5 ACC College Football Coaches on the Hot Seat in 2014
Last fall, the ACC earned more than its share of national respect.
Florida State and freshman Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston broke through to win a BCS Championship, the league’s first national title since the Seminoles won one in 2000.
Couple that with Clemson’s Orange Bowl win over Ohio State, and the ACC had a pair of top-10 finishers in the final postseason polls and two BCS bowl wins (which matched the league’s total from 2001-2012).
The Seminoles’ and Tigers’ success, however, only increased the pressure on the rest of the league and the turnover at its bottom. Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe was the only coach to depart (replaced by Bowling Green’s Dave Clawson), but a number of league coaches find their seats hot as spring turns into summer.
Here is a look at the ACC coaches who should rightfully be feeling pressure this fall, from coldest to hottest:
No. 5 Al Golden, Miami
Al Golden has to wonder who he angered in a past life, given the run of trouble that he has endured at Miami.
When Golden took over the Hurricanes’ program in 2010, Miami was already slogging through an NCAA inquiry. In July 2011, disgraced booster Nevin Shapiro told Yahoo! Sports that he provided thousands of impermissible benefits to Miami athletes over an eight-year period (Golden’s staff also used one of Shapiro’s right-hand men, Sean “Pee Wee” Allen, as an off-the-books recruiter, Yahoo! reported.).
Miami banned itself from bowls for two seasons, costing itself a potential appearance in the 2012 ACC title game. The NCAA finally issued a ruling last season, stripping nine scholarships over three seasons.
Miami was 7-0 and in the top 10 when it faced off with Florida State, but suffered a blowout defeat that also saw star tailback Duke Johnson break his ankle, ending his season.
The Hurricanes lost four of their final six games, including a blowout loss to Louisville in the Russell Athletic Bowl. In three seasons at Miami, Golden is 22-15, certainly below the program’s lofty standards.
The black cloud followed Miami into the spring, as projected starting quarterback Ryan Williams tore his ACL in a scrimmage.
The Hurricanes will be forced to begin the season (at new ACC member Louisville) with first-time starter Kevin Olsen at the helm, although Williams hopes to return by late September.
That doesn’t sound promising. Golden inherited a tough situation, but at some point he has to show he can catch up with the likes of Florida State and Clemson.
No. 4 Paul Chryst, Pitt
Under Dave Wannstedt’s watch, Pitt was mired in reliable mediocrity. Take away a 10-3 season in 2009, and the Panthers were 32-28 under the Wannstache. In Wannstedt’s six seasons, the Panthers surpassed seven wins just twice.
Todd Graham was no better, going 6-6 in his only season before bolting to Arizona State following the 2011 season.
Two years ago, Paul Chryst was hired to bring the Panthers to the next level, a move which coincided with the Panthers’ planned move from the Big East to the ACC.
Pitt upgraded its league, but has yet to find sustained success under Chryst. In two seasons, the Panthers are 13-13, finishing 2013 with a 7-6 record and Little Caesars Bowl win.
This fall, Pitt has the tools and the schedule to potentially become a better team. The Panthers do not play Clemson or Florida State from the Atlantic Division, and two of their potential tougher games, Iowa and Virginia Tech, will be at Heinz Field. They do travel to North Carolina and Miami, neither of which will be easy trips.
Pitt’s offense should be improved despite losing quarterback Tom Savage, a fast riser in NFL draft circles. Sophomore receiver Tyler Boyd (1,174 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman) will be one of the nation’s top wideouts, and Manasseh Garner and Kevin Weatherspoon add experience.
New starting quarterback Chad Voytik will have James Conner, Chris James and Issac Bennett to hand off to, and it’d be hard for an offensive line which returns four starters to be worse than it was in 2013.
Pitt suffered major losses on defense, led by Outland Trophy, Nagurski Trophy, Bednarik and Lombardi Award winner Aaron Donald, an expected first-round NFL draft pick, as well as defensive tackle Tyrone Ezell and linebacker Shane Gordon, safety Jason Hendricks and cornerback K’waun Williams.
But a softer schedule and plenty of talented pieces on offense mean Pitt should be better than 6-6 this season. If not, Chryst will start feeling some well-deserved heat.
No. 3 Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
There’s no denying what Frank Beamer has built at Virginia Tech. The man from Fancy Gap, Va., has turned one of college football’s most downtrodden programs into a national power.
Virginia Tech officials stuck with Beamer despite a 24-38-2 record in his first six seasons and were rewarded with a tremendous extended level of success. Over the next 17 seasons, Tech won at least 10 games 13 times, including an eight-year streak from 2004-2011 that featured four ACC championships and five BCS bowl appearances.
