Coaches like Frank Howard, Jim Tatum, Bill Murray, Earle Edwards, Jerry Claiborne and Lou Holtz shimmer in the ACC's past, their images standing along the sidelines of fields where glory was being won on autumn Saturdays.
When older folk sit around in football conversation, these names -- along with those of some pre-ACC legends like Peahead
Walker, Wallace Wade, Bobby Dodd and Carl Snavely -- are spoken with reverence.
The feeling here is that in years to come, older folk will speak of several of our current or recently departed ACC coaches with the same respect.
At the risk of offending some giants of bygone days, I wonder if there has ever been a better set of football coaches in the ACC than those working these past few seasons. The current group is strong. It was even stronger before Danny Ford left Clemson and Steve Spurrier left Duke.
The best of the past in the ACC:
In the 1950s, Howard was at Clemson, Tatum at Maryland, Murray at Duke and Edwards at N.C. State. That's a lot of wins.
In the 1970s, Clemson's Charlie Pell, Maryland's Claiborne, N.C. State's Holtz and North Carolina's Bill Dooley formed a formidable quartet.
But today, there is Dooley at Wake Forest, Dick Sheridan at N.C. State, Bobby Ross at Georgia Tech, Ken Hatfield at Clemson and George Welsh at Virginia. They are in the process of making themselves long-lasting memories.
Welsh has a 113-86-3 record at Navy and Virginia, with six bowl teams, and if that doesn't convince you he's as good as there is, nothing will. Same for Sheridan, who has spent most of his career at Furman, where academic risks need not apply. He has a mark of 101-45-4 and three bowl games.
Ross did the job at Maryland and, after getting past the transition troubles, is doing it at Georgia Tech. And he will continue to do it.
Ford was an extraordinary coach but if Hatfield is not hampered by any changes in the program, he can be every bit as successful. Hatfield wins -- 89-50-2 at Air Force, Arkansas and Clemson.
What's Dooley's name doing in there? He's in the throes of his second straight losing season? It's there because he can coach with the best, he just doesn't have the best to coach. He's won 150 games and been to nine bowls. There's a reason for that.
It was not always so good. Virginia's No.1 in the country today but in 1958-60, the Cavaliers lost 28 in a row.
As hard as it is to imagine today with its perennial powers, from 1968 until 1977, Clemson had one winning season.
N.C. State endured Monte Kiffin, who played the clown, and Tom Reed, who played the slave driver, back to back. After three mediocre seasons with Kiffin and his comedy routines, N.C. State felt it needed a more stern man. Three 3-8 seasons later, the Wolfpack had to be wrenched from the demanding Reed's grip.
None are without skeletons. Georgia Tech once beat Cumberland 222-0 but also once lost to Auburn 94-0. And to Clemson 73-0.
In the late 1960s, Maryland lost 16 straight games, won two, then lost seven more in a row.
Duke hired Tom Harp, Mike McGee, Red Wilson and Steve Sloan in succession. Between them, they put in 26 seasons, only five of which were winning ones.
Wake Forest kept Chuck Mills in the coach's office for five years, during which time he won a total of 11 games and ran up a streak of 20 games without a win. His 1974 team lost to North Carolina 31-0, Oklahoma 63-0, Penn State 55-0, Maryland 47-0 and Virginia 14-0, in succession.
Wake Forest also had Billy Hildebrand. He presided over six straight shutout losses. He was at the helm for 40 games, and in 25 of those, the Deacons scored eight points or less.