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ACC First Year Head Coach Scenarios

By Dave Holcomb
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The only one of the four who doesn’t have any previous head coaching experience is in the best situation to excel right away.

A year after just one coaching change in the conference, the ACC will see four new head coaches during the 2019 season. Three of the four reside in the ACC Coastal division, setting up a possible interesting race for division supremacy.

Really, what they’ll be battling for is the right to lose to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.

All kidding aside, though, there are varying degrees of expectations for each first-year head coach. Ironically enough, the only one of the four who doesn’t have any previous head coaching experience is in the best situation to excel right away.

Manny Diaz, Miami

Temple actually hired Diaz to replace another coach further down our list, but after Mark Richt surprisingly retired, Diaz headed back to the Hurricanes after about a day in Philadelphia.

It wasn’t a good look for Diaz, who possesses a reputation for being one of the most disloyal assistants in college football. Still, it’s a great hire for Miami.

The Hurricanes finished among the top three teams in the ACC in points allowed, total defense, sacks, takeaways and touchdown percentage in the red zone. Miami was No. 1 in the conference in passing yards allowed, third-down defense and tackles for loss.

Diaz’s defense was almost as dominant in 2017, particularly in the turnover department. Miami finished third in the country with 31 takeaways that season, which helped the Turnover Chain become extremely popular.

Miami lost some key players on the defensive line and safety Jaquan Johnson, but linebackers Michael Pinckney, Shaquille Quarterman and Zach McCloud all decided to return. With them back, there’s little doubt Diaz will have the defense humming again in 2019.

On offense, quarterback is still a major question mark. Sophomore N’Kosi Perry is the best option, but he didn’t play very well when given the opportunity to take the job from Malik Rosier last year. Miami would be wise to feature a heavy dose of its running attack with Lorenzo Lingard and DeeJay Dallas.

The schedule will favor Diaz as well, as Miami will host Virginia and Virginia Tech in 2019. Both of those teams are expected to be two of the better squads in the Coastal division this fall.

The Hurricanes’ toughest road conference game will be at Pitt. They also travel to Florida State, Duke and North Carolina. Miami hosts Georgia Tech as well.

As far as Miami’s other cross-divisional opponent, they drew the Louisville Cardinals in 2019, which should be a win at home.

None of the other first-year head coaches have nearly the same advantages Diaz will possess in 2019.

Mack Brown, North Carolina

Brown will have some pieces to work with on offense, but the defense allowed 34.5 points per game last season, which was the second-worst mark in the ACC behind only Louisville. North Carolina will also not have three of its better defensive players from last season in defensive end Malik Carney, linebacker Cole Holcomb and safety J.K. Britt.

Similar to Miami, North Carolina has a nice stable of backs, but questions remain at quarterback. Nathan Elliott averaged only 6.7 yards per attempt, throwing 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions last year. He should see some spring competition from Cade Fortin, Jace Ruder, Chazz Surratt and maybe even incoming freshman Sam Howell.

North Carolina’s schedule did Mack no favors either. While the Tar Heels do get to host Miami and Virginia, they have to visit Virginia Tech, Pitt and N.C. State. North Carolina also drew Clemson as its other cross-divisional matchup.

Geoff Collins, Georgia Tech

Coming from Temple, Collins replaces long-time Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson, who ran the triple-option. Collins will deploy a new offensive scheme, and that alone means it could take a couple years for Georgia Tech to transition back into a contender.

The Yellow Jackets are losing quarterback TaQuon Marshall, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because he doesn’t fit Collins’ scheme, but it does mean Georgia Tech needs a new starting signal caller. Similar to the other teams on this list, the Yellow Jackets will have to rely on their running game and hope their average defense improves. Georgia Tech was fourth in yards allowed last year but ninth in points allowed and second-to-last in sacks.

Georgia Tech is also the Tennessee of the ACC in the sense that the Yellow Jackets draw Clemson as their cross-divisional foe every year. Making matters worse, the Georgia Bulldogs are a national contender too, giving Georgia Tech two of the toughest non-divisional games in the country.

Scott Satterfield, Louisville

The Cardinals went 0-8 in ACC play, finishing last in both points allowed and points scored during 2018. The cupboard isn’t completely bare, as Louisville does have a nice collection of wide receivers, but the Cardinals continue to have problems with pass protection.

Louisville allowed 43.0 sacks in 2019. Their offensive line has yielded the most sacks in the ACC four years in a row.

With traditional power Florida State also dealing with issues, Louisville at least has an easier path back to relevancy than Georgia Tech, but it’s going to take at least a couple years. Satterfield isn’t in nearly as good of a position to win immediately as Diaz.