After an Unusual Period of Stability, Is the ACC Headed for a Coaching Shakeup in 2018?

It's been almost three years since an ACC coach was fired. With a number of candidates in the conference for the hot seat, this could be the year that changes.
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Two years ago, Georgia Tech was a nine-win team that pulled off a bowl victory over an SEC opponent. Louisville boasted that season’s Heisman Trophy winner on its roster, won as many games as the Yellowjackets and appeared in a New Year’s Eve bowl game. Both programs were riding high—yet going into their matchup Friday night, 2016 seems like an eon ago.

So far in 2018, Georgia Tech is 2–3, with losses to South Florida, Pitt and Clemson. Its two wins? Over Alcorn State and Bowling Green. Louisville, meanwhile, in the immediate aftermath of Lamar Jackson’s departure, appears just as mediocre. It’s also 2–3, having barely edged Western Kentucky (which lost to Maine the previous week) and Indiana State. So, to recap: The two teams playing in the ACC’s Friday-night spotlighted matchup in Week 6 have four victories between them, two over FCS programs.

Which begs the question: Is this the year the conference sees a coaching shakeup?

Apart from Jimbo Fisher’s departure from Florida State in 2017 for Texas A&M, the ACC hasn’t ridden the coaching carousel since the 2015 season, which, in college-football terms, might as well be a century ago. In 2017, not a single ACC team was coached by a man who didn’t hold his same position the previous season—which is impressive, but it also follows a pattern so tidy it seems unbelievable among the Power Five programs. In 2016, the Pac-12 had no coaching turnover; in 2015, the SEC; in 2014, the Big 12; in 2013, the Big Ten. These things go in waves, it seems, but the ACC is especially noteworthy not just because it’s been the most stable conference of late, but also because of the lack of firings; since 2013, only four of nine departures have been due to termination. (By contrast, in the Big 12, four of six departures in that time period have been firings; in the Big Ten, eight of 10.)

That might be about to change, though. Both Louisville’s Bobby Petrino and Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson seem on the precipice of the hot seat, if not worse, as do Larry Fedora at UNC and Pat Narduzzi at Pitt. (UNC is 1–3; Pitt is 2–3.) Sure, either Petrino or Johnson will get a win this week, but none of these four teams’ looming schedules looks promising. Louisville still has Clemson, NC State and Kentucky, and it’s not the hugest stretch to imagine the Cardinals losing out from here. Georgia Tech also faces three ranked teams on its remaining schedule—Virginia Tech, Miami and Georgia—and its lone potential reprieve is on Nov. 3 against UNC. As for the Tar Heels, that Georgia Tech game could go either way, and they have a nonconference matchup against Western Carolina on Nov. 17. And finally, Pitt: Narduzzi’s team’s best hopes will come against Virginia and Wake Forest, with Notre Dame, Miami and Virginia Tech featuring along the way.

The last ACC coach to be fired was Syracuse’s Scott Schafer, who got the boot on Nov. 23, 2015 (Virginia's Mike London resigned six days later). Now the Middle Tennessee State defensive coordinator, Schafer is about to lose that auspicious distinction, it would seem, be it in the middle of 2018 or just after. Not only are the four teams in question going to finish far below .500, but it’s also just time. Conferences don’t stay static this long—be it because teams get bad and stay bad, or sometimes because they get good enough for a coach to be hired away.

Sure, it’s only Week 6. Not one team in this bunch is guaranteed a losing record in 2018, but three of them—Pitt, Georgia Tech and Louisville—would have to beat at least one currently ranked team to even reach .500. The fourth, UNC, has a shot at finishing 6–5 without beating a single team in this week’s top 25—but only because its game against UCF was canceled due to Hurricane Florence. It’s possible to imagine a big win, over Miami or Virginia Tech or one of those SEC contenders, could give a coach enough momentum to keep his job, especially one with a longer rope, like Johnson at Georgia Tech. He’s been the Yellow Jackets’ head man since 2008, but the team saw a dip last year, with a 5–6 record, and it went 3–9 in 2015. At UNC, Larry Fedora might not have as much goodwill, especially after failing to win big with a ton of NFL talent in recent seasons and an ill-advised media-days speech last summer. At Louisville, there’s cause to wonder if Petrino can win without Jackson—although he did in 2014—and at Pitt, Narduzzi hasn’t yet been able to build upon the back-to-back eight-win seasons he started his tenure with.

This weekend, we’ll get the pleasure not only of this Louisville-Georgia Tech matchup, but also Pitt vs. Syracuse, which, should the Orange win, would be the first time they've done so in Pittsburgh since 2001. No matter what happens, these will not be seasons to remember at any of these four struggling schools, and as we wait for the losing to play out, at least we’ll have a measure of entertainment: This week, Petrino complained about, of all things, the color of the numbers on Georgia Tech’s home uniforms. They’re gold. He says he struggles to read them. Johnson’s response, per the Atlanta-Journal Constitution: “He ought to get some glasses.”