How hot? Where each coach stands entering college football season

Only one FBS coach in the state should be feeling some heat in 2023

Coach Shawn Clark led App State to a 6-6 record last season, the first time since the Mountaineers made the jump to FBS that the team didn’t finish with a winning record. (Nell Redmond / AP Photo)

College football season begins this weekend with seven games — including Notre Dame and Navy playing across the pond in Dublin — followed a week later by a full slate that will see all seven of the state’s FBS teams play their openers.

Five of the schools managed at least eight wins last year, and all of those coaches should be on solid ground. The state also has a first-time college head coach and another whose seat could be warming up.

Here’s a look at the head coaches for the state’s seven teams and their job security heading into the 2023 season.

Mack Brown

15th season at UNC
9-5 (6-2 ACC) in 2022

Brown is one win away from his 100th victory in Chapel Hill, having posted a 99-68-1 record in his two stints with the Tar Heels. His second tour of duty, which started in 2019, has seen UNC go 30-22 — a .545 winning percentage. But the Tar Heels reached the ACC Championship Game last year and return star quarterback Drake Maye, who was named a second-team AP All-American.

Brown will turn 72 years old six days before the Heels open their season Sept. 2 against South Carolina at Bank of America Stadium, and he’s made it clear this is the final stop of his career. It will likely be Brown’s call as to when he wants to step away from coaching, and his ability to develop top-flight quarterbacks should keep his seat comfortable this season and in the near future.

Hot seat: Cool

Dave Clawson

10th season at Wake Forest
8-5 (3-5 ACC) in 2022

Seemingly the only way Clawson would leave the Deacons was if he found an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. The 56-year-old has turned Wake — arguably the toughest football job in the ACC — into perennial contenders. The Deacs have posted winning records in six of the last seven seasons, and Clawson — who is 59-53 in Winston-Salem — has gotten them to make an appearance in The Associated Press Top 10 in each of the last two years.

In a college football world that revolves around transfers and NIL, Clawson has built Wake into a winner by unearthing under-the-radar talent on the recruiting trail and patiently developing those players. No one in the league may have better job security than Clawson.

Hot seat: Ice cold

Dave Doeren

11th year at NC State
8-5 (4-4 ACC) in 2022

It feels like Doeren has been around forever, but he’s still just 51 years old and the second-youngest coach among the seven FBS teams in the state. The Wolfpack is still looking for a breakthrough season under Doeren, having won eight or nine games six times — we’re not counting the 2021 COVID bowl game “win” — in his decade at the helm.

But he’s brought stability to a program that often lacked it. Doeren should have nothing to worry about, but it’s worth remembering what happened to Herb Sendek after a decade of stability in Raleigh. The former men’s basketball coach guided the Wolfpack to five straight NCAA Tournament appearances but left NC State as the fanbase and boosters grew tired of waiting for the program to take the next step. The basketball program hasn’t since been able to match its stability under Sendek, and the Wolfpack faithful would be wise to remember that when evaluating Doeren.

Hot seat: Cool

Mike Elko

2nd season at Duke
9-4 (5-3 ACC) in 2022

There weren’t high expectations for the Blue Devils in Elko’s first season in Durham. Duke was picked by the ACC media to finish last in the Coastal Division and begin a rebuild after the departure of longtime coach David Cutcliffe.

Instead, the Blue Devils picked up a big early-season win at Northwestern and won four of five down the stretch in ACC play. They capped what became Elko’s ACC coach of the year season with a Military Bowl victory to give the school its first nine-win campaign since 2014.

Like Clawson at Wake, the biggest thing that could lead to Elko’s exit from Durham is a bigger program luring him away. When Northwestern dismissed Pat Fitzgerald in early July due to a hazing scandal, Elko’s name was among the first to emerge as a potential replacement. That would have been a pretty lateral move, but if Duke has success this year similar to 2022, you can bet bigger programs will come calling.

Hot seat: Ice cold

Mike Houston

5th season at East Carolina
8-5 (4-4 AAC) in 2022

Houston has slowly returned the Pirates to respectability, leading ECU to its first bowl game win since the 2013 season last year. This year could be the coach’s biggest challenge. Quarterback Holton Ahlers, who smashed records at ECU over five seasons in Greenville, has graduated and will test Houston’s ability to maintain a program in his first head coaching job.

The good news is Houston has transformed the Pirates’ defense into one that averages giving up points in the 20s instead of the 30s, which should give a cushion to his work-in-progress offense this season. ECU has to be pleased with Houston at this point, but a bad year will quickly turn up the heat. For now, he should have nothing to worry about.

Hot seat: Cool

Shawn Clark

4th season at App State
6-6 (3-5 in Sun Belt) in 2022

The Mountaineers just missed knocking off the Tar Heels to open last season and then shocked the college football world by toppling No. 6 Texas A&M in College Station the following week. That led to a visit from ESPN’s “College GameDay” and another thriller — a 32-28 win over Troy on a 53-yard touchdown pass on the game’s final play.

It went south for Clark and the Mountaineers after that. App State beat only one FBS team the rest of the way and finished without a winning record for the first time since the school made the jump to college football’s top division in 2014.

Clark needs a bounce-back season to keep the wolves from circling, and he’ll have to do it with a new quarterback and without two of his top-three rushers from a year ago. The Mountaineers open their season against three in-state foes, including getting another crack at UNC in Week 2. How those games go could determine the team’s season — and Clark’s fate.

Hot seat: Warming up

Biff Poggi

1st season at Charlotte
3-9 (2-5 CUSA) in 2022

The 49ers join ECU in the AAC this season, making the move from Conference USA, and do so with a new coach. Poggi, an assistant to Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh for the last two years, will now try and bring the success he had as a longtime Baltimore high school coach and with the Wolverines to the Queen City.

Poggi has already raised the Niners’ profile by lashing out at reporters at AAC media day after his team was picked last in the conference, and nonconference games at Maryland and Florida in September should provide a good assessment of if the new coach was right in feeling disrespected.

Poggi should be given time to turn around the program, but at age 63 he could get a shorter leash than expected if things turn worse in Charlotte.

Hot seat: Cool