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First of all, credit where credit is due. Thanks to Techsideline user benthokie for doing my job for me and posing this question over on the TSL basketball board a while back. It’s a great topic and my brain immediately started turning over what has become an impressive roster of coaches in both men’s basketball and football in the ACC.
I put it off for a while as we awaited hires at Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech on the hoops side. Now that everything is settled, we can fully evaluate the conference coaching roster.
The flaw with lists like these is they’re ultimately just one person’s opinion. I utilized objective facts in an effort to justify my choices, but you can easily use those same facts to make my analysis look stupid. That’s the fun part and I hope it generates some vibrant discussion on the message boards and social media.
Here’s my list of the top coaching tandems in the ACC starting at the bottom. Part two will follow later in the week.
14. Boston College
Steve Addazio 30-32 overall (17-21 at Boston College)
Jim Christian 262-198 overall (20-44 at Boston College)
BC is unfairly hamstrung by an administration that doesn’t appear to be fully committed to division I athletics. Both of the university’s flagship programs have fallen on hard times in recent years and the athletic department is largely in shambles (save for the hockey team).
This Boston Globe article lays out the full list of challenges, chief among them is that BC is the only major conference school that doesn’t offer a stipend to student-athletes. That’s an enormous hurdle on the recruiting trail never mind the subpar facilities (especially for basketball).
Addazio and Christian are both capable coaches. Addazio made some bowl games his first two seasons at BC, but next season will be rough with talent losses and the coordinator of the nation’s best defense heading off. Basketball is in an even worse spot and it’s hard to see a successful path forward for these coaches until Boston College gets its athletics house in order.
13. Wake Forest
Dave Clawson 38-50 overall (6-18 at Wake Forest)
Danny Manning 62-68 (24-39 at Wake Forest)
Wake also has certain structural challenges given its incredibly small size and comparatively small alumni base. Donors aren’t exactly lining up for new capital projects and drawing capacity crowds has been tough with flagging football and basketball teams.
Dave Clawson seems like the kind of coach Wake football needs. He has a track record of winning with average talent at Bowling Green, but he did that against a weaker conference slate than the quickly improving ACC football lineup. At Wake’s football peak under Jim Grobe the secret was pretty simple, redshirt everyone. Clawson has been doing that in his first two seasons and will hope to reap the rewards in season three. He may yet be a strong hire for them.
Danny Manning has had an underwhelming first two seasons at Wake. After posting records of 13-19 and 11-20, fans will expect a bit more from the young coach. He had only two seasons of experience at Tulsa coming into what was a sizable rebuilding job with the Demon Deacons. He’s recruited well to this point, but his X’s and O’s aren’t a strong suit and he’s not a very commanding presence on the sideline or presumably the locker room..
12. North Carolina State
Dave Doeren 41-24 overall (18-20 at N.C. State)
Mark Gottfried 386-224 overall (108-69 at N.C. State)
The most accomplished coach on the list for State, Mark Gottfried, is having a rough offseason. His team has seen several departures including star guard Cat Barber who left early for the NBA. Several players are transferring including Caleb and Cody Martin while others are openly considering similar action.
Gottfried has done very well at State and at Alabama and Murray State before that. This past season was his first without an NCAA berth while leading the Wolfpack. His teams made the previous four tournaments. He’s a good coach, though fans are a bit restless with the currently unsettled roster.
The MAC conference has long been known as the cradle of coaches when it comes to football and Dave Doeren is another of the handful of ACC headmen with MAC connections, his coming from two seasons in charge at Northern Illinois. He posted a 23-4 record and led NIU to the Orange Bowl in 2012, but that was with the school’s best player in quarterback Jordan Lynch. Doeren appears to have stabilized State with two mid-tier bowl seasons, but it remains to be seen if he can lead them to greater heights.
11. Georgia Tech
Paul Johnson 106-73 overall (62-44 at Georgia Tech)
Josh Pastner 167-73 overall (all at Memphis)
Paul Johnson is a good coach. He’s not a great coach. He’s not a polished media presence or dominant recruiter either with his system. Still, he uses it to great success most seasons and after an off year (his first losing campaign since a 2-10 Navy squad in 2002), he hopes to return his program to the impressive recent heights that saw him named ACC Coach of the Year three times.
He built something lasting at Navy too which is an impressive achievement and has only missed a bowl game in three of his 14 total seasons in the NCAA’s highest division.
