It’s time for the second part of our look at the top men’s basketball and football coaching tandems in the ACC. Hopefully, you enjoy what will no doubt be the most controversial section featuring Virginia Tech and Virginia. In order to maintain as much objectivity as possible in this entirely subjective exercise, coins were flipped for the 6/7 spots.
Bronco Mendenhall 99-43 (all at BYU)
Tony Bennett 231-104 overall (162-71 at Virginia)
Talk about a tale of two programs. As Virginia basketball has risen to unprecedented heights both in the ACC and nationally over the last handful of years, the football program has dug itself a subterranean hole that will take some time to climb out of.
Bronco Mendenhall’s mentality is exactly what is needed in Charlottesville after the oddly disjointed tenure of Mike London. He demands accountability, is very tough, and well, frankly his teams have a reputation for playing a little dirty. That’s essentially the opposite of what went on during the London tenure and the latter years of Al Groh’s time at the helm. Those coaches recruited well but ultimately couldn’t shape the roster into anything particularly noteworthy in the results column. Bronco needs to establish an east-coast recruiting profile, but the coaching won’t be an issue for him.
Tony Bennett is among the best coaches in America. He’s built an impressive program with his pack line defense and a talented roster stocked with highly valued recruits willing to play hard and be defense oriented. He has an excellent home court in John Paul Jones Arena, and while he will continue to be a hot coaching commodity, he appears set to take the baton as the best of the next generation of ACC basketball coaches if he stays put. Similar to Syracuse, if the football program wasn’t such a disaster punctuated by question marks, UVA would be in the top five in ACC coaching talent. If Bronco can get things turned around, that’s exactly where they’ll be.
6. Virginia Tech
Justin Fuente 26-23 (all at Memphis)
Buzz Williams 183-122 overall (30-36 at Virginia Tech)
Justin Fuente is one of the top young coaches in the nation and was easily one of the hottest names on the coaching carousel this last season. In a short time at Memphis, he took a program that won just five games in the three seasons preceding him and won four in his first season alone. He won 10 games and a bowl in his third season and won nine last season before leaving to accept the Virginia Tech job.
Fuente’s up-tempo spread offense is what the Hokie faithful have been clamoring for over the last decade or two. Coupled with the fact that he was able to retain Bud Foster as defensive coordinator, Fuente might be a perfect fit in Blacksburg. On a venn diagram with Fuente and Frank Beamer, there would be a decently sized section in the middle filled with similar traits, particularly with the way the two men handle themselves in public. He’s a young guy however and while the hire looks like a slam dunk on paper, that’s no guarantee of eventual success.
Buzz Williams is absolutely nuts, but he sure can coach hoops. After a nine-win dumpster fire in 2013-2014 ended with the dismissal of head coach James Johnson, Williams came in after a highly successful tenure at Marquette and gutted the roster. That resulted in 11 wins his first season and a breakout 20-win campaign and NIT berth this past year that took the basketball world completely by surprise after the Hokies were picked to finish last in the ACC (Tech finished tied for seventh a half game behind Duke and Notre Dame). There’s no telling how long Williams will stay in Blacksburg, but as long as he does he’s worth the hefty contract and all the eccentricity.
Bobby Petrino 100-39 overall (58-18 at Louisville)
Rick Pitino 743-258 overall (391-134 at Louisville)
When it comes to shady extracurricular activities, these guys are two peas in a pod. Rick Pitino has had his share of trouble and Bobby Petrino’s strange coaching odyssey only led him back to Louisville because of his own issues. Point being, These guys wouldn’t still be coaching at this level if they weren’t really good.
Pitino has won two national titles, seven Final Fours, and has amassed a litany of conference championships in five different leagues. His career .746 winning percentage in 72 NCAA Tournament games currently places him fourth all-time and third among active coaches. His off-court distractions are a definitive stain on an otherwise gleaming legacy, but you’ll see that’s a growing theme among really good basketball coaches in this piece.
Petrino has done quite the job of courting controversy himself. He once secretly interviewed for the Auburn job (which wasn’t even open at the time) and famously quit before the end of his only season with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, then informed his team with a four sentence laminated note in each player’s locker. Yikes. But when it comes to the actual coaching, he knows his offense and has produced good to great results everywhere he’s been in college. Petrino appears to have the Cardinals back to where he had them during his first stint there, when they won 11 games in his second season and 12 in his fourth. As long as he stays put, Louisville football will be successful.
4. North Carolina
Larry Fedora 66-39 overall (32-20 at North Carolina)
Roy Williams 778-208 overall (369-107 at North Carolina)
Carolina football had a resurgent season under Fedora during which the Tar Heels won a school record 11 regular season games and won the program’s first ACC Coastal Division championship. His program appears to be turning the corner at the same time his Southern Mississippi squad did. At Southern Miss, he won 12 games in his fourth season and finished ranked No. 20 in the AP poll. At Carolina, He won 11 games in his fourth season and finished ranked No. 15.
It’s worth noting that Southern Miss fell off a cliff when Fedora left, going 0-12 and 1-11 in the two seasons following his departure. Perhaps he simply moved on because he saw the writing on the wall, but it seems unlikely the fall would have been as severe with him in charge. Next season will tell us a great deal about his abilities with a new quarterback and some other key replacements needing to step up. Overall though, he’s good coach with a dangerous offense that can score in the blink of an eye.
Roy Williams has won 16 regular season conference titles and seven conference tournament championships including one of each this season in the ACC. He’s also been to seven Final Fours and won two national championships, both at North Carolina. Despite that gaudy resume, Ol’ Roy doesn’t get much dadgum credit. The common argument is that it’s easy to win at Kansas and North Carolina largely because the places recruit themselves with such rich tradition. Just because you have talent doesn’t mean it’s a cakewalk though (just ask Matt Doherty).
