Success at any program starts with coaching. However, not every program is blessed with the resources or talent-rich backyards — they have to fight for their guys and develop who they can. It is not always about who has the most wins or most losses, but rather what they are able to do with what they are given. Some of these coaches have been given a blank slate and still have to prove what they are capable of. Others were placed in better situations and are continuing great traditions of success. Others have been at the same program for a long time and have consistently competed despite lack of those aforementioned resources.
It is not easy to rank the top coaches on Miami’s schedule. So many factors play into what a “good coach” is and to rank them wasn't easy, but here it goes:
5. Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall
Bronco leaving BYU was shocking to a lot of people. Especially when it became known that he was leaving to Virginia. I couldn’t think of more opposite schools. Anyways, Mendenhall has a record of 107-60 in 14 years and went 99-43 at BYU without a single losing season.
In his first year at Virginia he went 2-10. It was clear he was taking over a program that needed a spark. Mendenhall then went and made Virginia one of the most surprising teams in the ACC by tripling their wins in 2017.
Mendenhall’s experience and resumè make me wonder if Virginia is a team we truly have to start to give a good look at. Mendenhall recruited Bryce Perkins, a quarterback who played for the JuCo National Championship last year at Arizona Western, to be the signal caller for the Cavaliers. Perkins gives Mendehall an option at quarterback that he is much more comfortable with as a true dual-threat.
4. LSU’s Ed Orgeron
2018 will be a telling year for the head of LSU’s football program. Coach O has a career record of 31-33 in seven years as a head coach and has failed to win 10 games in a season. Last year’s LSU team should have changed that, but an unlikely loss at home to Troy and a bowl loss to Notre Dame held them back from accomplishing that feat. However, LSU did beat Auburn last year which should not be overlooked. Auburn fielded one of their most competitive teams in years and reached the SEC Championship game.
Off the field, LSU finished outside of the top 10 in the recruiting rankings for the first time since 2012. If Orgeron wants to stay in Baton Rouge long he must continue to recruit the way that LSU is capable of or they can quickly fall further behind.
Orgeron was a questionable hire from day one, but 2018 will tell us if that risk paid off or not.
3. Florida State’s Willie Taggart
It hard to get a real feel on the type of coach Taggart is. He took Western Kentucky from a 2-10 team to back-to-back 7-5 seasons before getting hired at USF. He then took another 2-10 team and improved their record every year for four years. In 2016, the Bulls went 10-2 and Taggert was hired to coach the Oregon Ducks. Taggart then went on to spend just one short year at Oregon where he went 7-5 before Florida State scooped him up.
He has been all over the place. He wasn’t at Western Kentucky long enough to see a major improvement. We got a bigger sample size at USF, but they don’t play in a major conference and he left as soon as they got good. And then Taggart spent just one average year at Oregon. Overall, Taggart’s record as a coach is 47-50.
So, is Florida State getting a below average coach? His record says so, but he has also leaped from needy programs to needy programs. How does one measure success that way?
We will find out rather quickly how good of a coach he is in the ACC. It is hard to imagine Taggart leaving FSU to go anywhere else, seeing as he grew up as a Seminoles fan, so his true colors are going to show. There are no excuses here. There is no rebuild necessary. The talent is there, the brand recognition is prominent and he was Florida State’s first choice for their vacant head coaching job. There should be no grace period in his evaluation, so we will find out soon enough where he truly ranks among his peers.
2. Duke’s David Cutcliffe
Duke has to be one of the toughest jobs in the entire country. They are regarded by some as the “Harvard of the South” and have extremely demanding academic requirements. It is not easy to build a truly competitive program with such high academic standards. For the first five years of his tenure, Duke failed to go over .500.
That all changed when Cutcliffe transitioned Duke from a 6-7 team in 2012 to a 10-4 team in 2013 that would go on to win the ACC Coastal. That was the pinnacle of his career thus far in Durham, but he has been able to keep them competitive. Duke has reached a bowl game in five of the last six years.
Overall, Cutcliffe has a coaching record of 103-96 and is 6-4 in bowl games. Four of those wins came during his time at Ole Miss, where he went 44-29 in seven years.
1. Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente
Fuente started his head coaching career at Memphis where he won just seven games in his first two years before turning them around completely and winning 19 games the following two years, including a bowl win over BYU in 2014. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest offensive minds this sport has to offer and an exceptional head coach. It could not have been easy to take over for Frank Beamer after 29 years, but he has smoothly transitioned.
In his first year leading the Hokies, he won 10 games, the ACC Coastal and the Belk Bowl against Arkansas. The Hokies regressed from 10 to nine wins in 2017 and now have to replace a plethora of experience in 2018. I believe this year we will truly find out how great Justin Fuente is as a coach. Overall, Fuente is 19-8 at Virginia Tech and 45-31 overall with a 2-1 bowl record.
And there you have it. My top five head coaches that Mark Richt and his staff will be challenged to out-smart. Let’s hear your thoughts.
Who is the best head coach on Miami’s schedule?
This poll is closed
Justin Fuente, VT
David Cutcliffe, Duke
Willie Taggart, FSU
Ed Orgeron, LSU
Bronco Mendenhall, UVA