Today we look at three college football head coaches in the ACC and what it will take — or the change in direction needed — in order to get their respective programs over the hump in 2020. Previous installments of this series include the Big Ten, Pac-12, and Big 12.
Pittsburgh – Pat Narduzzi
This will be Narduzzi’s best team since his tenure began in 2015. He’s been criticized for many things, most notably the mismanagement of end game situations and lack of improvement on offense despite many NFL caliber players. Pitt made waves when they hired a great offensive coordinator in Mark Whipple from UMass. But last year, even with massively improved quarterback Kenny Pickett, it was obvious that Narduzzi was much more in possession of the offensive game plan than Whipple. Despite all that, the Panthers still managed to win eight games with a defense full of first-year starters and not much depth on either side of the ball.
My main criticism of Narduzzi is that he never wins games by much, making him a hard favorite to back. Even when his squads fall behind early, he remains conservative. This team beat Delaware by three and UCF by one, and the largest margin of victory the past two years versus an FBS opponent was 10.
This has to be the year. Pickett is good, there is real talent at wide receiver, and the offensive line is big and talented. If Pitt is going to exceed eight wins, the keys to the car have to be given to Whipple. The defense has the tools to dominate and Narduzzi will find the right mix of pass rushers to correct what was 2019’s lone weakness. This is a team that has sky-high potential if they score just 4 points per game more than they did last year. Can Narduzzi coach just one side of the ball for the first time since becoming a head coach? In my opinion, it is the difference between a real ACC contender and a mediocre bowl birth.
Virginia Tech – Justin Fuente
Somehow Fuente won eight games last year and now finds himself in the driver’s seat for the ACC Coastal Division title. He’s not a good recruiter, hence why he’s had more players transfer out than any other coach in the nation. He also lost arguably the best defensive coordinator in the nation in Bud Foster. But after being a footnote in August, Fuente struck gold when former two-star quarterback Hendon Hooker panned out and looked a lot like Michael Vick by the end of the year.
Fuentes is a genius when it comes to offensive play calling — and seemingly nothing else. He even interviewed for the Baylor job during the recruiting period. It feels odd writing this, but all he has to do in 2020 is have a decent defense and the Hokies are primed for at least a nine-win season. The offense is that stacked!
However, we saw what Fuente’s vision was at Memphis and he made it clear during a recent presser that this is not “Beamer Ball.” He acknowledged the era but feels strongly that the program must adapt.
The talent and depth on defense are not typical of a Virginia Tech roster. The lack of NFL-ready defensive backs is startling. The defensive line lacks a surplus of size and it is pretty obvious the recruiting fails have started to take a toll on that side of the ball. Does Fuentes have the ability to avoid shootouts if he falls in love with his offense? Does Hooker suffer a sophomore slump or get injured (he is run-first despite a big downfield arm)? And most important, what happens if the offense sputters?
Can Tech find 15 quality starters and have multiple packages with no spring ball and a coach who missed time to interview elsewhere? It’s like I’m writing about Lane Kiffin.
Manny Diaz – Miami
Well, Manny tried his way in Year 1 and it was not a great look. Four different starting quarterbacks, 0-2 vs. C-USA, and that was with a defense with up to five NFL players on it.
This year started off with a bang with the best quarterback transfer on the market bought and paid for (umm, I mean signed) in D’Eriq King and a prolific offensive coordinator hire in Rhett Lashlee. There is still a lack of running game and, much like Virginia Tech, the script of team concerns is an oddity. My main concern is whether Diaz will be comfortable coaching an extreme-paced offense and how that will change the characteristics of how he handles clock management.
Another looming question outside of coaching is how Miami looks on defense after losing so many starters and key playmakers. A high flying offense and a rebuild on defense with Manny Diaz as the coach…as if 2020 wasn’t weird enough!