Granted, Roy’s half court offense is far from intimidating and his game management can be, well, puzzling at times but you can say that about plenty of coaches. He has a system and he knows exactly what kind of players it takes to run it. Also, I don’t care where you coach, you don’t win 800 games by accident. Certainly there’s that looming NCAA investigation regarding academic fraud in the UNC athletic department that paints Roy in a potentially unfavorable light, but we’d have a very different list here if we penalized coaches for misconduct. A bit unsettling, no?
Mark Richt 145-51 (all at Georgia)
Jim Larrañaga 558-365 overall (116-56 at Miami)
Day one of spring practice is in the books! pic.twitter.com/IwqHqGy8hC
— Canes Football (@CanesFootball) March 15, 2016
The Canes made one of the biggest hires of the college football offseason by bringing in longtime Georgia coach and Miami alumnus Mark Richt. Richt was fired by Georgia despite winning at least 10 games in nine of 15 seasons and qualifying for a bowl every year of his tenure. He was never able to win the SEC though his teams finished the season ranked in the top ten six times. The Canes nabbed a very strong candidate to turn their program around. Miami has always been an easy spot to recruit given the talent in the program’s own backyard, and Richt has already impressed some with a much different style than Al Golden. Richt is pushing for a much-needed indoor practice facility and as for the program’s legendary attendance problems, see if winning doesn’t fix that.
Jim Larranaga has a strong track record of success in three decades of coaching. He rose to national prominence by leading a magical cinderella run to the Final Four at George Mason in 2006, and now he’s lifted Miami to a level not even remotely approached in the history of the young program. In 2012-2013 the Canes won the regular season and ACC Tournament titles in just his second season in charge. The regular season title was just the second in school history and it was the first conference tournament win ever. It seems at times that Larranaga is on the back-burner among the ACC’s coaching legends, likely because he racked up the majority of his nearly 600 wins at smaller schools. He’s absolutely in the upper echelon. There are only a couple guys who get more from their players, and one of them is at the top of this list.
2. Florida State
Jimbo Fisher 68-14 (all at Florida State)
Leonard Hamilton 477-396 overall (277-186 at Florida State)
Jimbo Fisher turned Florida State football back into what it once was and has already won a national championship. The Seminoles have won fewer than 10 games just once during his tenure and they still piled up nine W’s that season. They just posted a 10-3 record and it was considered a “down” season. That’s living high on the hog. FSU’s recruiting is at a dominant level once again and the program shows no signs of slowing down under his guidance.
He’s also managed all this while dealing with extremely stressful family issues. His youngest son Ethan has a rare blood disorder that is presently incurable and only has a life expectancy of 28-30. He’s also gone through a divorce. The ability to even remotely balance all of that with high-level football is incredible. It speaks to his abilities as both a coach and a man.
A lot of older FSU fans still think of Jimbo as the new coach. Meanwhile, only 3 of 14 ACC schools have longer-tenured head coaches.
— Ira Schoffel (@IraSchoffel) May 12, 2016
Leonard Hamilton built lowly Miami into an NCAA Tournament team in the 1990s and after a failed NBA stint with the Washington Wizards, returned to college to become the winningest coach in Florida State history. He has an outside shot to pass the 500 win mark next season, though that likely hinges on whether young talents Dwayne Bacon and Malik Beasley return. From 2008 to 2011 he took FSU to the NCAA Tournament and in 2011 his squad won the ACC Tournament and finished ranked No. 10 in the AP poll.
His in-game demeanor is subdued to say the least. I’ve wondered at times if he hasn’t mastered the ability to sleep with his eyes open, but a calm facade featuring an occasional outburst works wonders for a number of coaches here. Not unlike Roy Williams, Hamilton recruits tremendous athletes and then largely just let’s them play with an occasional hand on the rudder. It takes a lot of confidence to trust your kids with that style of management.
David Cutcliffe: 92-82 overall (48-53 at Duke)
Mike Krzyzewski: 1041-320 overall (968-261 at Duke)
Love him or hate him, I don’t believe that there’s a coherent argument that can be made against the fact that coach K is the single most effective and most accomplished coach in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He’s one of the all-time greats and his resume is pretty astounding. He’s won five national championships, been to 12 Final Fours, won 12 ACC regular season titles and 13 ACC Tournament championships. He’s built one of the greatest sports dynasties of all-time and shaped Duke basketball into a brand on par with Notre Dame football and the New York Yankees. In other words, everyone has an opinion about his guys.
It’s perfectly fine and understandable to dislike Coach K and his program, but the man gets his players to play hard for him. Those guys are incredibly loyal and I would imagine they’d do whatever the man asked.
David Cutcliffe might not be considered in the same class, but what he’s been able to do with Duke football is pretty incredible. Cutcliffe’s predecessor at Duke, Ted Roof, posted a 6-45 overall record with a 3-33 mark in ACC play. Cutcliffe started from the ground up by rebuilding the strength and conditioning program and improving recruiting. He also helped spearhead an added emphasis on the football program with improved facilities that include long overdo upgrades to Wallace Wade Stadium.
Of course none of that would matter if they weren’t winning, but they are. 2013 was the high water mark to this point with a 10-4 season and a Coastal Division title. Cutcliffe won ACC Coach of the Year in 2013 and 2014, but has built a program to last with strong recruiting including a class this year that features four 4-star prospects and is ranked 31st nationally according to Rivals.com. Not bad for a “basketball school”.