July 20, 2024

Ranking the ACC’s best coaches of 2024

Florida State Seminoles Football

Florida State Coach Mike Norvell walks along the sideline during a timeout in the first quarter against LSU Sunday September 3, 2023 at Camping World Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

The ACC will feature 17 teams this upcoming season, including two former Pac-12 schools, and a program that received the Death Penalty nearly 40 years ago.

That means coaching in the conference will be at an all-time high, and these 17 individuals will have a slimmer margin for error. This league has a great collection of coaches, including some veterans and a couple of newbies. The ACC can boost its’ credibility if these coaches can lead their teams to victories in non-conference play.

It also helps that Georgia Tech and Florida State will take center stage to kickoff the 2024 season in Ireland. Which is why August can’t get here fast enough.

17. Fran Brown, Syracuse: The former Western Carolina cornerback was a position coach in the Big 12, Big Ten and SEC. Brown knows how to operate a secondary. He spent the past two seasons at Georgia under Kirby Smart, where he was in charge of the defensive backs. The Bulldogs captured an SEC Title, and a National Championship during that span, so Brown has experience winning at a high level. Last year Georgia only allowed 175.4 passing yards per game, which ranked ninth nationally. Syracuse finished 65th in the FBS in total defense in 2023, and Brown should be able to make an instant impact on that side of the ball. The 42-year old will also have a productive gunslinger in Kyle McCord.

16. Tony Elliott, Virginia: The Californian made a name for himself as one of the best Offensive Coordinators in the game at Clemson. After all, Elliott helped the Tigers win six ACC Titles, and two National Championships in seven seasons. However, his tenure so far with the Cavaliers has been very disappointing. Elliott has posted a 6-16 record over the past two seasons in Charlottesville. His first year involved a tragic incident, in which three players were killed, and Virginia only played 10 games. Last season the Cavaliers got off to a horrible start, and lost their first five contests. Elliott has lost nine of his last 11 games in ACC play. Year three could possibly be a make or break campaign for Elliott.

15. Troy Taylor, Stanford: The 56-year old started off his career in the high school ranks. Taylor was also Utah’s Offensive Coordinator for two seasons under veteran coach Kyle Whittingham. He became a head coach at Sacramento State, and led the program for four years. During that span the team won three Big Sky Titles. Not to mention Taylor was named the Big Sky Coach of the Year twice. However, his first season at Stanford didn’t go well. Taylor led the Cardinal to a 3-9 campaign in 2023. Now the program has suffered through three-straight nine-loss seasons. Despite losing five of his final six contests overall, it’s year two and Taylor will have a fresh start in a new, but loaded ACC.

14. Justin Wilcox, California: The Oregon native was a Defensive Coordinator in the SEC, Pac-12 and Big Ten before he became a head coach. Wilcox is approaching his eighth season with the Golden Bears, and has put together an 36-43 record. He has posted five losing seasons in Berkeley, including four-straight. However, Wilcox finished strong down the stretch last year, and won his final three games of the regular season to become bowl eligible. It was the Golden Bears’ first appearance in the postseason since 2019. The 47-year old finished 21-37 against Pac-12 opponents. Now Wilcox has an opportunity to build off last year’s success, but the ACC won’t be an easy transition, especially those time zones.

13. Manny Diaz, Duke: He’s very familiar with the ACC. After all, Diaz was a defensive assistant at NC State for four seasons. Not to mention Diaz has been a Defensive Coordinator in the Big 12, SEC and Big Ten. The 50-year old was Miami’s coach for three years, and won 21 games during that span. Diaz led the Hurricanes to a winning campaign in each season. Not to mention he finished 16-9 in ACC play while in South Beach. Over the past two seasons Diaz has been Penn State’s Defensive Coordinator. The Nittany Lions were elite under his watch, and finished 2023 ranked second nationally in total defense. Blue Devil fans are hoping his experience in the conference will translate to wins.

12. Brent Pry, Virginia Tech: The 54-year old was a Graduate Assistant under Hall of Fame Coach Frank Beamer in the late 90s. Pry later became a Defensive Coordinator in the Big Ten, and SEC before he arrived back in Blacksburg. Although he only won three games in his first season with the Hokies, Pry made a huge leap in year two. The Pennsylvania native led Virginia Tech to a winning campaign for the first time since 2019. Not to mention Pry finished strong down the stretch, and won five of his final six games. Despite being 10-14 through two seasons, everything appears to be trending up with the program. After all, Pry has quickly cleaned up the mess Justin Fuente left behind.

11. Brent Key, Georgia Tech: The former Yellow Jacket offensive lineman served as an assistant under Nick Saban for three seasons. Key was Georgia Tech’s interim for eight games after Geoff Collins was canned in 2022. The 45-year old raised several eyebrows after he led Georgia Tech to a 4-3 record in ACC play that year. The Alabama native was promising enough to get the interim tag removed, and a contract signed. So far Key has been worth every penny. After all, he’s 11-10 overall with his alma mater. Key’s seven wins last year were the most in the program since 2018. The Yellow Jackets won four of the final six games, including their first bowl wince 2016. Key is making noise in Atlanta.

10. Bill O’Brien, Boston College: The Boston native proved his worth when he coached Penn State for two seasons after Joe Paterno’s departure. Despite the sanctions and limited amount of scholarships, O’Brien led the Nittany Lions to two winning campaigns, and finished 15-9 in Happy Valley. O’Brien was the head coach of the Houston Texans for seven seasons, and posted a 52-48 record. The 54-year old was Alabama’s Offensive Coordinator for two seasons, and helped the program win an SEC Title in 2021. O’Brien spent last season as New England Patriots’ Offensive Coordinator. He’ll do fine with the Eagles because of his experience, and familiarity helps recruiting the Boston area.

9. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest: The New York native was a head coach in the FCS for eight seasons, including stops at Fordham and Richmond. Clawson coached Bowling Green State for five years, and won 32 games during that span, including a MAC Title in 2013. He’s 63-61 through 10 seasons with the Demon Deacons. Clawson led Wake Forest to 11 victoires three years ago, which were the most in the program since 2006. However, the Demon Deacons took a huge step back in 2023. Life after Sam Hartman was rougher than expected, and Clawson finished 1-7 in ACC play. His eight losses were the worst in the program since 2015. Clawson has lost eight of his final nine games overall.

8. Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh: The 58-year old won the Frank Broyles award as a Defensive Coordinator at Michigan State in 2013. Narduzzi is approaching his 10th season with the Panthers. He has a 65-50 record as a head coach. Not to mention he’s 44-31 against ACC opponents. Narduzzi led Pittsburgh to 11 wins three years ago, which were the most in the program since 1981. The Connecticut native also won the ACC Championship in 2021. However, the Panthers suffered a nine-loss campaign last season, which was their worst since 1998. Narduzzi has lost five of his final six games overall. Which is why he has to get Pittsburgh back to a bowl game this fall, or his job security could be in jeopardy.

7. Rhett Lashlee, SMU: The former Arkansas quarterback was an Offensive Coordinator in the ACC, and SEC before he became a head coach. Lashlee will be the youngest coach in the ACC this upcoming season. He’s 18-9 through two years with the Mustangs, and has a lot of buzz surrounding the program. After all, Lashlee led SMU to 11 wins last season, which were the most since 1982. Not only did the Mustangs finish ranked in the final AP Poll for the first time since 1984, but Lashlee guided them to an AAC Title. SMU was victorious in nine of its’ final 10 games. Now fans are hoping Lashlee’s success continues in the ACC, and he returns one of the nation’s best quarterbacks in Preston Stone.

6. Dave Doeren, NC State: The Californian was the head coach at North Illinois for two years, where he posted 23 victories, including back-to-back MAC Titles. Doeren is approaching his 12th season with the Wolfpack. He’s 81-58 at NC State, and has only generated two losing campaigns in Raleigh. Not to mention Doeren is 44-46 in ACC play. Last season the Wolfpack finished strong down the stretch, and won five of their final six games. NC State also capped off the year ranked No. 21 in the final AP Poll. However, it’s a head-scratcher that he has yet to win an ACC Championship, or clinch a berth to Charlotte. Doeren has lost his last four bowl games, but is a jaw-dropping, 104-62 as a head coach.

5. Mario Cristobal, Miami: He was a head coach at Florida International for six seasons, and led the program to two bowl games. Cristobal was an assistant on Nick Saban’s staff for four years where he expanded his coaching knowledge. The Miami native later took his services to Eugene, and led Oregon for four seasons. Cristobal won 35 games during that span, including two Pac-12 Titles. However, Cristobal’s return to his alma mater hasn’t gone as smoothly. The 53-year old  is 12-13 record through two seasons with the Hurricanes, including a 6-10 mark in ACC play. In 2023 Miami started off 4-0, but lost four of its’ final five games. Cristobal’s recruiting has upgraded the roster.

4. Jeff Brohm, Louisville: The the former quarterback was a head coach at Western Kentucky for three seasons. Brohm won 30 games with the Hilltoppers, including the C-USA Title in 2015. He led Purdue for six years, and generated 36 victories. The Boilermakers even made an Big Ten Championship Game appearance in 2022. The 53-year old reunited with the Cardinals last season, and led his alma mater to a 10-4 campaign. Not only did Louisville get off to a 6-0 start, but it was also victorious in 10 of the first 11 games. Brohm even clinched a berth in the ACC Championship Game, and the Cardinals finished ranked in the top-20 of the final AP Poll for the first time since 2013.

3. Mack Brown, North Carolina: The Hall of Famer is the oldest coach in the FBS, who’ll turn 73 this August. Brown’s coaching resume dates back to the early 1980s, and he continues to evolve through the years. Brown’s first head-coaching job was at Appalachian State. He later posted 69 wins during his first stint with North Carolina. Not to mention he had a highly-successful 16-year tenure with Texas. Brown led the Longhorns to two Big 12 Championships, and a National Title. Texas also played for all of the marbles in 2009. Brown is 24-19 against ACC foes in his second rodeo with the Tar Heels. He’s the program’s all-time winningest coach. Brown has also won five-straight bowls.

2. Dabo Swinney, Clemson: The 54-year old is one of College football’s most successful coaches this century. Swinney is the longest-tenured coach in the ACC. The Alabama native has a jaw-dropping, 170-43 overall record. Not to mention Swinney has won eight ACC Titles, and two National Championships. Clemson has also made six Playoff appearances under his watch. Last season Swinney surpassed Frank Howard to become the program’s all-time winningest coach. Although he doesn’t rule the ACC with an iron fist anymore, Swinney still knows how to win at a high level. If Swinney can adjust with the times, utilize the transfer portal, he’ll have the Tigers back elite in no time.

1. Mike Norvell, Florida State: The Texas native has been successful everywhere he’s been a head coach. Norvell won 38 games in four years at Memphis. He even led the Tigers to an AAC Title in 2019. Although Norvell suffered back-to-back losing campaigns with the Seminoles in the first two seasons, he’s 31-17 overall in Tallahassee. The 42-year old led Florida State to a perfect regular season in 2023. The Seminoles’ 13 wins were the most since 2014. Norvell has won 19 of his last 20 games overall, including 12-straight ACC tilts. However, this will be the first time in four seasons he won’t have Jordan Travis behind center, so DJ Uiagalelei needs to make a splash in his return to the ACC.

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