2024 ACC football head coach rankings from 1 to 17: Dabo Swinney holds onto top spot, Dave Doreen surges up list

On3 imageby:Jesse Simonton04/01/24


It’s the spring, which means pollen-covered cars, March Madness and head coach rankings!

That’s right, it’s time for the 2024 series ranking the head coaches from each Power Conference, the Top 10 in the Group of 5 and an updated Top 25 for all of college football. 

We started the series last week looking at the 16 head coaches in the SEC. Then last Monday, I looked at the 18 head coaches in the Big Ten. Today, it’s the ACC’s day. 

While the sport continues to adapt to a new landscape, coupled with losing venerable coaches like Nick Saban, Jim Harbaugh and Chip Kelly, these head coach rankings will look much differently than they did a year ago

For the uninitiated, these lists are totally subjective. This is meant to be a fun exercise, but it’s my rankings.

While career achievements are taken into account, college football has become a sport that’s constantly changing, so recent performance (wins, recruiting, working the transfer portal, hiring assistants, producing NFL Draft picks, etc) is weighed much more heavily than what you’ve done in the past. 

Entering the 2024 season, the ACC head coach rankings unfolded dramatically differently than they did last offseason. Three new coaches are now in charge at traditional ACC schools, plus the conference welcomes Cal, Stanford and SMU this year. 

Dabo Swinney remains atop the list with Mike Norvell nipping at his heels, but the rest of the Top 10 is full of shake-ups. 

There’s plenty to debate. Let’s dive in.

Dabo Swinney-Clemson
(Ken Ruinard / staff / USA TODAY NETWORK)

1. Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Despite his worst season in 13 years (9-4, .500 in league play) Swinney is still the No. 1 coach in the ACC. He has two national titles to his name, and is just a season removed from his eighth ACC Championship. 

Still, Swinney is under real pressure to overcome a staleness around his program and reverse his reluctance to use the transfer portal. He has made several staff changes in recent years — going outside the Tigris family for hires like Garrett Riley and Matt Luke. Can the Tigers rebound in 2024?

2. Mike Norvell, Florida State

Norvell has skyrocketed up the rankings after two straight strong seasons at FSU, including a 13-1 year in 2023 when the Seminoles were left out of the College Football Playoff.

He’s now a Top-10 head coach in the entire sport, rebuilding the culture and expectations in Tallahassee. No head coach has been better at perennially mining the transfer portal for talent — and then getting the most out of those players. Norvell has positioned FSU to potentially leapfrog Clemson as the king of the ACC for the foreseeable future. 

3. Jeff Brohm, Louisville 

Mama’s call home proved immediately profitable for the Cardinals’ program, as Brohm returned to his alma mater and took the program to its first ACC title game appearance. The Cards went 10-4, including an upset over Notre Dame. 

Previously, Brohm won the Big Ten West in his final season at Purdue and has four Top-10 wins since 2018. He’s an excellent Xs and Os play-caller and has become one of the more aggressive coaches in the transfer portal

4. Dave Doeren, NC State

Doeren became the Wolfpack’s all-time winningest head coach last season, overcoming all manors of offensive ineptitude to win eight games for the fourth straight season. He still hasn’t busted through the glass ceiling and taken NC State to an ACC Championship, but the Wolfpack have legitimate conference title hopes in 2024 with the offseason work Doeren has done via the portal (quarterback Grayson McCall, tailbacks Jordan Waters and Hollywood Smothers and receivers Noah Rogers and Wesley Grimes). 

In 11 seasons in Raleigh, Doeren’s program has been steadily consistent and has become a model for development (17 NFL Draft picks since 2018) and strength and conditioning. 

5. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons badly backslid in 2023 (4-8), ending Clawson’s streak of seven-straight seasons taking the program to a bowl game. Wake Forest had major offensive issues (missing QB Sam Hartman, ACC-high 49 sacks allowed) in 2023, but Clawson has a track record for producing prolific attacks despite never-ending talent disadvantages. 

Overall, Clawson has found success at one of the most historically difficult jobs in the country. He has four seasons of at least eight wins (including 11-3 in 2021 for the program’s best finish ever)— something that’s happened just five other total times in school history since 1944.

6. Mario Cristobal, Miami 

Entering Year 3 in Coral Gables, Cristobal is bumping into ‘If not now, when?’ territory at his alma mater. It’s not to say the former ‘Canes OL can’t get over the hump, but Cristobal routinely seems to get in his own way on Saturdays in the fall.

The former Oregon head coach is elite when is comes to roster building and talent acquisition (back-to-back Top-5 recruiting classes), but the W/L record has been underwhelming (12-13 at Miami). He’s seen all sorts of staff turnover in the first two seasons, too. Cristobal was 35-13 at Oregon with two Pac-12 titles. 

7. Bill O’Brien, Boston College

B.O.B. was the trickiest coach to slot within these rankings because it’s difficult to separate O’Brien, the solid head coach, versus O’Brien, the maligned Alabama offensive coordinator and terrible NFL GM. 

But O’Brien is truly a quality head coach. He was 15-9 at Penn State, inheriting a supremely difficult situation. He won four division titles with the Houston Texas and a pair of playoff games. O’Brien wasn’t as bad as some Tide fans would have you believe as Alabama’s OC, either. He was Ryan Day’s handpicked OC at Ohio State for 30 seconds before taking over for Jeff Hafley in Chestnut Hill. 

