CLEMSON -- Virginia Tech has been the class of the Atlantic Coast Conference since entering the league in 2004, winning four conference titles. Since 2001, Virginia Tech has employed the same head coach (Frank Beamer), the same offensive coordinator (Bryan Stinespring) and the same defensive coordinator (Bud Foster).
Florida State football won seven straight ACC titles and one national title from 1994 to 2000, during which time it had the same head coach (Bobby Bowden), the same offensive coordinator (Mark Richt) and the same defensive coordinator (Mickey Andrews).
Virginia Tech, where Clemson plays at 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2), and Florida State have been the ACC's flagship programs over the last two decades. While they are located in
different states and have different cultures and histories, their golden eras share one key trait: cohesion.
From recruiting to game-day decisions to practice routines, staff continuity is a key ingredient for success, said Beamer.
"You've got to make a decision in a ballgame in about five seconds," Beamer said. "If you've been through it before together or talked about it before, you have a better chance of getting it right. … I think in recruiting it helps if you go to the same high schools with the same people. We've been a consistent football team, and I think that goes back to keeping your coaching staff intact."
Since 2001, Clemson has had two different head coaches, five offensive coordinators and four defensive coordinators. Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele says continuity is an undervalued asset.
"If there is ever a break in the (system) for some reason, like you change coaches, what you don't realize is the effect that has on you," Steele said. "You have a senior class in the cycle, then the cycle breaks and you are missing a junior class. Then the freshman and sophomore classes are back in a new (system) that's maybe just as good as the old one, but there is a break in that cycle. What happens is, because there is a group missing, maybe you have (underclassmen) going to the NFL, the group (stepping into) that level is two years behind your senior class."
Part of the impact of Tommy Bowden's departure is Clemson's 2009 signing class eroded to a small 12-member class, players now entering the prime of their college career as juniors and redshirt sophomores. Typically, a team would have a dozen more third-year players than Clemson has this season.
"It's not the kind of split a team would like to have," said head coach Dabo Swinney of the fallout from the 2009 class. "You'd like to have more (sophomores and juniors) between your freshmen and seniors."
Swinney notes upper-level staff continuity also means scheme stability, allowing players to gain more knowledge of a philosophy and play sooner.
Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips said maintaining continuity was at the heart of increasing the football staff's compensation by 52 percent after the 2009 season. Clemson also increased assistant compensation by 50 percent after last season.
Maintaining continuity could be challenging this offseason, as Chad Morris has led Clemson to the nation's 13th best offense but is coaching at below market value for such performance at $450,000.
Clemson is averaging more yards than Auburn did last season, after which Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn earned a raise, pushing his compensation to $1.3 million. Elite coordinators like Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster now routinely make more than $1 million.
"Frank (Beamer) has done a very good job with his staff -- look at Bud Foster," Phillips said. "Historically, (successful programs) are the ones that have been able to maintain their staffs long-term."