Its awards week in college football as we build toward the Heisman ceremony in New York City on Saturday night and the bowls don’t begin until December 17. Today the Notebook offers its choices for Coach of the Year, both in the major conferences and nationally, as well as paying tribute to some notable efforts done at the midmajor level.
ACC: The two division-winning coaches, Dabo Swinney at Clemson and Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer each deserve their kudos. Clemson overtook favored Florida State in the Atlantic and this was supposed to be a rebuilding year in Blacksburg that instead ended up in yet another ACC title game. But no job was better than the one Mike London did in Virginia, where the lack of a passing game and any real elite talent didn’t stop him from winning eight games and competing for the conference title to the final week of the regular season. London is a rising star and should be ACC Coach of the Year.
Big Ten: Michigan football is back and Brady Hoke is the man who did it. A lot of observers, myself included, thought it might take a year or two to get transitioned back from the Rich Rodriguez spread-style offense and into a more conventional style, but Hoke made it work, won ten games and got a Sugar Bowl bid. Trips to Indianapolis and competing for a Big Ten championship are going to be in Michigan’s immediate future under Hoke.
SEC: Do we have to debate this? Les Miles is a runaway choice and not by default. Steve Spurrier did one of his best coaching jobs at South Carolina this season, losing quarterback Stephen Garcia and then running back Marcus Lattimore, the most talented Gamecock runner in over thirty years, yet still won 10 games. But Miles, without a lot of offensive weaponry ran the table and turned the Tigers into a consensus #1 team. Miles gets the nod, although not without another honorable mention choice: Georgia’s Mark Richt. The job Richt did, winning 10 games and taking the SEC East should be noted by every shortsighted moron who wants to fire a coach after a rough year or two. Richt overcame all the rumblings about his job status and turned the Bulldogs around. If you’ve got a good guy on the sidelines, ride through the tough times with him. And Richt is a coach who knows what he’s doing.
Big 12: Speaking of shortsighted morons, Texas A&M ran Mike Sherman out of town after a disappointing year filled with mostly last-minute losses. Other disappointments include Oklahoma, where Bob Stoops lost three games after starting the season ranked #1. I’d also include Texas and Mack Brown, who played good defense and won seven games, but the lack of offensive punch at a school with the Longhorns’ recruiting reach is mystifying. But there were some great coaching jobs done too. Art Briles kept the building going at Baylor, Mike Gundy produced the league’s best team in Oklahoma State and no job done was more spectacular than what Bill Snyder turned in at Kansas State. The Wildcats had only quarterback Collin Klein to build the offense around, they played in what I think is the nation’s best conference this year and they went 10-2 and quite frankly deserved a Sugar Bowl spot over either Michigan or Virginia Tech. Snyder deserves the award in the Big 12.
Pac-12: It’s got to be Lane Kiffin, who’s quickly got USC back on the national map after a 10-2 season that included an overtime loss to Andrew Luck and Stanford, along with a big win at Oregon. It would have included a rematch with Oregon in the conference championship game if not for the Pete Carroll-induced probation. USC’s off probation next year and it looks like Kiffin has them ready to roll.
Other noteworthy jobs include…
Gary Patterson (TCU): He graduated virtually the entire defense from the team that had gone 24-0 the previous two regular seasons, still won 10 games and stunned Boise State to win the Mountain West title.
Charlie Strong (Louisville): The 7-5 record doesn’t dazzle, but the Cardinals were playing the best football in the Big East at season’s end and shared the league championship with West Virginia and Cincinnati. Strong is this conference’s top coach and more titles are around the corner.
Dave Christensen (Wyoming): A great job in putting together the defense that carried the Cowboys to eight wins in the Mountain West while breaking in freshman Brett Smith behind center.
Bronco Mendenhall (BYU): I have my doubts that this whole independence thing is going to work for BYU, but Mendenhall got them off to a good start, going 9-3 and producing a team that clearly got better as the year wore on. They could’ve folded up after a blowout loss to Utah in September, but didn’t.
Hugh Freeze (Arkansas State): Freeze took the Red Wolves to the top of a conference that Florida International looked to have a firm grip on in the Sun Belt and was rewarded with a move up. On Monday, Ole Miss announced that Freeze will be its new coach.
Willie Taggart (Western Kentucky): Just as Freeze did, Taggart has a program moving up the ranks in the Sun Belt, finishing in second place.
For the overall national award, I would choose Bill Snyder, with the top five being filled out by Patterson and the SEC trio of Miles, Spurrier and Richt. Eventually Kansas State will have to figure out a way to keep their program going without Snyder, but for now, life is good in Manhattan as they prepare for a Cotton Bowl date with Arkansas.