Friedlander: Recent hires reshuffle the rankings of ACC offensive coordinators
Clemson’s hiring of Broyles Award winner Garrett Riley to replace Brandon Streeter as offensive coordinator is a potential game-changer that thrusts the Tigers back to the head of the ACC class heading into 2023.
It’s also 1 of several recent moves that have shuffled the pecking order of the league’s primary play-callers.
With the addition of Riley and 4 other newly hired or elevated coordinators around the ACC, it’s time to assess the changes and recalibrate how they rank.
14. Vacant, Boston College
John McNulty didn’t distinguish himself in his 1st and only season with the Eagles, which is why coach Jeff Hafley decided to part ways with him last Thursday. Where they eventually fall in these rankings will depend on who Hafley brings in as a replacement. Hafley’s future with BC will also likely depend on the performance of his new coordinator.
Whoever it turns out to be will have his work cut out for him. Quarterback Phil Jurkovec and star receiver Zay Flowers are both gone. And the offensive line is in need of a complete overhaul. If there’s any upside, it’s that it won’t take much to show improvement after a 2022 season in which BC finished last in the ACC in total offense while averaging less than 18 points per game.
13. Des Kitchings, Virginia
Kitchings inherited the ACC’s leading passer from the previous season, Brennan Armstrong, and yet still managed to find a way to finish last in the conference in scoring at 17 points per game. Armstrong’s 221.0 passing yards per game were 182.5 fewer than 2021 and his 7 touchdowns throws were 24 less. And even though Kitchings is a former running backs coach, the Cavaliers’ ground attack wasn’t any better.
Despite all that, Kitchings is back for a 2nd season with coach Tony Elliott. That in itself is a victory. His 2 previous stints as an OC – at Vanderbilt in 2010 and NC State in 2019 – ended after only 1 year.
12. Josh Gattis, Miami
The Hurricanes’ offense was hampered by injuries, including 1 that sidelined quarterback Tyler Van Dyke for a large portion of the season. But it never seemed completely in sync even before the attrition began.
Things hit rock bottom for Gattis and his offense during a 3-game stretch starting in the 4th quarter of a loss to Duke on Oct. 22 in which Miami went 9 full quarters and 4 overtimes without scoring a touchdown. Those offensive struggles were a major reason why the Hurricanes went 2-4 over the final 6 games to finish out of bowl contention.
11. Tyler Bowen, Virginia Tech
Bowen reunited with coach Brent Pry, with whom he served as an assistant on the staff at Penn State, after spending the 2021 season in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars. But their partnership got off to a rocky start.
Unlike Kitchings and Gattis, Bowen took over an offense in which both experience and talent were in short supply, especially in the receiving corps. It showed, as Tech finished next-to-last in the ACC in total offense at 314 yards per game and passing offense at 203 per game. The Hokies were especially suspect in the 4th quarter, in which they were outscored 79-36.
10. Buster Faulkner/Chris Weinke, Georgia Tech
One of coach Brent Key’s first moves after getting the interim tag removed from his title was turning to neighboring rival and 2-time national champion Georgia for his new offensive coordinator. Faulkner has previous OC experience at Southern Miss. He spent the past 3 seasons as a quality control analyst for the Bulldogs, where he worked with Heisman Trophy finalist Stetson Bennett.
Weinke, his co-coordinator, actually was a Heisman Trophy winner whose insight should be helpful for returning quarterback Zach Pyron and Texas A&M transfer Haynes King. As much talent as Weinke and Faulkner bring to the job, their success will depend largely on the chemistry they develop and their ability to work together.
9. Jason Beck, Syracuse
Beck was promoted when Robert Anae left for ACC rival NC State. As quarterbacks coach for the Orange last season, he had a hand in the dramatic improvement of Garrett Shrader and the team’s passing attack.
Although this is Beck’s first Division I opportunity as a coordinator – he held down the position at Division II Simon Fraser in 2012 – he figures to be ready for the challenge after spending the past decade learning at the side of Anae at BYU, Virginia and Syracuse.
8. Chip Lindsey, North Carolina
Mack Brown hired Lindsey in December to replace Phil Longo, who left for Wisconsin. The former head coach at Troy, Lindsey comes to Chapel Hill from UCF, where he served as coordinator for an offense that averaged 34 points and 480 yards per game.
