for the 2008 season.
But therein lies the beauty of what Johnson has been able to accomplish in his five years at Tech – not to mention the previous six at the Naval Academy. Johnson just wins games. His teams have made it to 10 straight bowl games, he won the ACC in 2009 and he is the rare coach with a winning record away from home, having won 30 of 53 games on the road.
He also has a pair of 1-AA national titles to his credit, winning back-to-back championships at Georgia Southern in 1999 and 2000. The only real negative, other than the obvious allergy to throwing the football, is that he bears a frightening resemblance to author John Feinstein. In fact, I've never seen them in the same room at the same time.
2) David Cuttcliffe, Duke (65-69, 12th year)
I know what you're saying: "How can you possibly put Cutcliffe – a man with a sub-.500 career record – ahead of, um wait, oh never mind." Now you get the picture.
It was rumored to have been said of legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant that he could take his'n and beat your'n and take your'n and beat his'n. The general idea, of course, was that the Bear was so good he could take your players – which were obviously inferior to his at Alabama – and win that game. Is Cutcliffe in that class? Probably not.
But Duke is no longer the laughing stock they've been for the last two decades. Plus, he's the best teller of stories in the league and I'd point out that Cut was over .500 in five years at Ole Miss, essentially the Boston College of the SEC.
Cutcliffe is also 4-2 in bowls, even with last year's gut wrenching loss to Cincinnati in Charlotte. And he has the key to the Manning family guest house in New Orleans. His only drawback is the occasional "too smart for the room" moment, like the fake punt up two scores in the 2nd half against Carolina that nearly cost the Blue Devils the Victory Bell.
3) Dabo Swinney, Clemson (40-21, 6th year)
We don't make too many "Dabo Dabo Doo" Fred Flintstone jokes about Dabo anymore. Come to think of it, I'm not sure we ever did, as they're really not all that funny. But Swinney has brought the Tigers back to Danny Ford levels.
Well, almost all the way back, sort of like the current condition of Howard's Rock. There's just a small piece missing. Ford won a national championship in 1981 and had seven seasons of two or fewer losses in his tenure.
Swinney has just one such season, plus a conference title – which was unfortunately followed by allowing a million points to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. However, there's no doubt that Clemson has turned the corner and retaken their place among the national football powers.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, that could be wishful thinking, but they have the two best returning players in the league in Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins and probably represent the best chance at national credibility for the ACC. The only real negative is that he'll never be able to top fellow Palmetto State head ball coach Steve Spurrier in a war of words.
4) Jimbo Fisher, Florida State (31-10, 4th year)
Pardon me for taking a Missouri attitude with Jimbo's status among the coaching elite, and I'm not trying to be overlay critical, but I have my doubts as to whether or not Fisher has a problem functioning on game day.
There is no denying that the program's talent and depth and attitude has returned to early 2000 levels, and in college football talent is about 75 percent of the battle.
But I can't unsee that Thursday night meltdown in Raleigh, and if I didn't know better, I'd swear he had Georgia Tech AND Northern Illinois plus the points in Charlotte and Miami, respectively. With that said, it's pretty obvious that the Seminoles are coming back from the mediocrity that beset the program in the latter, Del Boca Vista days of Bobby Bowden's tenure.
The only negative for me is that I can't understand just about anything Fisher says in interviews. Slow down, Jimbo.
5) Larry Fedora, North Carolina (42-23, 6th year)
Throw away the initial attitude that made it seem as though he was in the process of reinventing the sport of football and throw away the constant can of Red Bull that was tethered to his right hand at the ACC Football Kickoff media event and you still have a very good football coach who guided his team through a very difficult season and still managed to win eight exhibition games.
Make no mistake about it, last year was always going to be a challenge for Fedora in terms of maintaining his team's focus on each individual opponent. But, in spite of a couple of early road losses and a dramatic, hard-to-swallow loss at Duke, Fedora managed to lead UNC to their first Coastal Division title.
I've seen the rings, folks. They're real.
Others receiving votes
None, remember this was my list and if you received any votes for the top five you were in the top five. If you didn't you weren't.