Four new ACC coaches latest to take aim at FSU
By Tim Peeler, Special to CNNSI.com
Bobby Bowden blames Bob Stoops, who won a national championship in his second year as a head coach.
"Every [athletics director] in the country is looking for that guy," Bowden said. "That's scary."
In truth, though, if anyone bears the responsibility for this year's unprecedented offseason changes in the Atlantic Coast Conference, it's Bowden, the emperor of college football's most successful dynasty.
He's the guy that everyone in the ACC has been trying to beat for a decade now, so far with little success. As the Seminoles head into their 10th season as a member of the ACC, their conference record stands at an incredible 70-2.
What's even more remarkable is that every school in the league has changed coaches at least once since FSU arrived and six have changed coaches twice. And it wasn't like those departed coaches were lured to greater glory; most of them were fired (Carl Torbush, Jim Caldwell, Ron Vanderlinden, Mike O'Cain, Tommy West, Fred Goldsmith, Bill Lewis, Mark Duffner, Barry Wilson, Ken Hatfield) or retired (George Welsh, Dick Sheridan, Bill Dooley). Only Mack Brown of North Carolina was hired away by a bigger program, Texas.
"Hey, that's a better sign than if we [the Seminoles] are a-changing," Bowden said, laughing. "Better them than me."
This season, eight of the ACC's schools, including Florida State, have new offensive coordinators. And nearly half the league is willing to wipe the slate clean and start all over again, just as N.C. State did last year when Chuck Amato became head coach of the Wolfpack, and Clemson and Duke did the year before with the hirings of Tommy Bowden and Carl Franks, respectively.
This is not the first time the league has welcomed four new head coaches in one year, having done so in 1956 and 1987. And it's not the greatest three-year head coaching turnover in league history -- from 1971-73 eight head coaches were hired at six ACC schools.
But the programs seem to be making a more serious commitment to catching the Seminoles. When N.C. State finishes its $100 million renovation of Carter-Finley Stadium next fall, every school in the league will have completed major facility upgrades.
And while each of the four new coaches spent part of their playing careers in the ACC -- three were hired by their alma maters, upping the number to five who are now running their former teams -- they are hardly the recycled same-old, same-olds that circulate through other sports.
Each of the four new head coaches brings something different to the table, with a heavy dose of professional experience. Al Groh, who has played and coached in the ACC before, brings a dozen years of NFL experience, with a heavy emphasis on defense.
"The head coach of the New York Jets leaving there to go to Virginia, to me that gives the conference and the school some credibility," said Clemson's Tommy Bowden. "That's pretty serious stuff right there."
Speaking of serious, new North Carolina head coach John Bunting has a serious case of the evil eye. The former Tar Heel linebacker spent 11 years playing for the Philadelphia Eagles and another decade as an NFL assistant coach under Dick Vermiel and others. He also comes from a defensive background, ready to take a crack at stopping the elaborate offensive packages that have sprouted in recent years.
Bunting also thinks the Tar Heels have grown soft and has spent the last eight months beating them into shape. You can only believe him when he threatens to start fistfights on the sidelines with any player who is not fully concentrating on the action on the field.
Friedgen, who like Groh and Bunting has a Super Bowl ring from his days as an NFL assistant, developed some of the most creative offenses in college football as Georgia Tech's offensive coordinator. He returns to his alma mater eager to rebuild the Terrapins into the conference power it was in the 1970s.
And new Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe has experience turning programs around. The Virginia graduate inherited an Ohio program that went winless in 1994 and was ranked last among Division I-A schools. He was hired at Wake after putting together five consecutive winning seasons in Mid-American Conference play.
As for the new offensive coordinators, who knows what they will bring? Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and N.C. State all elevated assistant coaches already on staff after their assistants were lured away for better jobs. The new coordinators all vow not to change a thing. Florida State's Bobby Bowden promoted his youngest son Jeff to take over for Mark Richt, who became the head coach at Georgia. But the old man has vowed to keep a closer eye than usual on his offense.
Georgia Tech's George O'Leary promoted Bill O'Brien to replace Friedgen, who headed home to Maryland. But O'Brien's debut, in a 28-14 loss to LSU in the Peach Bowl, was not warmly received. O'Leary thought his new coordinator was being too cautious, and told him to just be himself.
Clemson's Tommy Bowden elevated Brad Scott, who was once the head coach at rival South Carolina. Scott is expected to keep much of the influences of Rich Rodriquez, who became the head coach at West Virginia, though the Tigers may not put quarterback Woody Dantzler in harm's way as much as they did last year.
And Wolfpack coach Chuck Amato insists that his team runs a "North Carolina State offense," not a Norm Chow offense, named after the former BYU offensive coordinator who spent one year in Raleigh before being lured to the same job at USC.
Among the new guys, North Carolina's Gary Tranquill spent years coaching in both college and professional football. He worked under Welsh at Virginia on two occasions and spent time at Michigan State and the Cleveland Browns. Maryland's Charlie Taaft, a one-time wishbone coach at Division I-AA Citadel, left his head coaching job in the Canadian Football League to run Friedgen's offense.
Virginia's Bill Musgrave, 33, left his offensive coordinator's position with the NFL's Carolina Panthers to join Groh's staff. At Wake Forest, Grobe brought Troy Calhoun with him from Ohio, where the Bobcats ran a near-wishbone option attack that Grobe and Calhoun learned at the Air Force Academy.
"With all the changes that are going on in the ACC this year, no one knows what to expect," Florida State offensive tackle Brett Williams said. "There are just so many different coaches, and people will be playing different styles of football.
"It's like everyone will have to feel their way through the season. It should definitely be exciting."
And maybe one of the newbies can even figure out a way to beat the Seminoles.
Tim Peeler covers the ACC for the Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record. His "This Week in the ACC" column will appear weekly during the season.