Breaking Down the New Faces on the Sidelines for ACC Football

Just a few weeks ago, there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding some football programs in the ACC. There were head coach openings at Miami, Syracuse, Virginia and Virginia Tech.

Fortunately for these programs, all uncertainty was resolved with the recent hiring of some excellent head coaches. All four of the hires come from outside of the conference, which means an infusion of new philosophies.

These proven winners will likely bolster the middle of the pack in the ACC, which bodes very well for the league's overall competition. Let’s take a closer look at all of the new head coaches and see what they bring to the table.

Mark Richt | Miami Hurricanes

February 18, 1960 (age 55)
Omaha, Nebraska

Playing Career:
1979-1982, QB, Miami (Fla.)

Coaching Career:
1985—1988 Florida State (GA)
1989               East Carolina (OC)
1990—1993  Florida State (QB)
1994—2000  Florida State (OC/QB)
2001—2015  Georgia

Head Coaching Record:
Overall: 145-51
Bowls: 9-5

ACC Pedigree
Mark Richt started off his coaching career as a volunteer assistant at Florida State under the legendary Bobby Bowden. During his tenure at FSU, Richt coached two Heisman Trophy winners in Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke. He was also part of two national championship teams in 1993 and 1999.

Mark Richt’s first head coaching job came at the University of Georgia in 2001, where he established himself as one of the nation’s most consistent coaches for 14 seasons. In his first seven seasons at Georgia, Richt’s teams won two SEC Championships (2002 & 2005) and four SEC Eastern Division titles. Richt became one of only seven coaches in FBS history to win two SEC titles in his first five years.

Mark Richt has a reputation for developing young quarterbacks into pro-ready players. While he was at UGA, Richt coached David Greene (2001-02), Matthew Stafford (2006-08) and Aaron Murray (2010-12). Serving as a direct pipeline into the NFL, 72 of Richt’s former players have been chosen in the NFL draft over the last 12 years.

Hurricane Mark
The Mark Richt hire at Miami is very intriguing for a number of reasons. It’s difficult to argue with Richt’s credibility as a coach. He clearly established a strong foothold with recruits in Georgia and North Florida, which bodes well for his tenure with the Hurricanes. His preexisting rapport with families in Florida speaks volumes to why Mark Richt came to Miami.

“It’s the University of Miami,” Richt said at his press conference when asked why it was a good fit.  “The fact that it’s my home, it’s my alma mater, and it’s a team that when you coach, you want to go to a team that has a chance to do big things.”

“By virtue of the fact that it’s one of the most fertile recruiting areas in the United States of America, that’s another factor,” Rich commented.

Mark Richt is a coach who can recruit nationwide, especially at the quarterback position. Despite being a Miami alum, Richt’s personality will be an interesting fit in an aggressive culture in Coral Gables. Either way, the hire shows that the Hurricanes are truly committed to investing in the football program.

Dino Babers | Syracuse Orange

July 19, 1961 (age 54)
Honolulu, Hawaii

Playing Career:
1979-1983, RB & DB, Hawaii  

Coaching Career:
1984               Hawaii (GA)
1985               Arizona State (GA)
1987               Eastern Illinois (RB)
1988—1989 UNLV (ST/RB)
1990               Northern Arizona (ST)
1991—1993  Purdue (WR)
1994               San Diego State (WR)
1995—1997  Arizona (WR/RB/QB)
1998—2000  Arizona (OC/QB)
2001—2002  Texas A&M (OC/QB)
2003               Pittsburgh (RB)
2004—2007  UCLA (asst. HC/RB/QB)
2008               Baylor (WR/RC)
2009—2011  Baylor (ST/WR)
2012—2013  Eastern Illinois
2014—2015  Bowling Green

Head Coaching Record:
Overall: 37-16
Bowls: 1-0

Dino Babers began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, Hawaii. From there on, Babers gained a ton of exposure all over the country at numerous schools. Most notably, he was an offensive coordinator at both Arizona and Texas A&M, as well as an assistant head coach at UCLA. Babers also garnered more offensive prowess during his four-year stint as an assistant coach at Baylor.

Dino Babers had a whopping 16 college coaching jobs before landing at Syracuse last week. Clearly, he’s spent a lot of time traveling the country, which could prove to be a fantastic advantage in terms of recruiting for the Orange. His vast experience has given Coach Babers a great foundation to build upon.

