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 and now following with the Coastal.
1. Manny Diaz, Miami defensive coordinator. Al Golden might have received at least a little break from Miami fans if he were willing to part ways with Mark D’Onofrio. The former defensive coordinator was a major source of frustration for not just the Hurricanes’ fan base, but its former players. Critics took aim at the relaxed read-and-react scheme. Diaz wants an aggressive defense, but he’s quick to point out it could leave the unit vulnerable vertically. The Canes are rebuilding in the secondary, too, which adds another variable to whether Diaz can attack as much as he’d like. It could take some time for his defensive philosophy to take shape as he’s made it a point to suggest his defense lacks mental toughness and, to be even franker, talent in some areas. Will fans be patient?
2. Matt Canada, Pittsburgh offensive coordinator. Canada inherits an offense that returns its starting quarterback, an experienced offensive line, a former ACC player of the year and last season’s top offensive rookie. So what’s the problem? Well, the Panthers lose Tyler Boyd, who was responsible for 43 percent of the Panthers’ receptions last season. Canada has the benefit of returning deep threat Dontez Ford, who averaged 19 yards per reception last season. If Chaney can find a rhythm rotating James Conner, who plans to return now that he finished cancer treatment earlier this year, and Qadree Ollison, it could open the passing game for QB Nate Peterman and Ford. As NC State’s coordinator last season, Canada’s offense rarely hit big plays. The Wolfpack were 52nd in completions of at least 10 yards, but head coach Dave Doeren might have limited Canada’s playbook.
3. Galen Scott, Virginia Tech safeties coach. The Hokies didn’t live up to their defensive reputation last season, especially in the secondary. Annually among the best secondaries in the country and a legitimate candidate for “DBU,” Virginia Tech was 39th among Power 5 teams in yards per attempt last season. Over the six seasons prior, the Hokies were fifth in opposing QBR. One offensive coach in the ACC pointed to the safeties as the reason the pass defense struggled in 2015. Scott is a former AFCA Division 1-AA coach of the year, but he was hired as the linebackers coach. After Torrian Gray left the staff, however, Scott was moved to safeties coach. New cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell will work closely with Scott in turning the backfield around.
4. Jason Beck, Virginia quarterbacks coach. The new Cavaliers assistant has experience shuffling quarterbacks, which makes him highly qualified to coach the position at Virginia. For more than a decade the program has been unable to identify and settle on a quarterback. At BYU, Beck developed Taysom Hill before having to frantically prepare a backup following injuries to Hill in both 2014 and 2015. Can Beck convince Matt Johns, who led the FBS in interceptions last season, to take better care of the football? Or can he turn transfer Connor Brewer into a quarterback capable of ending a 12-year losing streak to Virginia Tech? Since 2004, the year the streak began, UVa is dead last among Power 5 teams in touchdowns per attempt. Many have failed coaching up Cavalier quarterbacks.
5. Zac Roper, Duke offensive coordinator. The good news for Roper as he looks for a quarterback is he has one of the best tutors at the position. David Cutcliffe is regarded as one of the best teachers and brightest minds when it comes to quarterbacks. The issue for Roper is 2015 starter Thomas Sirk ruptured an Achilles tendon in winter and is sidelined indefinitely. Parker Boehme stepped in for a banged-up Sirk a handful of times last season but wasn’t consistently sharp. With Sirk’s injury happening before spring practice, Roper was able to work with Boehme as the No. 1 quarterback throughout camp.