Top 10 football coaches in ACC history

By Andrew Jones
Dec. 15, 2010

The following is a list of the top 10 Atlantic Coast Conference football coaches of all time. Yes, some deserving coaches were left out, but that’s part of what makes these lists so much fun. For this list, anyone who has coached at a current ACC school is eligible

10. Mack Brown, North Carolina: Also a former head coach at Appalachian State and Tulane, Brown really took off at UNC, where he built the Tar Heels into a top-10 program. The Tar Heels were loaded with NFL talent and were on the cusp of the Bowl Championship Series when Brown bolted for Texas in December 1997. His overall career record of 219-108-1 is impressive. He was 69-46-1 at UNC despite inheriting a downtrodden program.

9. Jim Tatum, Maryland and North Carolina: Tatum went 73-15-4 in nine years as the head coach at Maryland, leading the Terrapins to an unbeaten season in 1951 and the national championship in 1953. Tatum had two stints coaching at UNC, in 1942 before he joined the Navy in World War II, and then from 1956-58 before his life was cut short in 1959 at age 46 after he contracted Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

8. Bill Dooley, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest: Dooley is second all-time in wins at UNC and Virginia Tech and third at Wake. He didn’t lead teams to New Year’s Day bowl games, but he won three ACC titles at UNC and is credited with making football matter again on Tobacco Road in the early ’70s. He also recharged the Hokies fan base, and his last Demon Deacons team was nationally ranked.

7. George Welsh, Virginia: To best understand what Welsh means to ACC football history is to understand the condition of Virginia’s football program and its history when he took over. Welsh basically turned the worst program in the South into one of the best during his final 12 years at the helm. Only Michigan and Nebraska equaled the Cavaliers’ streak of consecutive seasons with at least seven wins during one long stretch well into the 1990s. In addition, Welsh sent players to the NFL, tied for two ACC titles and even had the Cavaliers ranked No. 1 in the nation at one point in 1990. Welsh changed the culture of college football in Virginia, which the league continues to benefit from today

6. Danny Ford, Clemson: Nobody ever will stand on a sideline wearing a ball cap quite like Ford did. He was a one-of-a-kind coach and was the perfect fit for Clemson. A farmer, he connected with Tigers fans and brought them a national championship in 1981. Ford’s teams lost only eight ACC games from 1981-88, and he finished with a 96-29-4 mark with the Tigers. Clemson football was always pretty big, but it exploded under Ford, and every coach since has been compared to him, always unfavorably.

5. Bobby Ross, Maryland and Georgia Tech: Ross had an odd career in the ACC. A true vagabond, he once was described as the Larry Brown of football coaches. Ross won three ACC titles at Maryland in a five-year span in the early 1980s when he compiled a 24-5-1 conference mark. He also guided the Terrapins to one of the greatest comebacks in college football history in 1984 when Maryland recovered from a 31-0 halftime deficit to defeat Miami (Fla.) 42-40. Ross became head coach of Georgia Tech in 1987 and led the Yellow Jackets to the 1990 national championship. He also had success in the NFL as coach of the San Diego Chargers and Detroit Lions

4. Jimmy Johnson, Miami: Although Miami wasn’t in the ACC at the time, few college football fans will forget the teams Johnson put together. The Hurricanes crushed most foes that dared to get in their path. Johnson won 52 games in five years at The U and led the program to the national championship in 1987

3. Dennis Erickson, Miami: Erickson may have turned a blind eye to the shenanigans going on in Coral Gables, but his teams were incredible. Five of his six Miami squads won at least 10 games, and his worst squad was 9-3. Erickson led the Canes to a pair of national championships in 1989 and 1991 and made Miami the leading producer of NFL talent in the nation.

2. Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech: Beamer is one of the best coaches in college football history not to win a national title, but one has to think he may get one eventually. In 24 seasons at the helm for the Hokies, Beamer is 198-94-2. He has led Tech to seven top-10 finishes, with another possibly on the way this season. Under Beamer, Tech has won 10 or more games 12 times, including in the past seven seasons. Tech lost to Florida State in the 1999 national championship game.

1. Bobby Bowden, Florida State: Not long ago, Bowden held the record for most wins by a major college coach, and he forever will rate as one of the top coaches in the sport’s lore. In 34 seasons at FSU, Bowden won 304 games, including national championships in 1993 and 1999. His team won at least 10 games and finished among the top five in the national polls for 14 straight seasons from 1987-2000, and two of his players (Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke) won the Heisman Trophy. His program was the first of the big Florida trio to re-emerge in the late 1970s, leading to one of the most incredible periods in college football with the Seminoles, Hurricanes and Florida Gators dominating the national landscape

Andrew Jones is in his 15th season covering the ACC.