September 27, 2023

Ranking the ACC’s best coaches of 2023

ACC's best coaches of 2023

North Carolina Coach Mack Brown walks along the sideline during a timeout in the fourth quarter of the Holiday Bowl against Oregon Wednesday December 28, 2022 at Petco Park. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

The conference is full of solid coaches, including a couple with at least one National Title under their belt.

The ACC is still considered a basketball conference, but most of its’ teams can compete with the best of them. Over the years the league has made a strong case for being the third best Power Five conference. At least five teams from the ACC will be ranked in the preseason polls, which should make for some competitive football this fall.

It’s no mystery that the conference is full of parity, and there are several coaches that’ll have their teams in contention for the hardware come November. Now that spring ball is winding down, here’s how the 14 coaches pan out for 2023.

14. Tony Elliott, Virginia: The former Clemson wide receiver had a very successful stint as an Offensive Coordinator with his alma mater. However, Elliott suffered through a rough campaign in his first season as a head coach. The Cavaliers lost their first three conference games, and every ACC tilt at home. Virginia finished 1-6 in ACC play, which was its’ lowest mark since 2016. The Cavaliers ranked 10th in the ACC, and 103rd nationally in total offense. On top of that Brennan Armstrong threw seven touchdowns and 12 interceptions. With Armstrong off to NC State, Elliott will get a fresh start with a new quarterback. Virginia’s defense will be solid again, despite the loss of linebacker Nick Jackson.

13. Brent Pry, Virginia Tech: The Pennsylvania native suffered through a miserable season as a first-year head coach with the Hokies. Pry led Virginia Tech to three victories in 2022, which was the lowest mark in the program since 1992. Some fans believe that was due to his predecessor Justin Fuente’s ineffective recruiting. Although Pry won two of his first three games, he lost seven of his final eight contests. The 53-year old is a defensive-minded coach, and kept the Hokies competitive on that side of the ball. However, Virginia Tech ranked 13th in the ACC, and 120th in the FBS in total offense. The Hokies never scored over 29 points the entire season. Pry is going to need better quarterback play.

12. Brent Key, Georgia Tech: Last season he was the Yellow Jackets’ interim for the final eight games after Geoff Collins got fired. Key won four ACC games, which was the most since 2018. His success was promising enough for Georgia Tech to promote him to head coach for 2023. After all, the Yellow Jackets were road warriors, and won three of their four ACC battles away from home. Although Georgia Tech scored 14 points on Georgia, it was more than what Oregon, South Carolina, Auburn, Tennessee, Kentucky and TCU could muster against the reigning National Champs. Key also beat North Carolina and Pittsburgh when both teams were ranked. Now he’s going to coach 12 games this fall.

11. Jeff Hafley, Boston College: He orchestrated a winning campaign during his first year on the job, but the Eagles have regressed each season since then. Hafley won more ACC games in 2020 than he has over the past two seasons combined. The 44-year old is 15-20 at Boston College, and 9-17 overall in ACC play. Last year’s 3-8 record was the worst in the program since 2015. Hafley lost six of his last seven games, and Boston College got shutout at Notre Dame. It was the Eagles’ first shutout loss since September of 2016. The Eagles couldn’t move the ball, plus they ranked last in the ACC, and 121st nationally in total offense. That must change if Hafley wants to get Boston College back to a bowl.

10. Dino Babers, Syracuse: The 61-year old is approaching his eighth season with the Orange. Last year Babers led Syracuse to a 7-6 campaign, which was only his second winning season with the program. Not to mention the Orange won their first six games in 2022. Babers’ four ACC victories were the most since his 2018 campaign. However, Syracuse has lost six of its’ last seven games overall. The Hawaii native is 36-49 with the Orange. Babers is 19-39 against ACC opponents, and has only had one winning season in league play. Although Syracuse has finished in the top-25 nationally in total defense for the past two seasons, Coordinator Tony White took his services to Nebraska.

9. Mario Cristobal, Miami: He won 35 games in four seasons as Oregon’s coach, which included two Pac-12 Titles. However, Cristobal only won five games in his first year with the Hurricanes, which was their lowest mark since 2007. Not only did Miami lose three of its’ final four contests, but it registered just three victories in ACC play, which was the fewest since 2014. Cristobal fired Josh Gattis after the Hurricanes finished 86th in the FBS in total offense, and 97th in points per game. Now Cristobal is going to need new play-caller Shannon Dawson to make an immediate impact. Last season Houston tied for second in the AAC, and 16th in the FBS in points per game when Dawson called the plays.

