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Bad ACC Coaching Debuts

Some are forgotten, but two of these guys had Hall of Fame careers.

Charleston v Auburn
Earl Grant watching his Charleston Cougars take on Auburn in the 2018 NCAA tournament. He moved to Boston College last season.
Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Everybody’s got to start somewhere; tough to argue that one. But it’s true too that different people start in different places under different circumstances, and as a result it’s no surprise they produce different results.

All of which is to say, Jon Scheyer sure got a better draw to start his head coaching career at his alma mater than did Louisville’s Kenny Payne.

Plenty of coaches got off to a good start in the debut ACC seasons. Just last year UNC’s Hubert Davis presided over a squad of Roy Williams leftovers, added some transfer portal seasoning in the form of wing Brady Manek, and after struggling to get traction finished with 29 wins and an NCAA championship game berth.

Last season’s other newcomer to an ACC bench, BC’s Earl Grant, went 13-20. The Eagles improved a bit down the stretch, their two losses in four tries coming in overtime.

Grant was among literally dozens of coaches over the years who arrived at ACC outposts and endured a losing record in their inaugural seasons. Below we list the most pronounced starting stumbles.

Nine games into the 2022-23 season Payne has joined those unhappy ranks. The Cardinals already are 0-9, a season start that passes Virginia’s 1961 opening skid as the ACC’s worst ever. With two dozen games left, including at Kentucky and Duke and home and home with Virginia and Clemson, the ’23 Cards figure to endure a long winter. At least Florida A&M and Lipscomb are on the mid-December schedule.

History offers Payne hope. A notable minority of coaches who started their ACC tenures poorly at an ACC school recovered well.

Eight eventually earned honors as league coach of the year. One, NC State’s Norm Sloan, built to an NCAA title in 1974, eight years after he returned to Raleigh to coach his alma mater.

Bones McKinney recovered to take Wake Forest to five straight ACC Tournament title games, won in 1961 and 1962, and reached the ‘62 Final Four.

Frank McGuire quickly brought South Carolina to competitive parity and won the 1971 ACC Tournament on the eve of the school’s ill-advised withdrawal from the league.

Press Maravich flailed at Clemson for six seasons, then went to NC State as an assistant, replaced an ill Everett Case and led the Wolfpack to the 1965 ACC title.

Bobby Cremins built Georgia Tech into a national power, won three ACC titles and reached the 1990 Final Four.

Then there were those like Wake’s Jeff Bzdelik, who managed a single winning record in four tries before being shown the door. Bzdelik was among four Wake Forest coaches who endured the seven worst first-year records in the history of the league.

Current Demon Deacon coach Steve Forbes, along with BC’s Grant, remains active among those whose ACC baptism was all wet. Forbes quickly recovered.

We strongly suspect that, with the skein of defeats that launched Kenny Payne’s Louisville tenure, he’ll become a prominent member of this fraternity of first-year fizzles.

Worst First-Year Records By ACC Coaches,
By Percentage, All-Time
W-L W% Coach School Year
4-20 .167 Walt Hambrick SC 1959
8-24 .250 Jeff Bzdelik WF 2011
6-17 .261 Bones McKinney WF 1958
6-17 .261 Frank McGuire SC 1965
7-19 .269 Norm Sloan NS 1967
6-16 .273 Steve Forbes WF 2021
8-21 .276 Bob Staak WF 1986
7-17 .292 Press Maravich C 1957
8-18 .308 Jackie Murdock WF 1966
8-18 .308 Dwane Morrison* GT 1980
8-16 .333 Bill Gibson V 1964
8-16 .333 Frank Fellows M 1968
11-22 .333 Buzz Williams VT 2015
9-18 .333 Jack McCloskey WF 1967
9-17 .346 Bob Wade M 1987
11-20 .355 Brian Gregory GT 2012
10-18 .357 Oliver Purnell C 2004
9-15 .375 Chuck Noe SC 1963
10-16 .385 Bob Stevens SC 1960
10-16 .385 Neal McGeachy D 1974
10-16 .385 Bobby Cremins GT 1982
13-20 .394 Earl Grant BC 2020
D. Morrison Already Head Coach When Tech Joined ACC