Friedlander: A New Year's resolution for every ACC football coach in 2024
The start of the new year is like a cosmic reset button.
It’s an opportunity for us all to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. And the best way to do that is by setting new goals for the next 12 months.
Whether we call them resolutions or not, we all make them. It’s a long-standing New Year’s tradition. So is breaking those resolutions, usually sooner than later.
But it’s always good to try.
With that in mind, here’s a resolution for each of the ACC’s 14 current football coaches as they turn the page on the now-completed 2023 season and begin the process of preparing for the promise of the new one to come in 2024.
Jeff Hafley, Boston College: Stay humble
Hafley has every reason to feel good about himself. He got off the hot seat by going 7-6, and his Eagles head into the offseason on a high note after an impressive Fenway Bowl win against SMU. But now is not the time for him to start patting himself on the back. It takes more than just 1 modestly successful season to ensure long-term job security. Just ask Dino Babers.
Dabo Swinney, Clemson: Take better care of yourself
More appropriately, take better care of the football. Swinney’s Tigers lost 13 fumbles this season, the most of any team in the FBS. What’s worse, several came inside the opponent’s 10-yard line and played a major role in the 4-4 start that knocked Clemson out of contention for another ACC title. Better ball security played a role in the late-season turnaround that saw the Tigers win their final 5 games. It’s a trend they need to carry into next season.
Manny Diaz, Duke: Learn from your mistakes
Diaz wasn’t terrible in his first head coaching assignment at Miami. He went 21-15 in his 3 seasons and his 16 ACC victories tied for 2nd most in the conference behind Clemson. But he clearly did some things wrong. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have gotten fired. So the goal for his 2nd shot at running a program is simple: Avoid making the same mistakes.
Mike Norvell, Florida State: Keep looking forward, not back
The disappointment of getting snubbed by the Playoff committee and drubbed by Georgia with a depleted roster at the Orange Bowl was evident on Norvell’s face and in his comments after the 63-3 loss that spoiled the Seminoles’ undefeated season. But as painful as the experience has been, it’s not going to change. So instead of dwelling on a bad situation, it’s better to wipe the slate clean and start focusing on making things better in the new 12-team Playoff format in 2024.
Brent Key, Georgia Tech: Be more defensive
Key made a splash in his first full season as a head coach by leading the Yellow Jackets to a bowl victory and their first winning record since 2018. He did it with a high-powered attack that ranked 4th in the ACC at 31 points per game and 3rd in total offense at 424 yards per game. With quarterback Haynes King and top rusher Jamal Haynes both coming back, improving a defense that was next-to-last in the conference (29.5 points per game) is the ticket to taking the next step in the program’s development.
Jeff Brohm, Louisville: Share the wealth
Brohm made a triumphant return to his alma mater by winning 10 games and getting the Cardinals to the ACC Championship Game in his first season home. If he really loves Louisville as much as it seems, he would give some coaching tips to a fellow alumnus who isn’t doing quite as well. That is, assuming basketball’s Kenny Payne lasts long enough for the advice to take hold.
Mario Cristobal, Miami: Take a self-help class in time management
This one needs no exclamation. And Mario should have plenty of time to spare, what with those 2 timeouts he carried with him into the offseason.
Mack Brown, North Carolina: Concentrate on finishing what you start
Brown’s Tar Heels were 9-1 before losing their final 3 games in 2022. They were 6-0 before going 2-5 the rest of the way (with 1 of the wins coming against Campbell) in 2023. I know it’s tough for a 72-year-old coach to maintain his stamina, but the players are still young and should be able to pace themselves better.
Dave Doeren, NC State: Order a year’s supply of glue sticks
Doeren’s Wolfpack will be deeper and more talented on offense thanks to a strong transfer portal haul and some impressive young receiver recruits. The defense will also be stout again with the return of coordinator Tony Gibson and several key performers. But without Butkus Award-winning linebacker Payton Wilson, Doeren won’t have a glue guy to hold everything together. That’s an element he’ll have to find to have a shot at finally getting over that 9-win hump.
Pat Narduzzi, Pitt: Don’t bite the hand that feeds you
Narduzzi made a bad situation worse in October when after a 58-7 drubbing at the hands of Notre Dame, he lost his locker room spectacularly by publicly throwing his team under the bus. “We lost a lot of good players last year,” he said. “We thought we’d replace them and obviously didn’t do a good job with that.” Needless to say, the comment didn’t go over well with those players, many of whom helped it go viral by retweeting the quote. With a fresh start and a revamped roster in 2024, he might want to be a little nicer to the kids which will help determine whether or not he keeps his job after this season’s 3-9 debacle.
Fran Brown, Syracuse: Attack The Day with a Bulldog mentality
That’s Bulldog, as in UGa, the mascot at Georgia where Brown has served as defensive backs coach for the past 2 seasons. Brown can make an immediate impact if he can find a way to bring to Syracuse the same kind of winning culture he experienced in Athens, where the Dawgs’ adopted #ATD to remember to Attack The Day. It also doesn’t hurt that in his first month on the job, he’s landed a 5-star quarterback from the portal in Ohio State’s Kyle McCord, and did an even better recruiting job in convincing All-ACC tight end Oronde Gadsden II and linebacker Marlowe Wax to return in 2024.
Tony Elliott, Virginia: Reset your priorities
Elliott did a masterful job of leading his program through the aftermath of an unthinkable situation this season. But now that the scars of the tragic shooting have begun to heal, the emphasis returns to winning. Just as it is at every other school in the country. In other words, another 3-win season probably isn’t going to cut it again in 2024.
Brent Pry, Virginia Tech: Strike while the iron is hot
Pry’s Hokies made great strides in 2023, improving by 4 wins to finish at 7-6 following a Military Bowl win against Tulane. With virtually every player of consequence coming back, including dual-threat quarterback Kyron Drones and sack master Antwaun Powell-Ryland to go along with some significant transfer pickups and a favorable 2024 schedule, the moon and stars could be aligned for a special season in 2024. But now comes the hard part. Following through on all that promise.
Dave Clawson, Wake Forest: Don’t lose sight of the positives
The past season was a forgettable one for Clawson’s Deacons. Four wins. Bowl streak snapped. Multiple starters leaving via the portal. But the 7 previous seasons proved that Clawson and his staff were doing something right. So don’t panic and make major structural changes. Just hit the portal and get better players, especially at quarterback.