8. Rhett Lashlee, SMU

The former well-traveled offensive coordinator has only been a head coach for two seasons, but Lashlee is coming off an 11-3 year with an AAC Championship. The Mustangs were among the most balanced teams in the country last season (Top 10 in scoring offense, 38.7, and scoring defense, 17.8), and Lashlee has quickly shown to have a strong eye for staffing talent. 

Lashlee is also a dogged recruiter and has positioned SMU to possibly exceed expectations early in its transition to a Power Conference thanks to the players he has landed out of the transfer portal.

9. Mack Brown, North Carolina

Brown is just one of three active head coaches with a national championship, and his illustrious career includes 18 seasons with at least nine wins. 

But while the 72-year-old still has plenty of juice, his Tar Heels’ teams have run out of gas the last three years (0-3 in bowl games, 6-7 in the month of November). Since his return to Chapel Hill, UNC has struggled to field even a serviceable defense, which is how the program squandered the talents of Sam Howell and Drake Maye at quarterback. Brown made a coordinator change this offseason, moving on from his close friend Gene Chizik for former Georgia Tech head coach Geoff Collins.

10. Pat Narduzzi, Pitt

After a mini-renaissance in 2021 and 2022 (20 wins, and an ACC Championship), Narduzzi’s stock is trending in the wrong direction following a 3-9 season — the program’s worst in 25 years. Narduzzi wasn’t even considered for the Michigan State opening this offseason, and the former longtime Spartans defensive coordinator has totally whiffed on multiple quarterbacks (Kedon Slovis, Phil Jurkovec and Christian Veilleux) and OC decisions (moving on from Mark Whipple for Frank Cignetti Jr.). 

Narduzzi isn’t exactly on the hot seat entering the 2024 season, but there’s an impetus to show improved results following last season’s terrible backslide.

11. Brent Key, Georgia Tech

Key immediately made the Yellow Jackets competitive again in the ACC — a marked improvement from the doldrum days of the Geoff Collins era. The former Bees offensive lineman is 11-10 at his alma mater, going 7-6 in his first full season as the head coach. 

Key scored a trio of upsets last season (Miami, North Carolina and UCF), and if he can fix the Bees’ defense with the hire of former Duke DC Tyler Santucci, then Georgia Tech could be really feisty in 2024.

12. Brent Pry, Virginia Tech

Pry’s head coaching career got off to an inauspicious start (3-8, 1-6 in ACC play in Year 1), but the former Penn State defensive coordinator stayed the course, added some key pieces from the transfer portal (Kyron Drones, tailback Bhayshul Tuten and pass rusher Antwaun Powell-Ryland) and led the program to its first winning season (7-6) since 2019. 

The Hokies’ defense made real strides last fall, and the offense, particularly when Dones became the starter by midseason, was awesome down the stretch. With a roster that returns Top-10 production nationally, Va. Tech might be a sleeper ACC contender under Pry in Year 3.

13. Manny Diaz, Duke

Diaz is back as head coach in the ACC for a second tour of duty, taking over for Mike Elko after two excellent seasons as Penn State’s DC. The former Miami native was 21-15 in three seasons in charge of the Hurricanes, and although Diaz certainly made some mistakes in terms of roster management, he’s been openly publicly about the valuable lessons he learned from his ugly exit

Diaz will have much better alignment at Duke, but following Elko’s success won’t be easy. Despite a short resume as a head coach, he has hired good coordinators (Lashlee, LSU DC Blake Baker).

14. Justin Wilcox, Cal

It’s taken Wilcox a couple seasons to rebound from the pandemic, but the Golden Bears did make a bowl game for the first time since 2019. 

Wilcox finally found an answer for the program’s recent offensive issues with the hiring of Texas State head coach Jake Spavital. Cal went from 96th nationally in scoring to 52nd, but Spavial is gone to Baylor, so Wilcox is hoping to keep the momentum going with promoted offensive line coach Mike Bloesch

In seven seasons in Berkley, Wilcox is 36-43 with three bowl games.

15. Troy Taylor, Stanford

Year 1 was a real challenge for Taylor in Palo Alto, as the former FCS Sacramento State head coach took over a roster with fewer than 70 scholarship players and went 3-9, losing by an average of 31 points in Pac-12 play. 

Taylor was successful at the FCS level (30-8, three Big Sky titles), but the situation at Stanford looks dire as the program moves into the ACC. Despite inking a Top 40 recruiting class, the roster remains in rough shape due to Taylor’s portal approach (10 departures and just two signees).

16. Tony Elliott, Virginia

As a person, Elliott is beloved in Charlottesville for the way he helped navigate the program past a terrible tragedy that saw three of his players murdered. As a head coach, though, the former Clemson OC faces win-now pressure after delivering just six victories total in two seasons. 

The Hoos’ offense got better in 2023, but Elliott needs to get the starting quarterback choice right (Anthony Calandrea or Tony Muskett) for UVA to do anything of note in the fall.  

17. Fran Brown, Syracuse

Brown is a complete unknown — having never even been a coordinator in his coaching career — but the former Georgia assistant has infused Syracuse’s program with energy and confidence in short order. He’s assembled a young, mostly African American staff getting first-time opportunities, and there’s real excitement and buzz around the Orange with the immediate inroads Brown has made on the recruiting trail (both with prep prospects and the transfer portal). 

Syracuse has one of the friendliest 2024 schedules among all Power Conference teams (cupcake non-conference slate + no Clemson, Florida State, Miami), so the opportunity is there for Brown to jumpstart his tenure.