Having improved from 4-8 on 2013 to 12-1 in 2014, the TCU Horned Frogs were statistically one of the most improved teams in the country. However, if you ask TCU head football coach Gary Patterson, he will tell you that it was as much about the ball bouncing the right way this season as it was the improvement of his squad.
"We lost a lot of close games in 2013. We weren't a bad football team," said Patterson. Ultimately, the improvement in 2014 led to a 12-1 record, a near miss for a spot in the College Football Playoff, and a resounding 42-3 win over Ole Miss in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
And for Patterson personally, in Wednesday night, it led to his being named the 2014 winner of the Paul "Bear" Bryant Award for the nation's outstanding college football coach.
"How can you not be honored by being mentioned in the same (sentence) as Bear Bryant," Patterson beamed.
Heading into the season, Patterson's focus was improving upon last year's rare disappointing season in Fort Worth. But as the season wore on, and the improvement was obvious, the focus for Patterson became trying to secure a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Incredibly, even thought they were third in the nation heading into the final week, and won their last game 55-3 over Iowa State, TCU slipped all the way to sixth in the final College Football Playoff ranking and missed the playoffs in controversial fashion. Many of the Horned Frog faithful were unhappy that their team was left out of the first ever playoff, but Patterson said he chose not to cave to the negativity.
"There's never going to be a perfect system," he said. "I knew that if I didn't handle it right then my team wouldn't play well and our fans wouldn't handle it right. We just needed someone to be on the positive side. We just need to move forward."
Instead of wallowing in self pity, TCU finished off 2014 with a 42-3 thrashing of Ole Miss in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
Beating Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze would become a theme for Patterson as he won the Bryant Award over finalists Freeze and Boise State's Bryan Harsin. Alabama's Nick Saban and Florida State's Jimbo Fisher were also finalists for the award but were disqualified because they could not attend Wednesday's event.
After losing his opener to Ole Miss, Harsin led Boise State to a 12-2 record, capped off by a win over the Arizona Wildcats in the Vizio Fiesta Bowl. Harsin is a former player and assistant coach at Boise State, as well as a Boise native. This was Harsin's first season as Boise State's head coach, and he credited his players for the team's success this season.
"This year being the first year transitioning and all that, it's buying in and guys doing all the little things and sacrificing, and that really showed up throughout this entire year," Harsin said.
After three straight quality recruiting classes, Freeze finally got Ole Miss over the hump in 2014, leading the team to a 9-4 record after a 7-0 start. After going 2-10 in the season prior to Freeze's arrival, the Rebels have now gone three straight seasons above .500 under Freeze.
"In my heart, I'm just a high school coach who got a break and has been fortunate in three short years to take a team to relevancy," he said. "So it's certainly an honor to be here."
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In addition to the Bryant Award for coach of the year, the Bryant folks also give a lifetime achievement award. This year it went to Jimmy Johnson, who won a national title at Miami and back-to-back Super Bowls with the Cowboys.
"Every coach wants to be identified with some of the best that's been in the business, so it's an honor," Johnson said.
The awards were given in conjunction with the American Heart Association.