If you're a prominent, successful college football player or coach, it is usually necessary to block out the second week of December. This is when most of the college football awards are handed out, the week after the regular season ends. For many, it's an exhausting, circuitous journey across the nation, a journey filled with tuxedos and undercooked chicken breasts.
However, one prominent award waits to conduct its balloting and name its winner until after the bowl games have been played, making it a truly full season award. It's the Bear Bryant Award for college football's coach of the year, and it's based in Houston and benefits the American Heart Association.
On my radio show on Tuesday, Dave Roberts joined me and John Granato and revealed the list of finalists that will be here for the January 17, 2013, event (tickets available at heart.org).
Here they are:
JAMES FRANKLIN, Vanderbilt One of the bright young coaches in America, Franklin has gone 14-11 in his first two season at the helm in Nashville, which is like going 24-1 at any of the big time SEC schools. In short, Vanderbilt has been a punching bag for the rest of the SEC for years, but Franklin has instilled a toughness and established a culture that could prove to be the foundation of a prominent SEC program. In 2012, Franklin coached his team to an 8-4 record and a berth in the Music City Bowl. The video below probably best captures the enthusiasm and family atmosphere that Franklin has brought to the Commodores. Watch as he awards a scholarship to walk-on Marc Panu:
URBAN MEYER, Ohio State Taking over an Ohio State program saddled with NCAA probation and a 2012 bowl ban, Meyer led the Buckeyes to a 12-0 season that would have likely ended with a berth opposite Notre Dame in the BCS Title Game if the postseason ban did not exist. Additionally, Meyer took quarterback Braxton Miller, an inconsistent freshman a year ago, and turned him into a dark horse Heisman candidate. Above all else, Meyer showed that there's nobody better in college football when it comes to turning things around quickly. After showing rapid first year improvement at his previous three head coaching positions -- Bowling Green (2-9 to 8-3), Utah (5-6 to 10-2), and Florida (7-5 to 9-3) -- Meyer had his biggest first year leap of all of them in Columbus, taking a 6-7 team and turning them into one of only two undefeated squads.
BILL O'BRIEN, Penn State Dealing with perhaps the most unique and unfortunate set of circumstances thrust upon a first year head coach (or any year head coach, for that matter), O'Brien took a Penn State team that had its postseason eligibility taken away from them in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal and molded them into an 8-4 unit, after an 0-2 start. Making the accomplishment that much more remarkable was the loss of some key players (including 2011 leading rusher Silas Redd) just before the season under the unrestricted transfer rules allowed Penn State players by the NCAA. Even more remarkable was the fact that so many Penn State players decided to stay after the NCAA handed down its punishment, a true testament to O'Brien's leadership skills. Things will get harder in Happy Valley as the scholarship reductions begin to kick in next season, but there's no denying that O'Brien was and is the right man for this job.
DAVID SHAW, Stanford Proving that Stanford is more than Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck, Shaw led the Stanford Cardinal to an 11-2 regular season, with the Cardinal one Notre Dame goal line stand away from perhaps playing in the national title game opposite Alabama. Like Franklin, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, and Notre Dame's Brian Kelly, Shaw is proving that you can win at the highest level with kids who take the academic side seriously, and Stanford now has an identity and a culture of hard nosed, tough minded football. The Cardinal will play Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl on January 1.
BILL SNYDER, Kansas State The only former winner among this year's finalists, Snyder took home the Bryant hardware in 1998, when he nearly led Kansas State to a national title (only to be snubbed out in the Big XII title game by Texas A&M). In 2012, his fourth year back since beginning his second stint as Kansas State head coach, he led the Wildcats to an 11-1 record, a Big XII championship, and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl against Oregon. Prior to his original arrival in Manhattan in 1989, Kansas State had been to one bowl game in its history. Under Snyder, they will have gone to fourteen. Snyder would become only the second two time winner of the award. (Chris Petersen of Boise State was the first, as I wrote about a few years ago.)
KEVIN SUMLIN, Texas A&M Before the season, Kevin Sumlin went to SEC media days, and came back with one prevailing theme: nearly every line of questioning to him had something to do with what it was perceived the Aggies couldn't do. Basically, if you believed the media horde (never a good idea, and I say this as a card carrying media member), the Aggies were going to be terrible in 2012, and the chances of a rebuild in the SEC were sketchy, at best. Well, all Sumlin did was lead his team to a 10-2 record, an upset of number one Alabama in Tuscaloosa, a Cotton Bowl bid against Oklahoma, and a Heisman Trophy for his freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel. Not bad. More than anything else, Sumlin instilled a confidence and a swagger in the Aggie program that they haven't had since.....I don't even know....
This video of Sumlin's celebration after his team eked out a win over Ole Miss in Oxford early in the season captures exactly why his players love playing for him:
NOTE: For those of you from schools whose coaches should seemingly be a finalist for this award part of the criteria for nomination is an availability to attend the event on January 17 here in Houston. So if you think your coach should be on here and he isn't, he either needs to (a) clear his calendar or (b) coach better. Most likely, unless your coach is from Notre Dame, Alabama, Florida, or Oregon, the answer is probably (b).
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Again, you can get tickets for the January 17 ceremony, always a great night, at heart.org.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.