First-year ACC coaches finding it tough to win
A trio of first-year coaches have found out that success rarely
comes instantly in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Randy Edsall won the Big East title with Connecticut last year
before taking over a Maryland team that won the Military Bowl under
Ralph Friedgen. Edsall ruined Al Golden’s debut with Miami by
leading the Terrapins to a 32-24 victory in the season opener, but
Maryland (2-7, 1-5) is currently mired in the Atlantic Division
cellar with a five-game losing streak.
Golden’s problems began when the NCAA suspended eight players
for receiving improper benefits from a booster. The once-mighty
Hurricanes (5-4, 3-3) haven’t won more than two straight and could
drop to .500 with a loss at Florida State this weekend.
Everett Withers is going through the same kind of season in his
first year at North Carolina (6-4, 2-4). The Tar Heels are coming
off a 13-0 defeat at North Carolina State and have dropped three of
The ACC has only three teams in the Top 25 – none of which are
in serious contention for the national championship – but you can’t
convince Edsall, Golden and Withers that it’s a down year for the
”I’ve been through transitions at just about every place I’ve
been,” Edsall said. ”Not all of them go as smoothly as you would
like in your first year. People are trying to learn new systems on
offense and defense. (When) you have all new coaches and you have
everyone trying to learn all those new things, there are going to
be some hiccups.”
Withers replaced Butch Davis, who was fired in July in the wake
of a scandal at North Carolina. Withers has produced a team that’s
bowl eligible, yet very little has gone smoothly, including a
schedule that produced an ill-timed, late-season bye this
”I’ve been really proud of our kids for the most part. They’ve
handled the stress and the grind of this year,” Withers said.
”This is an unusual year for this team and they’ve handled it. I
would have liked to have had a break earlier so we could get them
The good news for these three first-year coaches is that, in
most cases, Year 2 is a whole lot easier.
After going 4-8 in 2010, its first season under Mike London,
Virginia is now 6-3. London and the Cavaliers lost to Maryland at
home 42-23 last year, but Saturday they became bowl eligible with a
31-13 rout of the Terrapins.
After the game, London spoke with knowing empathy about Edsall’s
plight, and offered encouragement regarding what lies ahead.
”I think sometimes what get gets easier is that you’ve
established your culture, you’ve established your rules, your
regulations, what your expectations are in the classroom, in the
community and on the field,” London said.
”When you go into your second year, it’s a lot easier. I know
what Randy’s going through. You come in and you have your own ideas
about things, and sometimes players buy into it and sometimes they
don’t. It’s a parting of the ways. He’ll get guys that want to buy
into his philosophy and want to do the things he wants to do, and
he’ll be OK. He did it at UConn, and hopefully we’re going to do it
here. But it starts with what you believe in and then setting the
culture and expectations of it.”
Upon his arrival, Edsall instituted rules that included no ball
caps, do-rags or earrings during meetings. He stressed improvement
in the classroom and insisted that the players’ names would not be
on their uniforms because this was a team, not a collection of
Edsall has had to adjust to his players, and they’ve had to
alter their ways for him. Next season, Edsall expects an easier
time of it.
”I have had the opportunity to talk to (Georgia Tech coach)
Paul Johnson and Mike London and what they have gone through. We
are all in the profession and we all understand it,” Edsall said.
”Everyone has a philosophy and a plan of action and you are going
to install that plan of action. As you continue, you can see the
progress. The press and the fans only see what happens on Saturday,
and they judge us on that. I understand that. But it is more than
Jimbo Fisher, who took over for the legendary Bobby Bowden at
Florida State last year, said the biggest challenge facing a
first-year coach in the ACC is ”the unknown.”
”You think you’re prepared for all the things you’ve got,”
Fisher said. ”You have a check list from A to Z and you have 100
(items) on it. When the year is over you have about 120. There is
always something you learn. … You don’t know what you’re going to
get the next day. Is a young man in trouble, is it academic trouble
or is he doing good, is it injuries? Whatever it is, the unknown I
think is the hardest thing when you’re a head coach and take over a
Edsall expects to know better next year.
”We are improving in a lot of areas. We just aren’t winning on
the field right now,” he said. ”That will happen. I am confident
AP Sports Writers Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill, N.C., Brent
Kallestad in Tallahassee, FL. contributed to this report.