The college football fan relationship with their favorite team’s head coach is highly volatile. Characterized by sharp autumnal mood swings and overreactions, it’s a bit like the Brangelina marriage – filled with drama.
With the 2016 season in the books, this seems like an apt time to check in on every fan-coach relationship in FBS. What follows is a Fan Satisfaction Index, appraising where every coach stands with his constituency, based on the following scale:
5 – Build the statue.
4 – Extend the contract.
3 – Stay the course.
2 – Fire the coordinators.
1 – Call the moving trucks.
ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE
Boston College: Coach Steve Addazio (24-27 at BC, 10-22 in ACC). Satisfaction rating: 2. Addazio has had three winning seasons out of four, but none better than 7-6. He has not hit the high notes, he’s 2-14 in league play the last two seasons, and the offense has been unwatchable. Tough job in a brutal division, but a little more is expected.
Clemson: Coach Dabo Swinney (89-28 at Clemson, 57-16 in ACC). Satisfaction rating: 5. Swinney just became the second coach in school history to win a national title, and did it by slaying the Alabama dragon in epic fashion. Six straight seasons of 10 or more wins, two straight ACC titles – the man has become a Clemson legend at age 47.
Duke: David Cutcliffe (52-61 at Duke, 25-48 in ACC). Satisfaction rating: 4. The bar was set at grasshopper height when Cutcliffe arrived in Durham, and he has raised it dramatically. Even with a losing season in 2016 – Duke’s first since 2011 – Cutcliffe’s upset of rival North Carolina provided a nice highlight. Football is the hood ornament on the basketball Rolls Royce, so simply maintaining competitiveness is enough for many fans.
Florida State: Jimbo Fisher (78-17 at Florida State, 48-12 in ACC). Satisfaction rating: 4. Fisher is flirting with 5 status, having won a national title, spurning LSU twice and producing six 10-win seasons out of seven on the job. He’s done about as well as the immediate successor to a legend as anyone in the history of the sport. The only question is whether he can win at the highest level without Jameis Winston (27-1 with him as QB, 51-16 without him).
Georgia Tech: Paul Johnson (70-48 at Georgia Tech, 43-32 in ACC). Satisfaction rating: 3. Winningest coach at Tech in the last 50 years, running an iconoclastic option offense that might be his greatest strength (can compete against better talent) and greatest limitation (hard to win the modern ACC without a prolific passing game). The lower the expectations, the better his Yellow Jackets do. The higher the expectations, the worse they do. Which explains the 3-9 of 2015 and the 9-4 of ’16.
Louisville: Bobby Petrino (67-22 at Louisville, 41-13 in ACC). Satisfaction rating: 4. Has made the Cardinals credible and competitive in the rugged ACC Atlantic Division, mentored the school’s first Heisman Trophy winner and elevated Louisville into the College Football Playoff picture much of this past season. But the season-ending three-game losing streak revealed the still-fragile foundation of the program, and the WakeyLeaks saga gave Petrino critics fresh ammo.
Miami: Mark Richt (9-4 at Miami, 5-3 in ACC). Satisfaction rating: 4. Talk about mood swings – Richt was the program savior at 4-0, the guy Georgia wisely got rid of at 4-4, and then back to hero status at 9-4. The nine wins match Miami’s most in a season since 2003. The Hurricanes were 9-1 in games decided by 14 points or more, 0-3 in games decided by one score. More will be expected, but this was a good start.
North Carolina: Larry Fedora (40-25 at North Carolina, 26-15 in ACC). Satisfaction rating: 3. An 8-5 mark in 2016 was a disappointment, with losses to rivals Duke and North Carolina State and a no-show in the hurricane game against Virginia Tech that ultimately decided the Coastal Division. If QB Mitch Trubisky goes on to NFL success as some predict, that will underscore the opportunity missed while he was in Chapel Hill. But Fedora has the highest winning percentage at UNC since Dick Crum retired 30 years ago, and he’s a well-regarded offensive mind who could have options elsewhere.
North Carolina State: Dave Doeren (25-26 at N.C. State, 9-23 in ACC). Satisfaction rating: 2. Consider this ripple effect: A dubious play call inside the Clemson 10 leads to big loss and a longer field-goal attempt by unreliable Kyle Bambard on the final play of regulation. He misses. Clemson wins in overtime and goes on to capture the national title. The Wolfpack go on to finish 7-6, still searching for a signature win under Doeren. How different would everything be with one better play call? Doeren needs a good year in 2017 but may have the team to deliver it, despite playing in the much tougher ACC division.
Pittsburgh: Pat Narduzzi (16-10 at Pitt, 11-5 in ACC). Satisfaction rating: 4. He’s the only coach in America to beat Clemson last season, and he also took down Big Ten champion Penn State. Those two outcomes played well with the fan base. Now a guy who is a defensive expert needs to toughen up a unit that surrendered more than 30 points 10 times in 2016. Prior to Narduzzi, Pitt hadn’t won eight games in a season since Dave Wannstedt’s last year, in 2010.
Syracuse: Dino Babers (4-8 at Syracuse, 2-6 in ACC). Satisfaction rating: 3. Babers produced one shining moment, an upset of ranked Virginia Tech, which at least modestly elevates this season above the routine disappointment that has characterized most of the last 15 years of Orange football. So the honeymoon period still has life. There is massive work to do with a defense that gave up 70 to Pitt, 60 to Louisville, 50 to Clemson and Notre Dame, and 40 to South Florida and Florida State – especially because four of those opponents are on the schedule every season.
Virginia: Bronco Mendenhall (2-10 at Virginia, 1-7 in ACC). Satisfaction rating: 3. He took over a bad program and did little tangible to change that, starting with a loss to FCS Richmond and finishing on a seven-game losing streak. The Cavaliers almost had Louisville beat in October for a potential breakthrough victory, but Lamar Jackson wouldn’t let it happen in the closing minute. With a program that had just one winning season in the eight before Mendenhall arrived, he will get some time to repair the damage.
Virginia Tech: Justin Fuente (10-4 at Virginia Tech, 6-2 in ACC). Satisfaction rating: 4. He was a great hire who showed it quickly in a dreamy transition year from program patriarch Frank Beamer. Fuente delivered the Hokies’ first divisional title since 2011 and capped the season with a furious comeback victory over Arkansas in the Belk Bowl. Bigger bowl bids will be expected in the future, but this was very good start to the Fuente Era.
Wake Forest: Dave Clawson (13-24 at Wake Forest, 5-19 in ACC). Satisfaction rating: 4. This is arguably the toughest job in the league even without your radio analyst delivering plays to opposing coaching staffs. Clawson endured that and may have turned a corner in 2016, as the Demon Deacons went 7-6 after consecutive 3-9 marks in his first two seasons. That was Wake’s first winning record since 2008. But he needs to find some offensive energy to keep the fans interested.