The ACC is the worst coached conference in college football…by a mile.
When the ACC expanded to 12 members last season, we were promised an elite conference, every bit as good as the SEC and Big 10 and every bit as committed to football. The ACC was a basketball conference that was going whole hog on pigskin – or so we were told.
After 1 year, it looked like that promise would be delivered on: the ACC had the most players taken in the NFL Draft last year – by a wide margin – including 19 in the first 2 rounds… the ACC had 5 teams in the final Top 25 poll and a 5-3 bowl record which was the best in college football.
But what has happened this season in the ACC is an absolute disgrace and can not be accepted. After this season, we will find out how committed this conference is to football because no fewer than 5 of the league’s coaches should be thrown out on their fannies after the awful jobs they’ve been doing.
Working at ESPN, producing the Colin Cowherd show, living in New England, observing college football from afar I can tell you this: the ACC is a punch-line nationally for its string of embarrassing loses already this fall.
Miami wiped out on national TV by Louisville…North Carolina beaten at home by Rutgers, giving up 42 points to Furman at home…Virginia – where do you begin – the punk slap it took from Pittsburgh in the opener, needing overtime to beat Wyoming at home or the home loss to Western Michigan…Florida State’s narrow escape at home against Troy…Maryland obliterated on national TV in the first quarter at West Virginia…N.C. State losing at home to Akron and following it up by a beat down at Southern Miss…
If heads (plural) don’t roll among ACC coaches at the conclusion of this season, then the ACC skeptics are right and it is just a soft, blue-blooded, basketball first conference, only half-interested in football with a couple of used-to-be-dominant programs and some never-wills.
The Big East is a better football conference than the ACC this season and that should never – ever – happen.
The ACC has some of the best recruiting ground, some of the biggest budgets, some of the best tradition, some of the best facilities and some of the best academic institutions in college football and for that, fans are getting almost no return on investment.
Wake Forest, honestly, is the only conference member exceeding its expectations.
Tom O’Brien and his staff continue to do an outstanding, professional job at Boston College so he’s off the hook – he runs a great program; Frank Beamer has built a power at Virginia Tech, his program is on solid footing and Duke is hopelessly pathetic so they don’t matter, nor do they give one lick about football and that’s fine.
Of the other 8 conference members, each and every one of them is performing at a level below where they ought to be. Now, before you go off thinking I’m one of these “message board losers turned radio talk show hosts” who wants every coach that doesn’t win the national championship fired, let me correct you. I’m as analytical, calculatedly honest, grown-up, real world an observer of college football as you’ll ever find.
All programs aren’t the same, and success at Virginia can’t be measured on an equal scale with success at Miami, but from Virginia, to Miami, to NC State and North Carolina to Georgia Tech, Clemson, Florida State and Maryland – what should be the head, heart and soul of the ACC is floundering.
The seamy side of Big Boy college football is firing coaches – even when they win more than lose, even when they’re likeable, even when you have to eat a big buy out.
We’ll see shortly if the ACC as a collective has the stomach for Big Boy college football because a full third of the conference’s head coaches should be canned. And I don’t like to use the word canned because it doesn’t always apply and every firing isn’t the same. I’ve been fired, I’ve been downsized, I’ve walked into a radio station in the morning with a job and walked out without one more than once, I know what it’s like to be screwed by management and caught in a budget crunch so I don’t throw around that term to generate a response, but some of these ACC coaches deserved to be canned!
If the ACC wants success on the football field, it need look no further than its next door neighbor, the SEC, about how bare-knuckles the sport must be when you expect to compete with the best.
The SEC is traditionally the best conference in football, and has been for 30 years, primarily for one reason – it matters more there. The SEC is more willing to do whatever it takes to win – and sometimes, many times, that has gotten them in trouble – but just as often, it’s the reason why they succeed. The SEC lead the way in escalating coaching salaries, the SEC leads the way in the facilities arms race, the SEC leads the way in alumni donations and the SEC leads the way in firing successful coaches who aren’t successful enough.
Jim Donnan at Georgia, Terry Bowden at Auburn, David Cutcliff at Ole Miss, Ron Zook at Florida, Bill Curry at Alabama are just a few of the SEC coaches who’ve been fired with winning records.
There were some extenuating circumstances in a few of those cases, and I didn’t agree at the time with all of those decisions, but what that list of names proves is that nothing short of total success is accepted by the SEC when it comes to their football programs and that is a great standard.
Is the ACC willing to do what it takes, the ugly stuff, to reach that standard of excellence? Because if the ACC wants to be a football conference the equal of the SEC, that’s what it’s going to take.
So, whose heads should be on the chopping block? Whose had every chance in the world to succeed and proven they can’t?
Of those 8 underachieving programs – Florida State, Miami, Clemson, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, NC State, Maryland and Virginia – let’s start with the coaches who should keep their jobs.
