Thursday, April 02, 2009

Tom O'Brien one of top three head football coaches in ACC

March 24, 2009

By Tom Dienhart

Seven of the 12 ACC coaches have been at their current jobs two years or less, and the heavy turnover in recent seasons has hurt the conference. That general instability has contributed to the league not being a factor in the BCS title chase of late. What's more, the league will undergo even more turnover in the next few years, with coaches-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher (Florida State) and James Franklin (Maryland) taking over at their respective schools.

But the ACC still boasts some of the nation's best coaches, headed by Wake Forest's Jim Grobe, Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer, North Carolina State's Tom O'Brien, Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson and North Carolina's Butch Davis.

Here's how they stack up:

1. Jim Grobe, Wake Forest
Let's just go ahead and say, it because it's true -- Grobe is great. Somehow, some way, he has made Demon Deacons football relevant on a national level. In eight seasons in Winston-Salem, Grobe has gone 54-44 -- he's 28-12 the past three seasons -- with four bowl appearances, including three in a row. His run to the ACC title and Orange Bowl in the 2006 season stands as one of the greatest coaching feats in the past 25 years. It's no wonder schools such as Arkansas, Nebraska and Alabama (among others) have made runs at Grobe.

2. Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
Beamer is an icon. He's led the program to elite status and is enjoying sustained success. He did it all by giving the program a personality and persona known as "Beamerball," which emphasizes the running game, defense and special teams. It's difficult to believe Beamer was in danger of losing his job entering the 1993 season, having posted a middling 24-40-2 record his first six seasons in Blacksburg. Since then, Tech hasn't missed the postseason, has won six league titles and played for the national title after the 1999 season. He is 176-89-2 in 22 years in Blacksburg.

3. Tom O'Brien, N.C. State
There are few better coaches in the nation than the perpetually underrated O'Brien, who thrives on running a smart, disciplined program. He was 75-45 at Boston College from 1997-2006. Unappreciated in Chestnut Hill, O'Brien is starting to turn around the Wolfpack, going 11-14 in his first two years. He was at his best last fall, when he rallied the Wolfpack from a 2-6 start to four consecutive victories and a bowl trip. Expect a breakout this fall.

4. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
We all owe Johnson a "thank you" for injecting a mega-dose of fun into college football with his triple-option offense. It turns out what is old is new again -- and effective. Johnson led the Yellow Jackets to a 9-4 record and Peach Bowl appearance in his first season on the Flats. The questions: How soon before other schools copy Johnson's offense? And when will he deliver his first ACC crown?

5. Butch Davis, North Carolina
Every ACC team's worst nightmare looks like it's about to come to fruition: The Tar Heels are rising -- fast. Thank Davis, who started paying immediate dividends as a recruiter. Now, Davis is working with a loaded roster that is gaining experience. UNC went 4-8 in Davis' first season and 8-4 in 2008. The next stop: an ACC title. Davis is an excellent motivator and leader who has built a good staff led by offensive coordinator John Shoop.

6. Bobby Bowden, Florida State
Saint Bobby's glorious run in Tallahassee should be ending in a blaze of glory. Instead, Bowden finds himself fighting to be relevant in what most consider a mediocre conference. Bowden trusted the wrong people at the wrong time, which is why FSU is still digging itself out of this morass. And it's also why Bowden likely won't catch Joe Paterno as major-college football's career wins king. But Bowden deserves plaudits for acquiescing to a succession plan.

7. Al Groh, Virginia
One of the most successful descendants of Bill Parcells' coaching tree, Groh has made the Cavaliers a consistently successful program during his eight-year run in Charlottesville. But Groh has been unable to get the Cavs over the top and deliver an ACC championship in eight years on the job and finds himself on the hot seat.

8. Ralph Friedgen, Maryland
Retirement is drawing near for "The Fridge," who has three years left on his contract. Until then, Friedgen is looking to cap his career in College Park with a flourish. He has been unable to recapture the magic of his Maryland debut in 2001, when he led the Terps to the ACC title and an Orange Bowl berth. Back-to-back second-place finishes followed. Since then, the program has been mired in mediocrity. No doubt, a fresh approach may be just what is needed.

9. David Cutcliffe, Duke
Yes, his Durham debut produced just a 4-8 mark (1-7 in the ACC), but there were tangible signs of progress for Cutcliffe. Cutcliffe is an offensive mastermind who proved he could coach during a successful six-year run at Ole Miss that produced a 44-29 record (25-23 in the SEC) and four bowls. The true measure of success will be if he also can build a good defense.

10. Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Swinney auditioned for the job last fall when he took over for Tommy Bowden with seven games remaining. Swinney guided the Tigers to a 4-3 record and a berth in the Gator Bowl, which was enough to get him the full-time gig. Swinney went on to sign a strong collection of recruits while also overhauling the staff.

11. Randy Shannon, Miami
The jury is out on Shannon, who is still learning on the job. Shannon faces pressure as he enters his third season in Coral Gables, and he'll do so with new coordinators on both sides of the ball. The good news: Shannon has recruited as well as anyone in the ACC the past few years. He's the ultimate player's coach who has restored discipline and honor.

12. Frank Spaziani, Boston College
If you're scoring at home, this is three coaches in four seasons for BC. Following the Jeff Jagodzinski fiasco, look for Spaziani to remain in Chestnut Hill as long as the Eagles want him. He's a BC guy, having been on the staff since 1997. Spaziani has never been a head coach before, but the longtime defensive coordinator learned under one of the best in O'Brien. It still remains to be seen how Spaziani will perform on Saturdays.

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