Schools are betting their loyalty provides the stability for the staffs to handle whatever comes their way. They didn’t have to wait long for their first challenge.
There was preseason talk about the conference being the best in college football after two national championships and two Heisman Trophy winners in four years. But the ACC went 2-4 against Power Five conference opponents in Week 1, while preseason favorite Florida State lost starting quarterback Deondre Francois to a season-ending knee injury during the loss to top-ranked Alabama.
“When you start seeing continuity in the league — which we’ve seen very little of in recent history — good things are going to come from it,” said Duke’s David Cutcliffe, now in his 10th season. “There’s tradition, former players are coming back and seeing coaches that have been there. That develops standards.
“I think there’s standards of play in ACC football right now.”
There were no turnovers coming into the season among ACC head coaches for the first time since 2006, with half of the 14 coaches in place at least five seasons.
After a rough opening weekend for the ACC, Cutcliffe believes coaches just have to trust the years of work that raised the ACC’s profile.
“We know we’ve got a good program,” said Cutcliffe, whose Blue Devils are coming off a four-win season after four straight bowl trips. “So you’re not punching a panic button as you go into 2017. You’re relying on all the good principles and all the standards and the values that have been set over a period of time.”
Cutcliffe is one of four ACC coaches who have been at their schools for roughly a decade, joining Dabo Swinney with reigning national champion Clemson (nine years), Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher (eight) and Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson — now in his 10th season and still frustrating defenses with his triple-option offense.
North Carolina’s Larry Fedora is in his sixth year in Chapel Hill, while Boston College’s Steve Addazio and North Carolina State’s Dave Doeren are in their fifth seasons.
That continuity touches everything within their programs. Those coaches can lean on the same philosophy when it comes to how to run a practice, teach their schemes, prepare for big games or deal with a crushing loss. They’ve also had at least one full four-year cycle of recruits come through their programs, giving them time to build up depth or experience on the roster.
Clemson is the best-case example.
Swinney took over midway through the 2008 season and weathered a 6-7 season in 2010, but the Tigers have won at least 10 games for six straight seasons and are 28-2 over the past two seasons.
Now, despite losing stars like quarterback Deshaun Watson, the Tigers are ranked No. 3 in the Top 25.
“It starts from the coaches and what they demand,” Clemson junior linebacker Kendall Joseph said, “and once you know what’s expected, you pass it on to the younger guys and keep it going.”
Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott pointed to a specific example from Saturday’s season-opening rout of Kent State.
“We were anticipating a particular structure from Kent State and they came out in something a little bit different,” Elliott said. “All it took was a couple of words, a small exchange of communication on the headset and, boom, we’re able to make the adjustment.”
At UNC, Fedora is hoping the structure built through years of teaching his fast-paced offense steadies a young unit trying to replace No. 2 overall NFL draft pick Mitch Trubisky, along with several key receivers and tailbacks.
“Even though there’s a lot of unknowns for them — because you get out onto the field and everything’s new to them — there’s a lot of things that they surround themselves with in the program that they know,” Fedora said, “and it gives them a little bit of confidence.”
Syracuse’s Dino Babers, part of a quartet of second-year ACC coaches, said even one season of carryover provides a big boost.
“The biggest thing is having the experience,” Babers said. “Seeing the other (ACC) football teams, knowing what you need in recruiting and going against those cultures one time really gives you a lot of experience when you set up the game plan the second time around.”
AP Sports Writers Pete Iacobelli in Clemson, South Carolina, and John Kekis in Syracuse, New York, contributed to this report.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap