Nearly every staff in the ACC features new faces heading into the 2016 season. So which new assistants are facing the toughest challenges this year? We picked out five in each division, starting with the Atlantic.
Eli Drinkwitz, NC State offensive coordinator. After a disappointing performance last season, coach Dave Doeren shook up his offensive staff, replacing coordinator Matt Canada with Drinkwitz from Boise State. There is no question the Wolfpack need to be more dynamic and explosive as an offense; in Drinkwitz's two years as Boise State offensive coordinator, the Broncos finished in the Top 15 in scoring offense and total offense. But Drinkwitz enters a situation where he needs to replace the Wolfpack's three best offensive linemen; find a quarterback; and figure out how to make plays down the field with a receiver group that has struggled the last several years. His scheme has worked in the past. Will it work again with so many question marks and a difficult schedule?
Clark Lea, Wake Forest linebackers coach. Lea had success coaching the linebackers at Syracuse the last several seasons, and is reunited with defensive coordinator Mike Elko. The two coached together under Dave Clawson at Bowling Green. The challenge rests with the players he must replace: All-ACC linebacker Brandon Chubb and teammate Hunter Williams, who combined for 167 tackles and 16 tackles for loss. There isn’t much experience behind them, so getting complementary players with returning starter Marquel Lee remains one of the biggest priorities for the defense.
Nick Petrino, Louisville quarterbacks coach. All eyes this season will be on quarterback Lamar Jackson because of the way he ended 2015. With Garrick McGee gone, Petrino takes over as quarterbacks coach with direct responsibility for Jackson’s continued growth and development. His dad, Bobby, will play a large role as well. But this also is Nick Petrino’s first assistant coaching job (he served as a graduate assistant the last two years), and he has to show right away that he has what it takes to be able to handle a star on the rise -- and to have him live up to all the growing expectations.
Jim Reid, Boston College defensive coordinator. Reid has to fill perhaps the biggest assistant shoes left behind in the ACC, replacing Don Brown after one of the most dominating defensive performances out of any group in quite some time. Reid hasn’t been a defensive coordinator since 2012, and now comes into a situation where he has to keep this group performing at a high level, considering what came before him. Moreover, the offense is going through its own set of changes and its prospects remain unknown headed into the season. So the pressure is on for the defense to lead once again.
Brian Ward, Syracuse defensive coordinator. Dino Babers has taken over the Syracuse offense, and he has some talent and depth to work with at a few of the skill positions, giving some hope for improved performance. But the challenge is far greater on defense, where the Orange are looking for answers on a depleted defensive line that has just about no game day experience. Add to that a defense that ranked last in the ACC last season, and the challenge is a big one for Ward and his assistants.