This summer, The News & Observer columnist Caulton Tudor has been ranking the best, all-time ACC football players, by position. Today, he ranks the top coaches.
The opposing head coach in Bobby Bowden's first ACC road game -- Sept. 12, 1992 -- was Ken Hatfield of Clemson.
Bowden's 17th Florida State team had defeated Duke the previous Saturday in Tallahassee, a landmark event that ended years of successful independent competition for the Seminoles.
Weeks before the game at Clemson, Bowden said the trip north would provide everyone with a glimpse of how the Seminoles and their new conference would stack up against each other.
"We've played 'em before, but not with this much on the line," Bowden said. "We've got some learning to do about being in a conference and playing a bunch of conference games. There's a difference, but none of our guys have any way to know that."
At the end of a 24-20 FSU win -- the result of a stirring Charlie Ward-engineered drive in the waning minutes -- Bowden was honest.
"We lucked out," he said.
The Seminoles would "luck out" again a few weeks later at Georgia Tech, then coached by Bill Lewis. But it would be deep into the 1995 season -- at Virginia against George Welsh and Cavaliers running back Tiki Barber -- before the Seminoles finally got handed league loss No. 1.
Meanwhile, Hatfield, one of the most successful coaches in ACC history, didn't survive the 1993 season with the Tigers.
Lewis, who had led ECU to a record-setting 11-1 season and a Peach Bowl win over N.C. State in 1991, didn't survive the 1994 season with the Yellow Jackets.
On today's list of my ACC's top 25 coaches in its 59-year history, Bowden is a no-brainer for the top spot.
At No. 12 on the list, Hatfield went 32-13-1 in Clemson but was quickly chased by elephant-minded Tiger fans.
Lewis, now 69, joined a list of coaches who made the pivotal career mistake of leaving the Pirates for seemingly greener gridirons.
In July of 2009, a few weeks before his 34th and final season at Florida State, Bowden reflected on those '92 games at Clemson and Georgia Tech.
"We should have lost 'em both, no doubt about that," Bowden said. "That game in Atlanta, for sure, they just whipped us all over the place all day. We just caught a lucky (officiating) break and made the most of it.
"But if we'd lost those two, we might not have won that next week at Virginia (13-3 FSU win). Then who in creation knows how everything would've turned out? We'd been 5-3, and somebody else would have won the league championship and that next season, we'd been playing catch-up and would've been in a situation where we'd have had to take a totally different approach to the season."
While Bowden's 1993 team won the national title, the "somebody else" in '92 would have been Dick Sheridan and N.C. State (6-2 ACC, 9-3-1 overall).
Sheridan, No. 11 on today's list, retired from coaching as a result of health problems in June of 1993. When you think about what might have been, Hatfield at Clemson and Sheridan at N.C. State are intriguing.
North Carolina (5-3 ACC, 9-3 overall in '92) was then coached by Mack Brown (No. 8 on the list), in his fifth season.
The '92 ACC Coach of the Year was Wake Forest's Bill Dooley (No. 14), whose team went 4-4 in the league and 8-4 overall while beating Oregon, 39-35, in the Independence Bowl.
"Things fell into place for us," Bowden said. "We were good. We sure had more good players than most of the other teams, but we had a lot of beginner's luck that made a heck of a lot difference as we went along in our momentum."
Sheridan's retirement at NCSU led to a period of instability that finally seems to be ending under Tom O'Brien (No. 24) in his fifth season.
Brown's exit at UNC after the 1997 regular season gave way to the program adventures that have taken place under Carl Torbush, John Bunting and Butch Davis.
After Hatfield, Clemson eventually found some gravity under Tommy Bowden (No. 20). But like Hatfield, Bowden couldn't maintain enough rapport with the fans to dodge a surprising exit midway through 2008.
But hey, is there anyone out there who would be honestly surprised to see a "Bring Back Danny" sign 50 years from now in Death Valley?
And why not? Ford is second to Boss Bobby on the list and is a ring-wearing member of a very exclusive fraternity -- ACC head coaches with national championships.
There's Bowden with two in 1993 and '99, Ford ('81), Bobby Ross (No. 4) in 1990 at Georgia Tech and Jim Tatum (No. 13) in '53 at Maryland. Brown broke through at Texas, Steve Spurrier (No. 16) at Florida and Lou Holtz (No. 6) at Notre Dame. Larry Coker led Miami to the 2001 title, but that was before the Hurricanes landed in the ACC.
But other than Bowden, the overriding theme of ACC football coaching has been here today, gone tomorrow.
Since the wave of coaches that marked the beginning of the league in 1953 -- Frank Howard (Clemson, No. 9 on the list), Earle Edwards (NCSU, No. 19, who got the job in '54), Bill Murray (Duke, No. 7) and Tatum -- genuine longevity has been elusive.
Even Tatum left Maryland for UNC, his alma mater, after the '55 season. From 1953 through 1955, he had a 27-4-1 overall record with the Terps, building the program into the one of the nation's best.
Given that trend, it's not surprising that Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer, about to begin his eighth season of ACC play, has become the league's blueprint coaching model. At No. 3 on the list, Beamer joins O'Brien, Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson (No. 21) and Wake Forest's Jim Grobe (No. 25) as the only active coaches on the Top-25 list currently at league schools.
If there's ever been a "Huh? What?" figure in ACC football coaching, it has to be Maryland's Ralph Friedgen (No. 18).
At his alma mater, the Fridge was ACC coach of the year in his first season (10-2 in 2001) and in his last (9-4, 2010).
After a 51-20 bowl win over ECU to end his career with the Terps, Friedgen was approached by player Torry Smith, who simply said, "I love you Coach."
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