But over the last two seasons, something has gone stale in Blacksburg. The Hokies are only 15-13, winning seven games in 2012 and eight last fall. Beamer overhauled his staff, replacing longtime offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring and firing quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain in favor of Scot Loeffler.
Even with talented but erratic quarterback Logan Thomas leading the way last fall, Loeffler’s scheme didn’t bring immediate results as Tech averaged 22.5 points per game, 99th nationally.
With Thomas gone, neither sophomore Brenden Motley nor fifth-year senior Mark Leal have impressed. Tech’s spring game featured a grand total of 10 points. Motley completed six of 11 passes for 72 yards with an interception, while Leal went 10-for-18 with 90 yards and an interception.
The quarterback situation is entirely unsettled, with Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer and incoming freshman Chris Durkin arriving this summer.
“I think we’re an up-and-coming football team,” Beamer told the Roanoke Times. “We’re going to go through some growing pains probably this year. But I think we’re going to go through growing pains full speed.”
Tech’s offensive line remains unsettled, and the Hokies’ stout defense is replacing five of its front seven.
The Hokies avoid crossover games against Clemson and Virginia Tech, welcome Miami and Georgia Tech to Blacksburg but must travel to Ohio State, North Carolina and defending Coastal champion Duke.
Tech should be better than it was a year ago, but it’s hard to see how this group will rebound to the 10-win level its fans had grown accustomed to. Beamer is college football’s longest-tenured coach and should have the right to go out on his own terms.
Still, it’s hard to ignore the rut this program has fallen into, which should increase the pressure for a turnaround.
No. 2 Paul Johnson Georgia Tech
When Paul Johnson and his flexbone offense arrived on The Flats six years ago, it felt like a breath of fresh air. Opposing defenses were flummoxed by the system, and Georgia Tech went 19-7 in his first two seasons, including an ACC title in 2010 (since vacated due to NCAA sanctions).
Since then, that fresh smell has been replaced with something different, like the unmistakable smell of milk past its due date.
Over the last four seasons, Tech is 28-25, 19-16 in ACC play. Under Johnson, the Yellow Jackets are 1-5 in the postseason, a sign that opposing defenses thrive when they have time to study his system.
In early January, quarterback Vad Lee stunned many by transferring, telling ESPN that “the triple option was never really my thing.”
This was followed shortly by a report that Johnson wanted to be bought out by Georgia Tech, which he quickly denied.
Tech needs a bounce-back season, and must do so behind talented quarterback Justin Thomas, a first-time starter who took the reins this spring following Lee’s departure.
It’s hard to ignore the malaise that Yellow Jackets football has fallen into. And if Johnson wants to be the one who reverses it, he better do it quickly. His margin for error has become razor-thin.
No. 1 Mike London, Virginia
Rule No. 1 of a coaching hot seat: If your athletic director has to issue a statement of public confidence, you are, in fact, on the hot seat.
Mike London, welcome to the hot seat.
London’s tenure at Virginia began pleasantly enough. Following a 4-8 debut in 2010, the Cavaliers rebounded with an 8-5 season in 2011 and Chick-fil-A Bowl trip. Since then, however, Virginia is just 6-18, including a dreadful 2-10 2013 campaign.
Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage gave London the dreaded vote of confidence last November, according to The (Norfolk, Va.) Daily Press.
So I don't look at it just in terms of what happens in the game, but what is it that's happening on the practice field? What is it that's happening in the meeting room? What is it that's happening in the video/film sessions? I firmly believe that Mike London is going to be successful here at the University of Virginia.
Following the season, safeties coach Anthony Poindexter and defensive line coach Vincent Brown bolted for UConn, leaving London with just three assistants remaining from his 2012 staff.
The Cavaliers did ink a pair of 5-star signees in defensive tackle Andrew Brown and safety Quin Blanding, and London also made a change at quarterback, installing big-armed sophomore Greyson Lambert (voted as one of four captains for 2014) ahead of returning junior incumbent David Watford.
However, star tight end Jake McGee, the Hoos’ leading receiver, announced his plans to transfer after graduating this spring, dealing the offense a serious blow. McGee had 43 receptions for 395 yards last fall and worked as a hybrid receiver/tight end this spring.
If Lambert is steadier than Watford was, the Cavaliers’ offense should be improved, and Virginia could be improved overall. But the Cavaliers will have to take a major step forward to save London’s job
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