CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Atlantic Coast Conference’s four new coaches find very different challenges ahead for the 2016 season.
Miami’s Mark Richt is charged with helping a program leap into the league’s upper echelon, while Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente must reverse the slide from annual 10-win seasons to also-ran status in the wide-open Coastal Division.
It’s a little tougher for Syracuse’s Dino Babers and Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall, who must build a new foundation for programs that have struggled for wins.
They all arrived in Charlotte for last week’s ACC Kickoff preseason media days fielding questions about how they’ve reshaped their programs. Now it’s time to think about what happens on the field with training camp nearly here.
“I think you’ve got to wait until you go to games,” Babers said. “Spring ball is one thing, two-a-days is one thing but until they actually get into a game, I don’t think they truly buy in. Young people are just like old people. They can say the right things but you’ve got to prove it to them.”
Babers inherits a Syracuse program with just seven wins — three in the league — in the last two seasons under Scott Schafer. It’s part of a freefall for a program that has managed three winning seasons since winning 10 games in 2001.
Babers, a former assistant to Art Briles at Baylor, arrives after winning 18 games the past two seasons at Bowling Green.
The challenge is also daunting for Mendenhall, who left BYU after 11 seasons to replace Mike London at a Virginia program with one winning record in eight years.
Mendenhall went about installing an “earned, not given” approach at Virginia, down to taking away players’ jersey numbers. So far, he said, he likes the way his Cavaliers have responded.
“He took pictures off the walls, he took our clothes away, he took the locker room away … he took everything from us,” Virginia center Jackson Matteo said. “Earning all that back together, doing hard things together, imagine how special that bond is.”
The trick at Miami and Virginia Tech is more about providing a jolt.
Miami arrived in the ACC in 2004 as the projected Coastal Division power opposite Florida State in the Atlantic. But the Hurricanes have yet to win a division title and spent five years under Al Golden bouncing between 5-3 and 3-5 league records.
Richt, a Miami alumnus, arrives after 15 years at Georgia and inherits a talented returning quarterback in Brad Kaaya.
“The thing that people want to ask: How do you think the team is going to do? I really don’t know for sure,” Richt said. “The only thing I promised is that we’re going to work hard and try to do things the way everybody will be proud of us, just a team that will play hard, play physical, be a disciplined bunch, just get after it.”
The Hokies won four ACC championships during a run of eight straight 10-win seasons under Frank Beamer. But they began to slide around 2012 and had finished 7-6 in each of the past two years, leading to Fuente’s arrival from Memphis.
But Fuente isn’t distancing himself from that past, evidenced by the decision to retain longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster.
“We also have an obligation to build on what (Beamer) has done,” Fuente said. “That does not mean doing it exactly the way he did it. That means paying great tribute to the way he did things and understanding there was a fantastic foundation there of core values, and let’s build on it through our own core values.”
The arrivals of Richt, Fuente and Mendenhall certainly add a new look for the seven-team Coastal Division, which hasn’t had a repeat champion since 2011.
“There’s going to be a difference,” said Larry Fedora, coach of reigning Coastal champ North Carolina. “And every one of them is trying to make their team better than they were a year ago.
“If they weren’t, (the schools) wouldn’t have gotten rid of their coaches.”
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