Pressure.

Every coach in every sport at every level feels it in some way, shape or form. Whether it’s the pressure to win championships, the pressure to show improvement or the pressure to save their job, it’s always there.

It comes with the territory.

Some just feel it more than others.

So as temperatures in the heart of ACC country hit the century mark on seemingly a daily basis, let’s do a little heat check of our own to see which conference coaches will be under the most pressure when the 2024 season gets underway in a little over a month.

5. Dave Doeren, NC State

Doeren has carved out a niche at State thanks to a combination of his success on the field and a personality that aligns almost perfectly with the identity of his fan base. He’s a self-proclaimed “blue-collar, hand-in-the-dirt” kind of guy who doesn’t take crap off anyone.

At the same time, he’s had it relatively easy. Win 8 or 9 games every year, give the fans a nice bowl trip and put the hated Tar Heels in their place, and they’ll put up a statue in your honor outside Carter-Finley Stadium.

At least that was the formula. But the dynamic changed in mid-March when the Wolfpack’s men’s basketball team put together a miracle run to win its first ACC Tournament championship in 37 years.

The ante was upped even further when both the men’s and women’s teams advanced to the Final Four, followed by the baseball making it to the College World Series.

The product of those successes is that winning ACC championships and competing on a national level is no longer a wishful fantasy at State. It has become a reality. Suddenly, there are more important goals to achieve than simply getting over the 10-win hump in a football season.

Thanks to some key transfer portal additions and the return of dynamic playmaker KC Concepcion, one of the best freshmen in the country last season, Doeren has put together a team capable of contending for an ACC title. Though he’s not in any danger of losing his job, the pressure is on for him to deliver.

4. Dabo Swinney, Clemson

No, Dabo is not on the hot seat. He’s got more job security than anyone in the country. And he’s not going anywhere anytime soon, especially now that Nick Saban has called it quits and been replaced at Alabama.

But that doesn’t immunize him from pressure.

Swinney gave a hint of how much he’s feeling it last season when after a loss to NC State that dropped his Tigers to 4-4, he lashed out at criticism from a fan on his live radio show with a 5-minute tirade laced with several uncharacteristic “frickin’s.”

The bulk of Clemson’s fan base isn’t as vocal as Tyler from Spartanburg. But even after a strong finish that saw the Tigers win their final 5 games – including a revenge victory against arch-rival South Carolina – there is still growing frustration amongst the ranks.

It’s been 3 years since Swinney has gotten his team to the College Football Playoff. Even more concerning is a downward trend that has seen Clemson lose 10 times since 2021 – the same number of defeats as the previous 7 seasons combined. Last year’s 9-4 mark and 6th place ACC finish was the Tigers’ worst since 2010.

Swinney’s stubborn refusal to embrace the change, specifically as it pertains to the transfer portal, has only added to the concern. And increased the pressure to return to the top of the conference and back among the national elite.

3. Mario Cristobal, Miami

Cristobal got a hero’s welcome when he returned to his alma mater 2 seasons ago after a successful run at Oregon. Needless to say, he hasn’t lived up to the hype by leading The U back to the glory it has been chasing for the better part of the past 2 decades.

It’s not his recruiting that’s in question. The man can definitely recruit. He’s signed 2 straight national top-10 recruiting classes and has brought in some of the nation’s most sought-after transfers. The problem is that he’s yet to turn all that talent into results. His record after 2 seasons in Coral Gables is a pedestrian 12-13.

And that’s not the worst of it.

Even though his Hurricanes showed improvement last season by winning 7 games and going to the Pinstripe Bowl, whatever goodwill Cristobal might have earned was offset by several game-management blunders. The most glaring of them cost Miami a loss to Georgia Tech when he neglected to have his quarterback take a knee to run out the clock in the final seconds.

With the addition of transfer quarterback Cam Ward and predictions of a 10-plus win season, expectations – and the pressure that goes along with them – have been raised exponentially. Though Cristobal might not be on the hot seat, at least not yet, you can bet he’ll start to feel some warmth beneath his backside if he doesn’t deliver the goods in 2024.

2. Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh

Narduzzi’s stock has been in a free fall since winning the Panthers’ 1st ACC championship in 2021. It’s a dip that can be traced directly back to his inability to find a capable replacement for ACC Player of the Year Kenny Pickett. He swung and missed twice on transfer quarterbacks, first with Kedon Slovis, then last season with the tandem of Phil Jurkovec and Christian Veilleux.

The Panthers were able to overcome the quarterback inconsistency to win 9 games in 2022 thanks to a stout defense and the running of Israel Abanikanda. They weren’t as fortunate in 2023. Their 3-9 record was their worst since 1998.

As if things couldn’t have gotten any worse, Narduzzi added some accelerant to the dumpster fire his program had become by throwing his players under the proverbial bus after a 58-7 loss to Notre Dame. “We lost a lot of good players last year,” he said. “We thought we’d replace them and obviously we didn’t do a good job with that.”

Narduzzi is under contract through 2023. But unless this group of new players is better than the last and helps Pitt produce a quick turnaround, he might not make it through the coming season.

1. Tony Elliott, Virginia

No coach in recent memory has had to deal with as much off-the-field adversity as Elliott during his 3 seasons in Charlottesville. His leadership and compassion in the aftermath of the shooting deaths of 3 of his players in November 2022 helped guide UVa’s program through the most unthinkable of circumstances.

It’s a performance for which he should and has been commended. But at a certain point, life returns to normal and winning once again becomes the top priority. Elliott has reached that point.

His Cavaliers showed signs of progress in 2023 in spite of several key injuries, a difficult schedule, and some demoralizing close calls. And he returns a veteran roster with 76% of its overall production returning from a year ago, a figure that ranks 2nd in the ACC.

But after winning only 3 games in each of his 1st 2 seasons, it’s almost a certainty that 2024 is a make-or-break proposition for Elliott. No one in the conference enters the new season with a hotter seat.