8. Mike Elko, Duke: The New Jersey native raised eyebrows across the ACC in 2022, with a successful first season with the Blue Devils. Duke recorded nine victories, including five in ACC play for the first time since 2014. Not to mention Elko has won five of his last six games overall, including the Military Bowl . The Blue Devils averaged 10 more points per game under Elko’s watch. He’s a defensive-minded coach, who made a huge impact on that side of the ball. Duke improved to 10th in the ACC, and 68th nationally in total defense, which was better than 14th in the league, and 130th in the FBS in 2021. With talented gunslinger Riley Leonard¬† back, Elko can pick up where he left off.

7. Mike Norvell, Florida State: He’s coming off his best season yet with the Seminoles. Norvell led Florida State to 10 victories last year, which was the most in the program since 2016. The Seminoles even ended their campaign on a six-game winning streak. Norvell is 18-16 overall with Florida State over the past three years, including an 11-13 mark in ACC play. Everything is trending up as Norvell approaches his fourth season with the team. After all, the Seminoles ranked first in the ACC, and 10th in the FBS in total offense in 2022. The unit returns plenty of pieces, including quarterback Jordan Travis. Florida State finished 15th nationally in total defense, and Coordinator Adam Fuller is back.

6. Jeff Brohm, Louisville: The 51-year old registered a 36-35 record in six seasons with Purdue. Brohm led the Boilermakers to their first-ever appearance in the Big Ten Championship Game last year. Not to mention Brohm won 17 games, and went 12-7 against Big Ten opponents over the past two seasons. The Louisville native is known for having a bright offensive mind, and he’s an underrated quarterback whisperer. Now Brohm is back at his alma mater looking to make a splash in the ACC. It’s beneficial that Brohm reunited with signal-caller Jack Plummer, who played three seasons for him at Purdue. That should help the Cardinals improve from 49th in the FBS in total offense.

5. Dave Doeren, NC State: He’s the second-longest tenured coach in the ACC. Doeren is approaching his 11th season with the Wolfpack. The 51-year old has registered a 72-55 record at NC State. Although he’s 38-44 overall in ACC play, Doeren has won 25 games, with a 17-9 mark against conference foes over the past three years. Doeren is a defensive-minded coach, and the Wolfpack has ranked in the top-15 nationally in points allowed in each of the past two seasons. His longevity is one of the main reasons for his consistency and success. NC State doesn’t recruit at a high level like Clemson and Florida State, which solidifies that Doeren gets more done with less talent on the gridiron.

4. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest: The New York native is one of the most underrated coaches in the country. Clawson is the fourth-longest tenured coach in the ACC, and the Demon Deacons are always overachieving under his watch. He’s 59-53 after nine seasons with Wake Forest. Not to mention Clawson is 17-14 in ACC play over the past three years. It’s mind-boggling that Clawson is 5-2 in bowl games. Wake Forest does not have the resources to recruit with the bigger programs across the conference, but Clawson still turns underrated prospects into All-ACC performers, and NFL Draft picks. The Demon Deacons have been one of the ACC’s highest scoring teams for the past five seasons.

3. Mack Brown, North Carolina: The 71-year old is the dean of FBS coaches, with a resume that dates back six decades. Brown is also one of two ACC coaches with a National Title under his belt. He won 69 games in eight seasons during his first stint with the Tar Heels. Brown was one of the game’s most successful coaches in the 2000’s at Texas, and won two Big 12 Titles. The Tennessee native is 30-22 with North Carolina approaching his fifth season. Not to mention Brown is 20-16 against ACC opponents during that span. Last season North Carolina won nine of its’ first 10 games. Brown also led the Tar Heels to their second-ever appearance in the ACC Championship Game.

2. Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh: The 56-year old has been one of the most successful coaches in the ACC for quite some time. Narduzzi is 62-41 overall with the Panthers, including a 42-25 mark against ACC opponents over the past eight seasons. Not to mention he won the program’s first-ever ACC Title in 2021. Pittsburgh ended 2022 on a five-game winning streak. Narduzzi is known as a defensive guru. Which is why the Panthers ranked fourth in the league, and 23rd nationally in total yards allowed last year. Pittsburgh has finished in the top-25 of the final AP Poll in each of the last two seasons. As long as Narduzzi is patrolling the sidelines, the Panthers will continue to be an ACC contender.

1. Dabo Swinney, Clemson: He’s one the few rock star coaches in today’s game. Swinney rules the ACC with an iron fist, and is the longest-tenured coach in the conference. The Alabama native is a jaw-dropping, 161-39 overall with the Tigers. Not to mention Swinney has won eight ACC Titles, and two National Championships. On top of that Clemson has made six Playoff appearances, and Swinney is 11-8 in bowl games. The 53-year old recruits like a monster and keeps the the Tigers loaded with four and five-star talent. The program has become a melting pot for NFL Draft picks. The Tigers have finished in the top-25 of the final AP Poll for the past 12 seasons, including seven times in the top-10.