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Commentary: Picking a Coach of the Year

While computers, media and coaches try to sort out which two teams will play in the final BCS Championship Game, here’s another debate for you to sink your teeth in.

Which coach deserves the National Coach of the Year? Now we’re talking. There are several versions of Coach of the Year awards.
The Maxwell Football Club is one of the oldest. It has pared its list of candidates to sixteen. Some of the finalists include Nick Saban, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, Duke’s David Cutcliffe, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Southern Cal’s interim head coach Ed Orgeron.
Noticeably absent was Vanderbilt’s James Franklin. I would challenge the coaches that made the list to duplicate what Franklin has done the past three seasons at Vanderbilt. Any takers? I didn’t think so.
Franklin may make some more Coach of the Year lists, but it’s doubtful he will even make SEC Coach of the Year. That likely will go to Auburn’s Gus Malzahn for the job he did in his first year as head coach there. He completely turned that program around from Gene Chizik’s 3-9 bust (0-8 SEC) a year ago to beating defending national champion Alabama in the final second of regulation. It was the Iron Bowl of all Iron Bowls.
Gary Pinkel will also get some votes for what he did at Missouri, a newcomer to the SEC, whose 11-1 Tigers are playing Auburn in the SEC Championship Game. In Missouri’s first SEC season last year, Pinkel went 5-7, after losing star quarterback James Franklin to injury during the season.
And, while Clemson’s Dabo Swinney is deserving, how could they not acknowledge the job Steve Spurrier did at South Carolina? At 68 years old, Spurrier is still regarded as one of the all-time great play-callers and they did beat Clemson head-to-head and are the higher ranked team.
Spurrier won an ACC Championship while head coach at Duke, gave Florida fans their first-ever SEC and National Championships, and resurrected a South Carolina program that had forever been haunted by the Curse of the Chicken. Spurrier hasn’t slowed down. His competitive juices still percolate. His health has been great and I believe he will continue to coach as long as he has solid health and good players.
As for National Coach of the Year, David Cutcliffe won’t get it because of all the bigger names and schools, but Cutcliffe’s Duke team had a once in a lifetime season. 
Coach Cut believed in the Blue Devils and vice versa. To get to play No. 1 ranked Florida State in the ACC Championship Game is a great opportunity to shock the world. But being ranked No. 20 in the country with a 10-2 record is just not accomplished at Duke. Not in football. It took voters three-fourths of the season to even acknowledge Duke had a football program.
So while awards are nice and often lead to huge raises for the head coach and his staff, they are not what drive college football coaches.
Take Malzahn. He was coaching high school football in Arkansas and could have coached there the rest of his life. But his offensive creativity caught someone’s eye and he was hired as Arkansas’s offensive coordinator.
Take Baylor’s Art Briles. He too learned his offensive schemes on high school fields in Texas. Briles is in tune with today’s offensive football and recruited players that liked to pitch and catch and run plays at breakneck speed.
These guys don’t need awards to satisfy egos. They know what they are doing.  

Sport Columnist Joe Biddle is a four-time sports writer of the year in Tennessee and a 2013 inductee to the 
Tennessee Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame. He can be reached at

Posted on: 12/5/2013


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