Lindsey steps into an advantageous situation with the of Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Drake Maye. But that only increases the pressure to deliver. His main focus will be improving UNC’s running game and an offensive line that allowed Maye to be sacked 40 times last season.
7. Frank Cignetti Jr., Pittsburgh
Cignetti has earned a reputation for being a positive mentor for quarterbacks. His knowledge and experience, however, didn’t help transfer Kedon Slovis, who was brought in to replace 1st round NFL draft pick Kenny Pickett.
To Cignetti’s credit, he adjusted his game plan to center around a stable of talented backs. Led by Israel Abanikanda, the ACC’s leading rusher, the Panthers rallied from a slow start to win their final 5 games to finish with a 9-4 record.
6. Kevin Johns, Duke
Mike Elko won the ACC’s Coach of the Year, but Johns’ work with the Blue Devils’ offense played a major role in his winning the award. Brought in from Memphis, Johns was responsible for the development of quarterback Riley Leonard and a unit became the 7th in school history to amass better than 2,000 yards both on the ground and through the air.
Duke ranked 5th in the league in scoring at 32.8 points per game and was 4th in total offense at 415 yards per game while allowing the fewest sacks in the ACC. His success in Durham last season made him a top candidate for the OC job at Texas A&M before Jimbo Fisher eventually settled on former Louisville and Atlanta Falcons coach Bobby Petrino.
5. Brian Brohm, Louisville
Brohm follows his brother Jeff to the Cardinals from Purdue, where the duo spent the past 6 seasons. His hiring was officially announced on Friday.
Like his brother, Brian is a former star quarterback at Louisville, who subscribes to the Air Raid style of offense. He has successfully mentored the likes of David Blough, Jack Plummer and most recently, Aidan O’Connell with an offense that has virtually rewritten the entire passing section of the school record book. His 2022 team led the Big Ten in passing yardage while scoring 30 or more points 6 times on the way to an 8-6 record and the league’s West Division title.
4. Robert Anae, NC State
Anae’s success over the past 2 seasons with Brennan Armstrong at Virginia and Garrett Shrader at Syracuse, along with his previous work with Bryce Perkins, made him an attractive candidate to fill the void left when Tim Beck became head coach at Coastal Carolina. And that was before his presence on Dave Doeren’s staff helped attract Armstrong to run his offense in 2023 as a graduate transfer.
UVA’s offense led the ACC in passing in 2021 with Anae calling the plays. Without him, both the offense and Armstrong’s production dropped off considerably. The opposite was the case with Shrader and Syracuse. Anae is seen as the perfect mentor for promising young quarterback MJ Morris, who will likely redshirt in 2023.
3. Warren Ruggiero, Wake Forest
Despite breaking the ACC record for career touchdown passes, quarterback Sam Hartman has had to fight the notion that he is simply a “system quarterback.” We’ll see about that next season when Hartman runs the offense at Notre Dame.
No matter how he does, there’s no denying the success of the unique slow-mesh RPO system designed and carried out by Ruggiero. The Deacons have finished in the top 5 of the ACC in scoring in each of the past 6 seasons, including a No. 2 finish in 2022 with an average of 36.1 points per game. Under his watch, Wake has rewritten its record book, including marks for the most points, yards, passing yards and 1st downs in a season.
2. Alex Atkins, Florida State
A Broyles Award finalist in his 1st season with the Seminoles, Atkins’ influence helped bring out the best in quarterback Jordan Travis and elevate him into a serious Heisman hopeful. His work also developed a rushing attack that led the ACC and amassed better than 200 yards in each of its final 7 regular-season games.
FSU also was the first team since 2000 to have 3 players named ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week in consecutive weeks. Before Atkins became the Seminoles OL coach in 2020, the team hadn’t had a player win the award since 2016.
1. Garrett Riley, Clemson
Tigers coach Dabo Swinney dropped a bombshell on the entire college football world last week when he sacked OC Brandon Streeter after just 1 season in favor of Broyles Award winner Riley.
The younger brother of Southern Cal coach Lincoln Riley, Clemson’s new playcaller is a rising star who catapulted to prominence in 2022 by helping quarterback Max Duggan become a Heisman Trophy finalist and getting TCU to the national championship game. His wide-open, big-play oriented offense ranked among the top 10 nationally at 37.4 points.
His addition to Swinney’s staff as a mentor for highly-touted young quarterback Cade Klubnik steals back some of the offseason thunder created by ACC rival Florida State and restores the Tigers as the league’s team to beat in 2023.