Babers comes from a Bowling Green program that has produced a number of successful head coaches. Dave Clawson left BGSU to become Wake Forest’s head coach in 2014, while Urban Meyer’s first gig as a head coach came at Bowling Green in 2001. Not bad company to be in, Dino.

Bronco Mendenhall | Virginia Cavaliers

February 21, 1966 (age 49)
Alpine, Utah

Playing Career:
1984-1985, DB, Snow College
1986-1987, DB, Oregon State

Coaching Career:
1989—1990  Oregon State (GA, DL)
1991—1992  Snow College (DC, DB)
1993—1994 Northern Arizona (Co-DC/DB)
1995—1996  Oregon State (DC/DB/DL)
1997               Louisiana Tech (DB)
1998—2002  New Mexico (DC, DB, AHC)
2003—2004  BYU (DC, DB)
2005—2015  BYU

Head Coaching Record:
Overall: 99-42
Bowls: 6-4

Former BYU coach, Bronco Mendenhall, has developed quite an intriguing coaching background over the last 25 years. After serving as a graduate assistant at Oregon State in 1990, Mendenhall went on to become the defensive coordinator for Snow College in 1991, a small junior college in Ephraim, Utah. Years later, Bronco Mendenhall became the defensive coordinator for New Mexico from 1998 to 2002, where he developed future NFL first-round draft pick and Chicago Bears great, Brian Urlacher.

In 2005, Bronco Mendenhall got his first crack at head coaching at BYU. It was quite a successful ten years in Provo, UT, as Mendenhall garnered the second-most wins in school history and guided the Cougars to eleven straight bowl appearances.

After listening to his opening press conference at UVA last week, it’s pretty safe to say that Bronco Mendenhall is a different cat. He had a certain sparkle in his eyes when he talked about taking over a Virginia program that was led by the legendary George Welsh from 1982 to 2000. Mendenhall also displayed a different kind of systematic approach to what most ACC fans are accustomed to.

“In the most fiercely efficient and designed organizational design that exists in college football, we will work harder but more efficient and faster in less time than what anyone does in the world,” Mendenhall said at his opening press conference.

“I spent over 500 hours in organizational design and behavior designing BYU’s program specific to BYU, and this program will be designed specific for the University of Virginia,” Mendenhall stated.  

The Virginia program will receive a much-needed facelift. It will take a lot of change, but as Coach Mendenhall put it, change is a good thing.

Justin Fuente | Virginia Tech Hokies

July 30, 1976 (age 39)
Tulsa, Oklahoma

Playing Career: 
1996—1997, QB, Oklahoma
1998—1999, QB, Murray State
2000—2001, QB, Oklahoma Wranglers

Coaching Career:
2001—2003 Illinois State (QB)
2004—2006 Illinois State (QB/OC)
2007—2008  TCU (RB)
2009—2011  TCU (Co-OC/QB)
2012—2015  Memphis

Head Coaching Record:
Overall: 26-23
Bowls: 1-0

The youngest of the new hires in the ACC, Justin Fuente was one of the hottest coaching targets in this class.  Fuente brings in a solid coaching background in the past decade, especially developing young quarterbacks.

Before landing at Memphis in 2012, Fuente coached up Andy Dalton at TCU from 2009 to 2011. Dalton has publicly accredited much of his NFL success to the relationship he developed with Coach Fuente.

“He’s a big reason that I’m the player I am today,” Dalton said. “He was able to teach me a lot of things, just the style of what we’re doing [in the NFL].”

Another quarterback that Justin Fuente has helped develop is current Memphis QB Paxton Lynch. Standing at 6-foot-7, Paxton Lynch has flourished this season into one of the nation’s most elite passers and has skyrocketed in NFL mock drafts.

Hiring a quarterback guru was a welcoming sight for Virginia Tech fans. The Hokies have established themselves as one of the nation’s stingiest defenses but have lacked a true leader at quarterback in the last four years. Fuente will have a solid pupil on his hands in freshman Dwayne Lawson, whose 6-foot-6 frame matches that of Paxton Lynch. 

At the end of the day, Frank Beamer established Virginia Tech as one of the nation’s best programs. The move to Justin Fuente was a much-needed refreshment for a reeling Hokies’ program.