ACC’s early-tenured coaches facing different challenges

Coach Bobby Petrino has had a few stops along the way -- the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, and colleges like Arkansas and Western Kentucky -- to completing his full-circle tenure at Louisville.

The ACC is in good shape when it comes to head coaches, all things considered.

One coach (Jimbo Fisher) is coming off of a national title. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney has turned his program around from mediocre to elite. Duke’s David Cutcliffe is regarded as one of the brightest minds in the business.

And Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer, the winnigest active coach in Division I, has been in Blacksburg for nearly 30 years.

Miami’s Al Golden appears to have the Hurricanes going in the right direction, too — certainly on the recruiting trail.

The same can be said of Larry Fedora, entering Year 3 at North Carolina.

After a ton of coaching turnover at Pittsburgh, head coach Paul Chryst is now entering his third year and is coming off of a bowl game win.

There are, however, two coaches whose situations are relatively up in the air — Virginia’s Mike London (entering Year 5) and Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson (entering Year 7).

London (18-31 after four seasons at UVa) is just 6-18 in the last two seasons combined, including 2-10 last year.

Next year’s schedule looks to be absolutely brutal, so that record is not likely to improve. He has finished 4-8 or worse in all but one season so far, and there doesn’t seem to be a ton of long-term progress in the program.

Johnson’s six seasons have been a lot more successful, by comparison. He’s gotten the Yellow Jackets to a bowl game every season and to the ACC title game three times.

But after a combined record of 33-19 in his first four seasons, he’s just 14-13 over the last two. For Johnson’s most recent title-game appearance, the Yellow Jackets were 6-6 and represented the Coastal Division with the help of postseason bans against Miami and North Carolina.

That, combined with his unconventional offense, has led to some fan unrest.

There are still a few coaches waiting to finish building their programs before a verdict can be rendered, and some that are just beginning.

Unfortunately, they’re also in the Atlantic Division, headlined by Florida State and Clemson. All five teams not named Clemson or FSU have coaches in their first or second seasons.

The two newbies are Wake Forest’s Dave Clawson and Louisville’s Bobby Petrino.

The Cards coach returns to his former school after a seven-year absence. Petrino built the program to elite status once, before leaving for the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. His journey since then — Arkansas, Western Kentucky — has been well-documented.

Charlie Strong, who bolted Louisville to coach Texas, certainly left plenty of talent behind. But it’s talent that must endure the rigors of ACC competition.

"It’s a program that’s pretty well set and has great leadership," Petrino said. "But now it’s time to go to the next level, and going into the ACC and the challenge that that presents with the schedule and in recruiting, it’s exciting for all of us."

"It’s an exciting time for the city of Louisville and all our fans, and it presents a great challenge."

Petrino may be a lot of things, but he’s generally proven to be a very good college coach — certainly an elite offensive mind. It will be tough for the Cardinals in that division, but Louisville will likely be as competitive as any team not named FSU or Clemson in the years to come.

Louisville is a top-level program in all sports, and the fans will likely have similar expectations for their football team.

Clawson, known as a program-builder, will have the luxury of "time" when building his program, compared to the likes of Petrino. And he’ll need every bit of it.

How tough are things for the Demon Deacons? A converted wide receiver currently leads Wake’s quarterback competition.

It would be a near-miracle if Clawson has Wake Forest sniffing bowl eligibility next season; but at some point, Wake fans will want their team to at least start making bowl games again. If Clawson’s track record is any indication, that will happen, but it will take a few seasons.

Of the three Atlantic Division coaches entering Year 2, two were fortunate enough to make a bowl game last year. Boston College’s Steve Addazio and Syracuse’s Scott Shafer have their fans feeling pretty good about their respective directions.

Addazio took over for the fired Frank Spaziani, and immediately got the program back to a bowl game for the first time since 2010. And the Eagles gave Florida State its closest game in league play last season, losing by just 14. The feelings are good surrounding the program in Chestnut Hill.

Shafer was the defensive coordinator at Syracuse when Doug Marrone left to coach the Buffalo Bills. With quarterback Ryan Nassib leaving for the NFL, there were a lot of unknowns and not a lot of high expectations.

In 2013, Shafer led the team to a 7-6 record, including a Pinstripe Bowl win over Minnesota.

Dave Doeren, hired at North Carolina State after Tom O’Brien was let go late in 2012, was not as fortunate as the other two in his first year.

Doeren’s Wolfpack finished 3-9 on the season and went winless in ACC play, failing to make a bowl game in spite of a very friendly schedule.

The roster was relatively decimated compared to the year before, though, and none of the quarterbacks worked out. But hopes are a lot higher this season with Florida transfer QB Jacoby Brissett eligible after a year of sitting out.

It also didn’t hurt that Doeren inked a class with plenty of talent that is one of the 30 or so best in the country this year. There’s plenty of reason for optimism moving forward, even if last season didn’t work out the way anyone at NCSU wanted.

Ultimately, Doeren will have the benefit of time with his young roster. But with the talent coming in, he’ll eventually have to start winning, as well. "Time" is a relative term, though, since the fans — in this modern age — typically wait three to four years before they’re restlessly expecting a new coach to assume control of a struggling program.