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College Football Coach Rankings 2020: ACC

Finding the right head coach can make all the difference in college football. Nowhere was this more clear in the 2019 season than in the ACC, which saw two of the league's worst teams the year previously (Louisville & North Carolina) hire new coaches and immediately jump back into league contention. My "Coach Rankings 2020" aims to compile a definitive list of the best coaches in the sport in each Power Five league. To do this, I tried to weigh the current trajectory of the coach's program, past success at current school and former schools, as well as recruiting impact. Obviously this list is highly subjective, and there should be plenty of spirited debate about which order these coaches fall.
Dabo Swinney

1. Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Record At Clemson: 130-31 
Record Overall: 130-31
Notable Accomplishments: 2 National Titles, 6 ACC Titles, 8 ACC Atlantic Division Titles, 5 CFB Playoff Appearances

It's easy to forget the state that Clemson football was in when Dabo Swinney took over the program in 2008. They weren't terrible by any means, but hadn't won ten games in nearly two decades, and idled in mediocrity for much of Tommy Bowden's tenure. Swinney was a polarizing and relatively shocking hire at the time; he had never held a head coaching job anywhere and in fact, had never even been a coordinator at the FBS level. In the decade since then, Swinney has established Clemson into one of the sport's best programs, and continues to keep things rolling. Not only has he proven himself as an elite recruiter who young men want to play for, he really does an impressive job keeping the program stable. Few programs in the country are able to win as much as Clemson and still retain most of their coaching staff and a number of NFL Draft holdovers, including Travis Etienne this year. That's a testament to Swinney's infectious energy and influence. Just 50 years of age, I wouldn't bet this run is slowing down anytime soon.

2. Mack Brown, UNC
Record at North Carolina: 76-52-1 (second stint)
Record Overall: 251-128-1
Notable Accomplishments: College Football Hall-of-Famer, National Champion

The list of active college football coaches who have won National Titles: Nick Saban, Dabo, Jimbo Fisher, Les Miles, Ed Orgeron and... Mack Brown. Brown's lone Title came with Texas back in 2005 during the Vince Young Rose Bowl performance, but he's proven himself at countless other stops. For one, that Longhorn team in 2009 might have delayed Alabama's dominance for one more season if Colt McCoy didn't get hurt in the National Championship Game. Secondly, Brown has been instrumental to promoting and developing North Carolina's football program, which has always lagged far, far behind basketball. He inherited a terrible team during his first stint in Chapel Hill and turned them into back-to-back 10-win teams. And already in his second stint he was quickly changed the feel of a program that had slipped under Larry Fedora. The Heels improved from 2-9 to 7-6 in 2019, and even brighter things appear to be on the horizon. Sam Howell is already one of the nation's best quarterback as a true sophomore, and UNC currently has a Top 10 recruiting class in the 2021 Cycle, an indication of just how great of a recruiter Brown has become in modern college football.

3. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest
Record at Wake Forest: 36-40
Record Overall: 126-119
Notable Accomplishments: 4 Conference Titles, 4 Consecutive Bowl Appearances

Looking at Dave Clawson's numbers at face value, they don't exactly jump out at you. But, you really have to consider Clawson under the evaluation of where he's been as head coach. He began his career at Fordham before moving to Richmond, Bowling Green, and eventually Wake Forest. Moving up the ladder, Clawson has proved time and time again he knows how to build a program. His first season at Fordham they were 0-11 before going 10-3 his final year. At Richmond? 3-8 in Year One, 11-3 his final year. Bowling Green? 7-6 Year One, 10-3 his final year. At Wake, he opened up with back-to-back 3-9 seasons but has since led them to four consecutive bowl berths. That type of consistency at a school like Wake Forest, the smallest in Power Five, is pretty remarkable in modern college football. In order to do that, you must recruit and develop talent at an impressive level, while also being able to retain it, in a world where the NFL Draft and transfer portal are commonplace. He may not be at the level of a Swinney or Brown, but Clawson deserves the utmost respect. I wouldn't be shocked if another, larger P5 school comes calling soon enough.

4. Scott Satterfield, Louisville
Record at Louisville: 8-5
Record Overall: 59-29
Notable Accomplishments: 3 Conference Titles, ACC Coach of the Year (2019), Undefeated in Bowl Games

Scott Satterfield oversaw the transition of Appalachian State from the FCS ranks to FBS football, and it was quite the successful one. The Mountaineers won nine or more games his final four seasons at the helm, helping lay the groundwork for one of Group of Five's top programs. Naturally, bigger schools came calling, and Satterfield's departure to Louisville was no surprise. What was surprising, however, was his immediate success. He took over a 2-10 lifeless program in the dumps following the firing of Bobby Petrino and turned things around in quick order. The Cardinals improved their record by six games, won their bowl game, and played with an energy and motivation that was simply not there under Petrino. The key for Satterfield will be continuing that momentum; the Cardinals look especially dangerous in 2020, but the ACC Atlantic continues to bring in new coaches. If Satterfield can continue to win with the Cards, this ranking will certainly be justified, and he could possibly even slide up a spot.

5. Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia
Record at Virginia: 25-27
Record Overall: 124-70
Notable Accomplishments: 2 Conference Titles, ACC Coastal Division Title (2019)

Virginia made quite the outside-the-box hire when they brought in Bronco Mendenhall prior to the 2016 season. Mendenhall had a track record of success at BYU, but he had never coached east of the Mississippi during his career. Through four seasons, it looks like the gamble has paid off, as Mendenhall has shown consistent progress in Charlottesville, including a trip to the ACC Championship this past fall. His teams don't play a flashy brand of football, but they are consistently among the most disciplined in the nation, which really speaks to Mendenhall and the staff he has in place. Mendenhall should be eager to prove that his recent success was more about him than departed QB Bryce Perkins. Perkins was terrific in two seasons with the Cavaliers, but graduated over the off-season. If the Cavaliers can continue to stay atop the Coastal Division, Mendenhall should be a serious candidate for the conference's Coach of the Year Award in 2020.

6. David Cutcliffe, Duke
Record at Duke: 72-79
Record Overall: 116-108
Notable Accomplishments: 2-Time ACC Coach of the Year, Broyles Award Winner, AFCA Coach of the Year (2013)

I found it difficult to place David Cutcliffe on this list looking ahead to 2020. Cutcliffe's influence on the game of football can not be overstated; he coached both of the Manning brothers while they were in college, and has been credited with a lot of their success. After losing his job at Ole Miss, Cutcliffe has since moved on to a successful second act with Duke, a program with absolutely no tradition of winning football prior to his arrival. Under his guidance, the Blue Devils have gone to six bowl games and played for an ACC Championship in 2013. They've also been a surprising hotbed for NFL talent, particularly at the quarterback position, a result of Cutcliffe's past success at the position. It will be interesting to see if the well-respected coach can keep things going forward at age 65. He's still one of the better offensive minds in the game, but the new-age recruiting has presented difficulties for a coach that considers himself "old-school."

7. Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh
Record at Pittsburgh: 36-29
Record Overall: 36-29
Notable Accomplishments: Broyles Award Winner, ACC Coastal Division Title (2018)

Narduzzi was a long-time defensive assistant and coordinator in the Midwest before finally getting his opportunity at Pittsburgh, and he's done a fine job building the Panthers program. In five years under his leadership, Pitt has played in a bowl game four times, and won eight games on three separate occasions. The high point so far came in 2018, when the Panthers ended up winning the Coastal Division, after going 6-2 in the conference. Sure, there are plenty of Pittsburgh fans that are probably hopeful Narduzzi can deliver more than simply eight win seasons, but much like Clawson, Narduzzi's consistency is his strength. He might never lead an ACC Champion, but it's hard to imagine Pittsburgh ever slipping to the bottom of the Coastal. In a volatile college football landscape, that can be a very enviable position to be in.

8. Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech
Record at Virginia Tech: 33-20
Record Overall: 59-43
Notable Accomplishments: One Conference Title, ACC Coach of the Year (2016)

Justin Fuente should, and does, get credit for completely turning around the Memphis program prior to his arrival in Blacksburg. The Tigers had never been much of a football school prior to his hiring, and he built the foundation for one of Group of Five's premier programs before taking over at Virginia Tech in 2016. So far, Fuente's time with the Hokies has been a mixed bag; he won 19 games over his first two years, but slipped to 6-7 in Year 3 and finally, an 8-5 mark this past fall. Those are solid numbers, but people have expressed concerns about Fuente losing a curious number of players to the transfer portal, which does seem somewhat significant. Virginia Tech has also lagged behind recruiting-wise under his leadership, which is important to note. Despite this, 33-20 is certainly not a record to scoff at, and Fuente has done a fine job of weathering some of the adversity VT has faced in recent years. I'll say also: nearly any coach who took this job was going to be in for a difficult time. It isn't a crazy tough place to win, but replacing a legend like Frank Beamer is a tall order for anyone.

9. Mike Norvell, Florida State
Record at Florida State: 0-0
Record Overall: 38-15
Notable Accomplishments: One Conference Title, 3 AAC West Division Titles

A little disclaimer here for Florida State fans or others shocked to see Mike Norvell so low on this list; I firmly expect him to be significantly higher by this time next year, but I want to see him at the Power Five level before I start moving him up. There's no question Norvell did a superb job keeping the ball rolling at Memphis after Fuente left. He missed the AAC Championship Game just once during his time as head man, and he capped off his tenure by appearing in a New Year's Six Bowl (although he left for FSU prior to the bowl game). I will be interested to see whether that is able to translate to Tallahassee, where the pressure and expectations are significantly different than Memphis. He'll have to transform a culture that became very toxic under Jimbo Fisher and Willie Taggart, and while there is plenty of talent, there are also significant holes. I think Norvell will be able to do it, but it's a wait and see for me in these rankings for now.