Josh Pastner recently told Sports Illustrated that he took the Yellow Jackets’ job without even visiting campus. That’s a bold move, but there’s plenty of potential for a program playing in a revamped arena in a major metropolitan southeastern market. Pastner posted some strong seasons at Memphis after taking over for John Calipari. He qualified for four NCAA Tournaments (though none the last two seasons) and won three conference tournament titles and two regular season championships in Conference USA. Pastner may be an upgrade from Brian Gregory, but it’s not clear he’s a better coach overall.
— Pitt Football (@Pitt_FB) April 30, 2016
Pat Narduzzi 8-5 (all at Pittsburgh)
Kevin Stallings 455-283 (0-0 at Pittsburgh)
Pitt suddenly has a very interesting duo. Pat Narduzzi had an encouraging first year at the helm on the football side as he instills his defensive leaning blue collar approach. They share facilities with the Pittsburgh Steelers and he’s utilizing everything he has at his disposal to build a program. They look poised to be dangerous for some time if the overall talent level can continue to improve. The body of work is limited, but Pitt may have landed a really good football coach. Certainly, his hire stabilizes the revolving door at the position in recent years.
Kevin Stallings comes from Vanderbilt where he had a long and mostly successful 17-year run. Still, he’s hit a rough patch in recent seasons and it really felt like the Commodores upgraded when they hired Bryce Drew as a replacement. Pitt was higher on this list when Jamie Dixon was still in charge, though a change of leadership isn’t a bad thing after his long tenure there. Things needed a refresher for the Panthers, but the hire left many observers underwhelmed. Stallings can still have success and will be very tough and disciplined. It’s a similar mindset to Narduzzi’s so there’s a chance this hire might surprise some folks with a positive outcome.
— ColdwellBankerCaine (@CBCaine) March 11, 2015
Dabo Swinney 75-27 (all at Clemson)
Brad Brownell 274-172 (107-87 at Clemson)
There’s no question that Clemson is committed to winning in both of the major sports. They’re currently in the middle of a $63.5 million renovation project for Littlejohn Coliseum and Memorial Stadium seems to get a facelift every couple of seasons.
Dabo has taken the opportunity to lead the Tigers as an interim solution after Tommy Bowden was fired and outpaced any and all expectations. He brought Clemson to the brink of the national title this season and appears poised to rack up ACC championships and CFB Playoff berths for years to come. He’s not an incredible gameday coach — I would argue he’s the ultimate CEO as coach and delegates wisely — but he recruits as well as anyone with his infectious enthusiasm for the program and all things Clemson.
Brad Brownell hasn’t had the same kind of success, but he doesn’t seem that far away at times. Last season’s 17-13 mark was just a couple of close results from earning a postseason invite and the new facilities will really help recruiting. He’s only got one NCAA Tournament bid from his first season, but he routinely has the Tigers competitive and just needs a breakout star to make things take off. If it doesn’t come next season, we may see some movement with this job as it’s now positioned very attractively in a fantastic conference.
Dino Babers 18-9 (all at Bowling Green)
Jim Boeheim 985-346 (all at Syracuse)
Having a relative unknown paired with a Hall of Famer means you end up in the middle of the pack. Dino is the wildcard here as we really don’t have much to go in with him. Another MAC alum, Babers will bring a modern offensive philosophy to Syracuse and look to recapture past success on the gridiron.
The Carrier Dome itself is a formidable place to play in any sport with capacity crowds. Basketball had a record crowd of 35,446 and football can hold just under 50,000. The Dome can be a big advantage, but it’s one of Babers major challenges to get it to the level of being full every game like it was in the late nineties and early 2000s.
Obviously the career of Jim Boeheim speaks for itself. He is Syracuse basketball and the idea of him leaving frightens people. The program had a few good seasons including a Final Four berth under Roy Danforth during the couple of years before JB arrived to take the helm, but Boeheim has done the heavy lifting. Since then, he’s made five Final Fours and won the school’s only national title.
Still, I have a difficult time accepting Boeheim as a leader when he claims no responsibility in the egregious academic misconduct committed by his program and then laughs off his suspension as a nine-game “vacation”. That may well have been the case for him, but it very nearly cost his team one of the more surprising runs to the Final Four in recent NCAA Tournament memory. But, the man can recruit and coach with the best of them. If the football program wasn’t such a question mark under new leadership, ‘Cuse would easily be in the top five of this kind of list.
Remember, part two will follow later this week.