Bobby Bowden. He’s built up enough credits to keep his job – for now – and if he’d fire his incompetent son Jeff as offensive coordinator everything would go back to normal, but Bobby can’t keep up this nonsense at Florida State past this season and expect not to be on the hot seat.
The Rasputan of college football – Tommy Bowden – continues to win just enough big games at the right times to ease the pain of his program’s far-to-frequent loses, and with recruiting picking up, he’s o.k.
Maryland’s Ralph Friedgen did wonders to a moribund team when he took over, but after three 10-win seasons to start his term, the Terps have had back-to-back losing season and are looking at a third. Friedgen gets a pass, but the bell may toll for him next year.
That’s it. Bowden, Bowden and Friedgen. Add their names to Frank Beamer’s, Tom O’Brien’s, Jim Grobe’s and Ted Roof’s. The other 5 ACC head coaches should all be unemployed come December if this conference is serious about football.
John Bunting at North Carolina, Larry Coker at Miami, Chan Gailey at Georgia Tech, Chuck Amatto at NC State and Al Groh at Virgnina. All of them, gone.
John Bunting at North Carolina, 24-36 in five full years and his first was his best by far. Bunting’s winning percentage is lower than his predecessor’s, Carl Torbush, who was fired for not winning enough.
Virginia’s Al Groh with his 38-29 record in 5 full seasons Should be gone. Groh has done nothing to elevate the program he took over from George Welsh. Welsh inherited a disaster – 2 winning seasons in the previous 29 before he arrived – and won 60 percent of his games for the next almost 20 years. While Groh continues to land great recruiting classes and put all kinds of players in the NFL, none of it translates to success at Virginia.
Chuck Amatto at N.C. State is 47-30, in 6 full seasons. Amatto’s success is linked entirely to one player – QB Phillip Rivers. Without Rivers, Amatto is a sub .500 coach and he’s sub .500 in conference play.
Miami’s Larry Coker has a great record of 54-11 in 5 full seasons, but Coker’s teams have gotten worse and worse each year. Recruiting has gone down, player development has gone down, national prestige has gone down, spirit of the program has gone down. The Hurricanes are 13-8 in their last 21 games!
Chan Gailey at Georgia Tech is 30-23 in 4 full seasons after inheriting the second best program in the ACC from George O’Leary. Gailey has driven the Yellow Jackets straight toward mediocrity while watching the Georgia Bulldogs zoom to the stratosphere of college football. Gaily might as well have 7-6 stamped on his forehead. 7-6, 7-6, 7-5, 7-5 – no wins over Georgia, minor league bowl games, malaise around the program.
Bunting, Groh, Amatto, Coker and Gailey – each and every one of them has had more than enough time to show what he can do, and each and every one of them has shown he can’t do enough.
This is hard, because each of those guys has had some success and each of them made sense when they were hired. At one point, each one was the man for the job. These weren’t Ron Zook scenarios where the wrong guy was hired from the jump.
But each of them, recently, has had a devastating, slap across the face, cold splash of water loss that hammers home – in a very painful and embarrassing way for the team’s fans – that the guy in charge has run his course. For Chan Gaily, it was a 38-10 backhand from Utah in the Emerald bowl on national TV where the Jackets appeared lifeless, disinterested and unprepared.
For Groh, the home loss to Western Michigan. Can’t ever happen. Just can’t. There isn’t a guy on Western Michigan that the Cavs would recruit and Western Michigan isn’t even an upper half team in the MAC.
MAC loses do you in, just ask Chuck Amatto. The Wolfpack’s home loss to Akron – in typically frustrating, half interested, sloppy, Amatto fashion - and Amatto’s insane post game reaction to it where he took shots at the MAC’s admissions policies, was what I like to call a “Howard Dean” moment. Remember former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean’s famous, lunatic rant after the Iowa caucus in 2004? The “yeaahh…”? One moment in time, an instant, a window into the soul which revealed true character and Dean was out of the race. Chuck Amatto’s “yeahh” was the Akron game. Bye-bye.
For Coker, it was Louisville. The bowl blowout to LSU you throw out to “stuff happens.” The Florida State game is a rivalry and a season opener. To have two weeks to prepare for Louisville, for the Cardinals to be without their top tailback all game and their top QB for the second half, and for Miami to know how important this game was to their program – to come out and get whacked by 4 touchdowns shows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Larry Coker doesn’t have what it takes to return the ‘Canes to prominence.
With John Bunting, how about two close wins that were really loses. Twenty-plus point home favorite to Div. 1-AA Furman and you squeak out a 45-42 win? How about last year’s Duke game? Three touchdown favorite, at home against a rival and maybe the worst BCS team in the country and the final score is 24-21? Not good enough. When you play Furman and Duke to field goal games, at North Carolina, that’s not getting the job done.
Bunting, Coker, Groh, Gailey and Amatto: they’re all failures. They’ve all had more than enough time. They’ve all proven they can’t get the job done. If the ACC ever expects to get the job done as a conference, they’ll all be out of work soon.