10. Dave Doeren, NC State
Record at NC State: 47-42
Record Overall: 70-46
Notable Accomplishments: 2 Conference Titles

You can look at Dave Doeren in two ways. In one point of view, he has oversaw NC State as a program for seven years and has generally been successful. On the flip side, he hasn't ever been able to breakthrough under the Wolfpack despite plenty of talent, and has also had some bad moments, including a 3-9 debut and 4-8 record last season. That mix makes it extremely difficult to evaluate Doeren. You certainly have to be pretty savvy to last as a head coach anywhere in college football for seven seasons, and Doeren has developed some impressive talent while in Raleigh. His success at Northern Illinois previously should also not be overlooked, as he won two conference titles, and sent the Huskies to the Orange Bowl. With that being said, Doeren is another coach that could move in these rankings depending on 2020. Another losing season and he could be out of a job, and his NC State tenure could be defined by mediocrity. If he's able to turn it down in a pretty wide-open Atlantic Division behind Clemson, it could be just the spark of life the coach needs.

11. Dino Babers, Syracuse
Record at Syracuse: 23-26
Record Overall: 60-42
Notable Accomplishments: 3 Conference Titles

It took Dino Babers nearly three decades to rise up from grad assistant to a head coaching job but he has risen quickly up the ladder since then, going from Eastern Illinois to Bowling Green and now Syracuse. So far, his Syracuse tenure has been one of full of bright moments, but a tenure at a crossroads looking ahead to 2020. It looked like Babers had his first breakthrough in 2018, as the Orange won ten games and came within a hair of beating Clemson for the second straight year. However, the Orange sorely missed QB Eric Dungey last season, resulting in a slip back to 5-7. It marked three years out of four that 'Cuse has missed the postseason under Babers. The ultimate question for Babers: was the magical 2018 a flash in the pan, and more about Dungey than him? It's certainly a valid question, even if Babers had success at his previous stops. Syracuse is a really tough place to win; much like Duke and UNC, it's unquestionably a basketball school, and there just isn't a ton of talent to work with in the state of New York. But, it's now or never for Babers here, and could have an important impact on how he holds up in coach rankings.

12. Geoff Collins, Georgia Tech
Geoff Collins

Record at Georgia Tech: 3-9
Record Overall: 18-19
Notable Accomplishments: None

Geoff Collins and his tenure at Georgia Tech should be one of the more fascinating storylines in the ACC the next few years. The former Temple head coach took over when Paul Johnson retired after a decade-plus run at the helm in Atlanta, beginning a process to transform GT from the triple-option to a more traditional offense. It is a stiff challenge for any head coach, but Collins has already made waves for his impact on the recruiting trail. He brought in one of the best classes in school history this past cycle, a group that ranked 26th nationally. That momentum on the recruiting trail is going to be huge for a program that simply didn't bring in the athletes they needed for sustained success in the Coastal Division. Collins will also have to turn it into wins eventually; a favorable schedule in 2020 could set up things for a postseason run.

13. Manny Diaz, Miami
Record at Miami: 6-7
Record Overall: 6-7
Notable Accomplishments: None

Manny Diaz has had a fascinating coaching career, first beginning with Florida State as a graduate assistant in 1998-1999. He had a meteoric rise within his first decade was a fearless defensive mind, taking over the reigns of the Texas defense in 2011. After being fired from Texas, he worked hard to repair his image at stops as DC at Louisiana Tech, Mississippi State and Miami. After engineering a defensive turnaround in Coral Gables, Diaz took the Temple head coaching job, before reversing on his decision following Mark Richt's retirement, then becoming the Miami head coach. It's been a whirlwind over the past ten years for the coach, but the hope was that his comfortability with the Miami program would pay immediate dividends. However, his first season was far from charming. The Hurricanes fell under .500, lost to Florida International and their former coach Butch Davis, and then put together a terrible bowl performance in the Independence Bowl, dropping to Louisiana Tech 14-0. It certainly puts a lot of pressure on Diaz to quickly right the ship, and the hope is that a new-look offense will do just that. But, it's still hard to know exactly what to think of the 46-year-old at this point in his coaching career. He's made waves with some of the physical, turnover-hungry defenses he's created, but making the jump to head of a program is a different one entirely.

14. Jeff Hafley, Boston College
Record at Boston College: 0-0
Record Overall: 0-0
Notable Accomplishments: None

Jeff Hafley finds himself dead last in these rankings, but this is a position based solely on his lack of experience as a head coach than what I think he actually can be at Boston College. Hafley has never been a head coach anywhere at any level of football, and prior to a one-year stint on Ohio State's staff in 2019, he had been out of college coaching since 2011. The upside to Hafley is that he has coaching experience in both college and the NFL, and he played a huge role in the defensive turnaround in Columbus this past fall. He has also established himself as an elite recruiter, which has already paid dividends at Boston College. In just a few months at the helm, he's brought in two transfers, Phil Jurkovec (Notre Dame) and Jaelen Gill (Ohio State) who would rank as the highest BC "recruits" since 2005. The trajectory for both Hafley and Boston College is straight up, but there will be some growing pains along the way.

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