The Daily Nole

ACC Quietly With an Accomplished Group of Football Coaches

Damon Herota/FSU athletics

Florida State fans sometimes point out that head coach Jimbo Fisher doesn’t always get the credit he deserves. Fisher is 68-14 in six seasons, which includes four bowl wins, three ACC titles and a national championship. Looking across the ACC however, Fisher might not be the only head man who doesn’t get the recognition he deserves.

This week, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney was given a healthy pay raise after leading the Tigers to a second ACC title and the national championship game a season ago. Clemson, like FSU, sometimes sees its accomplishments downplayed because of its affiliation with the maligned ACC.

Since 2011 however, Clemson has never won fewer than 10 games and has won two major bowl wins. Over that span, the Tigers have defeated Auburn, LSU, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Oklahoma twice.

Like Swinney, Louisville’s Bobby Petrino also received a handsome pay increase this week. Though it hasn’t come without controversy, Petrino is 100-39 as a FBS head coach and has led two different schools (Louisville and Arkansas) to major bowl appearances.

The four new faces among head coaches in the ACC are Miami’s Mark Richt, Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente and Syracuse’s Dino Babers. Richt, a former offensive coordinator at FSU, never got the full respect he deserved at Georgia despite two SEC titles, two Sugar Bowl victories and eight top-10 finishes in 15 years. Mendenhall averaged nine wins per season in 11 years at BYU, which includes three top-15 finishes.

Fuente went 19-6 over his last two seasons at Memphis, which included a American Athletic Conference championship in 2014. Babers led Bowling Green to MAC East titles in each of his two seasons as head coach, including a conference title last year.

Like Fuente and Babers, Wake Forest’s Dave Clawson, N.C. State’s Dave Doeren and North Carolina’s Larry Fedora have all led non-Power 5 schools to a conference championship. Though he didn’t coach in the bowl game, Doeren led Northern Illinois to an Orange Bowl appearance in 2012. Fedora coached Southern Mississippi to the 2011 Conference USA title by handing Houston its only loss of the season.

A sometimes forgotten man in the ACC and nationally is Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson. Though the Yellow Jackets finished just 3-9 a season ago, Johnson is only two years removed from an 11-win campaign, an Orange Bowl victory and a top-10 finish. Since Johnson arrived in Atlanta in 2008, only Fisher has appeared in the ACC Championship game more often.

Duke’s David Cutcliffe has never won a conference or a major bowl as a FBS head coach, but few would downplay his accomplishments with the Blue Devils. In the 18 seasons prior to his arrival, Duke had one winning season and one bowl appearance. Cutcliffe has now coached the Blue Devils to four straight bowl games and three straight winning seasons. In 2013, Duke won a school-record 10 games, the ACC Coastal and finished in the top 25 for the first time in more than half a century.

Pittsburgh’s Pat Narduzzi led the Panthers to an 8-5 record in his first season as head coach in 2015. Boston College head coach Steve Addazio is just 30-32 in his career, but has coached his teams to three winning seasons in five years.

Among college football’s Power 5 conferences, the ACC is often the most maligned and to some extent, for good reason. Since 2000, ACC schools have only won six major bowls and only two if you take FSU and Clemson out of the equation.

Both Florida State and Clemson are expected to compete for a national championship this year while the future appears bright in places like Louisville, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. When it comes to the current group of head coaches, one would be hard-pressed not to have some optimism for the conference moving forward. For the ACC to gain respect as a football conference however, noise will need to eventually be made from somewhere other than Death Valley or Tallahassee.

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