First-year ACC coaches finding it tough to win

BY foxsports • November 10, 2011

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 four.

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 league.

''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 weekend.

''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 back recharged.''

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 individuals.

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 just that.''

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 program.''

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 in that.''


AP Sports Writers Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill, N.C., Brent Kallestad in Tallahassee, FL. contributed to this report.