ACC Coaching Carousel is Heating Up

Let me begin by saying that as much fun as all the craziness of hirings and firings in the coaching world can be for fans and the media, it’s important to take a step back and realize that these are folks with families who in many cases aren’t going to have a very pleasant holiday. As someone who moved a lot growing up, I can relate to the difficulty of having to uproot your kids every time your job forces you to.

It’s heartbreaking and unpleasant, and in my case we didn’t have to deal with the process being plastered all over the front page of the newspaper or on Twitter. Changes do need to be made sometimes, but perhaps we shouldn’t relish the axe falling quite the way many of us do.

Okay, I’ll hop off my soapbox now and break down the jobs that are currently open in the ACC and look at the rumored candidates as well as what each program needs.


Miami Hurricanes

Miami got a head start on its coaching search when it fired Al Golden after a 58-0 loss to Clemson — the worst defeat in program history. The fans and former players rejoiced and it cleared the air in what had become a truly toxic atmosphere among supporters of the program. Former players in particular applauded the firing and now they’ve been consulted to some degree on the search for a new coach by athletic director Blake James.

In addition to executive search firm Korn Ferry, former Hurricane stars Jonathan Vilma and Vinny Testaverde have been named to the advisory committee that will be a part of the search. The group polled an unknown number of former Miami players to see who they felt were the best candidates for the position. According to former standout offensive lineman Joaquin Gonzalez, Butch Davis and Mario Cristobal are the leading candidates among those polled with Rob Chudzinksi and Greg Schiano close behind.

Those are all recent coaches who had tremendous success at Miami aided by the very players surveyed, so the results aren’t terribly surprising. Chudzinksi strikes me as a long shot and Butch Davis simply won’t happen unless a dozen other people pass on the job. It would be near impossible to justify bringing him on after what happened under his watch at North Carolina. Cristobal is a legitimate possibility and very intriguing as he’s a fantastic recruiter who was able to get Florida International to back-to-back bowl games during his tenure as head coach.

Out of that group, I find Greg Schiano the most interesting name. Sure he’s a crazy man, but the Hurricane program needs discipline. They’re the most penalized team in the nation in terms of flags per game, and despite the fact that wildly undisciplined teams have won championships at Miami, that’s simply not a sustainable model as evidenced by the nuclear winters we’ve witnessed in south Florida between titles.


Virginia Tech

It’s just bad timing when your first coaching search in three decades coincides with one of the toughest coaching markets in recent memory. Fortunately for the Hokies, they have a very desirable job with a history of stability and excellent fan support.

The hot name here — and for most jobs recently — is Justin Fuente from Memphis. Many outlets are reporting that it’s a done deal, spurred on at least in part by Pat Forde of Yahoo calling it a done deal in a story Monday. Fuente makes a lot of sense as he’s an offensive-minded coach with a humble personality. That would be a good fit in Blacksburg and might ease the transition from the Beamer era, but ultimately fans will respond to anyone who wins.

Fuente has had success turning Memphis from a moribund program into a winner in the American Athletic Conference. Can he do the same against tougher competition? Tech probably isn’t that far off from winning consistently again, but this will certainly be a rebuilding project that will include completely retooling recruiting. In-state recruiting has particularly fallen off as big-time programs from around the country now routinely snag players from the talent-rich Commonwealth.

Fuente has made a living offering under-the-radar recruits who don’t have major scholarship offers (sound familiar Hokies?) but he would have to supplement that by nabbing at least a handful of the top 25 recruits in Virginia each year. It would be a new set of challenges, but the facilities, fan support, and tradition are already taken care of. The new coach just needs to retool the offense and recruiting.

Of course, there are still lots of balls in the air and while it appears likely that there will be an announcement of some kind the Monday after the Virginia game, it could honestly be anybody at this point and that could push things back. Tom Herman’s name continues to float around every job including this one as do a number of other candidates which may affect the timeline as those coaches continue their seasons. It will be very interesting to see if Whit Babcock lands one of the obvious names, or if he can pull another Buzz Williams out of left field in this process and shock the nation.



Scott Shafer was dismissed Monday after posting a 13-26 record in three seasons and a 6-16 record in ACC play. Shafer won seven games in his first season and won the Texas Bowl, but the Orange registered just six games in the last two seasons. Those came against Villanova, Rhode Island, Central Michigan (twice), and Wake Forest (twice). Not exactly an imposing group.

Defense is Shafer’s calling card and when he arrived at Syracuse as defensive coordinator under Doug Marrone, he took the unit from 101st in total defense the previous year to a top 20 overall ranking. Those kind of results are impressive, but they didn’t carry over with Shafer as the head man. This season for example the Orange are 105th in total defense and 110th against the pass.

The program has suffered a considerable number of injuries — particularly at the quarterback position — which explains many of the struggles, but the results simply weren’t there and with a new athletic director it isn’t overly surprising that a change was made.

So who will be interested? This is a tough gig. Syracuse is very much a basketball and lacrosse school, though they had prolonged football success in the 1990s and early 2000s under Paul Pasqualoni. Back then, the Carrier Dome was routinely packed and it’s incredibly loud in that building when full. The support facilities have been upgraded and people will fill the dome once again once they start winning. Recruiting is a challenge though, especially if you’re making a visit in the winter. There is tradition however with alumni like Donovan McNabb, Ernie Davis, and Jim Brown.

Ed Orgeron has been the first person I’ve heard who has expressed interest in leading the Orange, and he’s very interested. He served as a Syracuse assistant from 1995-97 and would love to be a head coach again. He’s a fantastic recruiter and has the kind of tireless energy that it will take to rebuild Syracuse. We’ll see if he gets a serious look from AD Mark Coyle.

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