It’s ACC preview week and here is a look at the best coaches, the coaches on the hot seat and the coaches on the rise.
1. Dabo Swinney, Clemson – Isn’t this pretty obvious? Were it not for Nick Saban, Swinney would easily be considered the top coach in the country. He single-handedly took a program known for blowing big games and turned it into a national power. With two national championships and six consecutive ACC titles and playoff berths, the Tigers are in great shape for years to come. Swinney is only 51 and still has plenty of elite level coaching in front of him.
2. Mack Brown, North Carolina – When Brown returned to Chapel Hill, some people doubted that he would be able to rekindle the magic he had created there in the 1990s. But he’s done that and more in his first two seasons back at the helm for the Tar Heels, and his team is poised to be the biggest threat that Clemson has seen in a long time. Brown is still one of only five current head coaches in FBS with a national title to his name, and he’s showing that he’s still got juice with recruits as well.
3. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest – Clawson remains one of the most criminally underrated and underappreciated coaches in the country. His success at Wake Forest, the smallest school in the Power Five that has rigorous academic standards, is remarkable. He’s guided the Demon Deacons to five consecutive bowl games and he’s shown that he’s consistently able to get the best out of the talent he has and adapt to his teams’ strengths.
COACHES ON THE HOT SEAT
1. Dino Babers, Syracuse – Frankly, I’m surprised that he hasn’t been given the pink slip yet. Outside of one spectacular season in 2018, where the Orange finished 10-3, he’s gone 14-33, with an abysmal 7-27 record in conference play. Last year’s 1-10 record, losing their last eight games and not even being competitive should have shown the brass at Syracuse that it’s time to move on. Without a winning record this season (which would be a massive surprise), I would be shocked if he were still coaching the Orange next season.
2. Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech – In taking over for the legendary Frank Beamer, expectations were always going to be very high for Fuente, but after a really strong performance in his first year, Virginia Tech has underwhelmed, getting progressively worse. They haven’t finished the season ranked in the past three seasons, and there is definitely some unrest in Blacksburg.
3. Mike Norvell, Florida State – Even though he’s only entering his second season in Tallahassee, make no mistake, Norvell is going to be under the microscope. Going 3-6 in his first season simply does not cut it, and if the team underperforms again, the administration has shown they’re not afraid to dump a coach after two seasons (see Taggert, Willie). I doubt he’ll be on the chopping block but you have to keep an eye on this.
1. Jeff Hafley, Boston College – In his first season taking over for Steve Addazio, Hafley showed that he absolutely has what it takes to bring the Eagles back to the glory days. He was obviously an outstanding defensive coordinator at Ohio State and has the chops to build a great defense, but it was the success of the offense that was most notable for his team last year, and the Eagles bring back a team that should put up points in bunches this coming year.
2. Dave Doeren, NC State – This might be cheating a little bit since he’s already been at North Carolina State for eight seasons, but he’s shown that he can really coach – six bowl games in eight seasons and a 55-46 overall record despite being the little brother program in the state. This year’s team looks to be his best yet, and you could easily see him jump up to that upper echelon of coaches if the Wolfpack are able to live up to expectations.
3. Geoff Collins, Georgia Tech – Collins undertook one of the biggest rebuilds in the Power Five when he took the reins at Georgia Tech in 2019, coming over from Temple. And on top of that, he’s been transitioning the team from the triple option attack that was utilized by Paul Johnson for more than a decade to a more updated scheme, so the players that he’s been working with were recruited with a completely different skill set needed. Despite the fact that the Yellow Jackets have won only three games in each of his first two seasons, the growth and competitiveness of the team is very clear, and the Jackets will be competitive in the Coastal Division sooner rather than later.