Miami's Shannon has toughest job in '09
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Considering all of the players Virginia Tech lost to injuries, graduation, the NFL, or whatever reason heading into the 2008 season, many agreed that coach Frank Beamer had done one of the best coaching jobs of his career last season.
As we head into the 2009 season, which coaches face the biggest challenges and why? Some face more pressure because the expectations for their program are higher, others have to completely rebuild or adjust to staff changes. Some are tasked with all of the above.
Here's a look at which coaches have their work cut out for them, starting with the most difficult job in the ACC:
1. Miami coach Randy Shannon -- Shannon has three strikes against him before his team even steps on the field for the first time: His schedule is treacherous, he coaches at Miami, where the expectations are automatically higher and fans grow impatient with losing quickly, and he is entering his third season, when a real difference is expected to be made. He also has to get his players quickly acclimated to two new coordinators -- again. Shannon's team is still young, but aside from Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, nobody has more starters returning to work with. While that's a good thing for the '09 Canes, a lack of interest from NFL scouts proves Shannon had to turn around the recruiting.
2. Virginia coach Al Groh -- Change needed to be made, so he made it. Now it's time to see if the win-at-all-costs (a.k.a. fire your son) plan worked. It's not going to be easy. Groh has only five starters returning on offense and six on defense. He'll get Jameel Sewell back, but Sewell will have to shake off the rust and learn a new offense, not to mention find some capable receivers to throw it to. Groh lost all of his starting linebackers. After a five-win season and no bowl game, the pressure is on in Charlottesville.
3. North Carolina coach Butch Davis -- He set the bar much higher last year, turning a four-win season into an eight-win season and a bowl appearance. As Davis heads into his third season, a realistic expectation should be winning the Coastal Division title. That will be hard to do, though, without Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate, not to mention leading tackler Mark Paschal and safety Trimane Goddard.
4. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney -- He'll be in his first full season as head coach at Clemson, where the fan base is anxiously awaiting its first ACC title in more than a decade. Swinney will have a new defensive coordinator, and one of the youngest offensive coordinators in the country in Billy Napier, who will turn 30 next month. He will also have a new quarterback, and needs to replace several talented playmakers in Aaron Kelly, safety Michael Hamlin, and tailback James Davis. The good news for Swinney is that he's not facing the same off-the-chart expectations his predecessor did last season heading into the Alabama game. (Beamer gets that privilege this year.)
5. Boston College coach Frank Spaziani -- The first-time head coach inherited a program that went to back-to-back ACC title games and has gotten used to proving people wrong. But the Eagles need to find an answer at quarterback, and will be under the direction of first-year offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill, along with an almost entirely new staff. The good news is that their offensive line should be just as good, if not better, and they only lost four starters from one of the nation's best defenses. Two of them, though, were up front.
6. Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe -- Ever since Grobe won the ACC title and transformed the program into a contender, Demon Deacons fans have quietly grown a little more spoiled each year. The Demon Deacons only have four defensive starters returning, the fewest in the ACC, and the players they lost were game-changers. In order for the Deacs to be in the hunt for the Atlantic Division this year, the offense is going to have to lead the way for a change. Grobe will also be looking for a backup quarterback this spring, and his options don't include anyone with game experience.
7. NC State coach Tom O'Brien -- Anyone actually paying attention should give O'Brien a pass for the past two injury-laden seasons. We're not talking about one player here, it's more like half his roster. The staff often joked they had a better team in their training room. Still, it will be O'Brien's third season and expectations will be higher, especially now that everyone has seen what quarterback Russell Wilson is capable of. Let's see what O'Brien can do with everyone healthy and better depth expected at the quarterback position.
8. Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen -- He is the only coach that lost more starters (13) than he returns (11). The Terps were hit the hardest by graduation and lost five starters on offense, but there is still plenty of talent on the roster. Quarterback Chris Turner is a veteran, and all of the running backs return. The difference in College Park, though, is that Friedgen is facing more moderate expectations -- another winning season, another average bowl game -- par for the course.
9. Florida State coach(es) Bobby Bowden/Jimbo Fisher -- The firepower on offense is gone, and so is Lou Groza award winner Graham Gano and kickoff return man Michael Ray Garvin, who finished second nationally with a 30.1 average. Only five starters return on defense, and the Noles lost their leading tackler in linebacker Derek Nicholson. And this is Florida State, which, like Miami, has its own reputation to live up to. Plus, Bowden has his own goal of reaching 400 wins and another national championship before he calls it quits. No pressure. The difference here, though, is that FSU can recruit a higher-caliber athlete than some of the other schools, so the Noles can reload at many positions. And they will.
As for the rest of the league ... Johnson and Beamer have their rosters stocked, and Duke coach David Cutcliffe certainly gets more time than two years to recruit and build his program.