The Houston Division of the American Heart Association today announced eight finalists for the award, as voted on by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. Continuing this 45-year-old tradition, the winner will be chosen in a final round of balloting and named at an award dinner benefiting the American Heart Association on Jan. 16 at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Houston.
The finalists, in alphabetical order, are: Pete Carroll, University of Southern California; Larry Coker, University of Miami (Fla.); Kirk Ferentz, University of Iowa; Dennis Franchione, Texas A&M University (formerly head coach at the University of Alabama); Mike Price, University of Alabama (formerly head coach at Washington State University); Mark Richt, University of Georgia; Jim Tressel, The Ohio State University; and Tyrone Willingham, Notre Dame University.
Mike Price, Alabama (10-2 at Washington State) - For the first time ever, Washington State will go to bowl games in back to back seasons, and it comes with Price at the helm. The 2003 Rose Bowl will be the second time Price has taken the Cougars to the culminating event of the Big Ten and Pac-10 conferences; it will be the fifth overall for Price at Washington State (most every by a coach at the school) in his 14 years at the school. In 2002, the Cougars experienced their third 10-win season in six years and second consecutively. Price is a four-time honoree as a regional coach of the year by the AFCA, including this one, the third time he has been so named while in Pullman. On Dec. 18, Price was announced as the new head coach at the University of Alabama.
Mark Richt, Georgia (12-1) - The second year for Mark Richt as head coach was a first at Georgia as the Bulldogs went to their initial Southeastern Conference Championship Game, where they defeated the Arkansas Razorbacks and earned a trip to the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day and a showdown with Florida State. In so doing, they earned the school its first SEC title since 1982 and first 12-win season since 1980, when the Bulldogs won the national championship. In two years with the 'Dogs, Richt has put together a 20-5 record, and this year, a school-record 11 Bulldogs were named All-SEC by the conference's coaches. For his efforts, Richt was named the 2002 Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year Dec. 9.
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa (11-1) - After finishing 1-10 in his first season at Iowa in 1998, Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz turned it around - literally - and then some this year, guiding Iowa to an 11-win season with the Orange Bowl against Southern California ahead on Jan. 2. Iowa grabbed a share of the Big Ten title for the first time since 1990, when Ferentz was an assistant under legendary coach Hayden Fry. In his four years in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes' record has improved every year, and the Orange Bowl will be the second bowl game the coach has led Iowa to since last season, when the Hawkeyes finished 7-5, including a 19-16 defeat of Texas Tech in the 2001 Alamo Bowl. On Thursday, Ferentz was named the 2002 Associated Press College Coach of the Year.
Pete Carroll, Southern California (10-2) - In just his second season in Troy, Carroll took his squad from 6-6 to 10-2, a co-championship in the Pac-10, and a berth in the Orange Bowl against Iowa on New Year's Day. Carroll's quarterback, Carson Palmer, was the co-Offensive Player of the Year in the Pac-10, while wide receiver Mike Williams was the conference's Freshman of the Year; Palmer and safety Troy Polamalu were also named first-team All-Americans by the Football Writers Association of America. This season, Carroll presided over a staff that included offensive coordinator Norm Chow, the 2002 winner of the Frank Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach. Carroll is a veteran of 27 years coaching on the pro and college level who led the New England Patriots to the playoffs in two of his three seasons at the helm.
Larry Coker, Miami (Fla.) (12-0) - The 2001 winner of the Paul 'Bear' Bryant Award, Coker is going for the honor for the second straight season while also trying to take his Hurricanes to consecutive national titles. The leader of the nation's top-ranked team, Coker led the 'Canes to the national championship last season, his first ever as a head coach, after a victory over Nebraska in the Rose Bowl. It was the first time in 53 years that a rookie head coach had taken his team to the national championship. For his efforts, he was named the American Football Coaches Association Coach of the Year in addition to winning the Paul 'Bear' Bryant Award, and a record five of his players went on to be selected in the first round of the 2002 NFL draft. On Jan. 3, Coker's Hurricanes will try to defend their national title against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl.
Jim Tressel, Ohio State (13-0) - When Jim Tressel was introduced Jan. 18, 2001, as the new head coach at Ohio State, he promised that he would beat Michigan. He has done that - his Buckeyes defeated the Wolverines 14-9 for the second straight year Nov. 23 in Columbus -- but also much more. The coach, who arrived at the school after a 15-year career as head coach of Youngstown State, has already won four Division I-AA national titles while leading the Penguins; he was named National Coach of the Year four times in his career in Youngstown. On Jan. 3, he'll get a chance to win his first one in Division I-A, when the Buckeyes will face Miami (Fla.) in the Fiesta Bowl. Tressel's roots at the school run deep, as his father was a former player and he spent three seasons (1983-85) as an assistant coach for the Buckeyes.
Tyrone Willingham, Notre Dame (10-2) - In just his first season at Notre Dame, Willingham guided the Fighting Irish to a 10-2 record, a No. 11 ranking in the AP poll entering the bowl season and an appearance in the Gator Bowl after Notre Dame finished 5-6 in 2001. He became the first coach in the storied history of the Notre Dame football program to guide the team to 10 wins in his first season. Before turning around the Irish's fortunes, Willingham compiled a 44-36-1 record at Stanford, which he took to four bowl games in his seven years at the helm. While leading the Cardinal to their first Rose Bowl appearance in nearly three decades and to one Pac-10 title, he was named his conference's coach of the year twice, the only coach in the history of the school twice so honored. He has already won honors as the Home Depot National Coach of the Year for the 2002 season.
Dennis Franchione, Texas A&M (10-3 at Alabama) - In just his second year at the helm of the Crimson Tide, Dennis Franchione led the team to a 10-3 finish after a 7-5 season in 2001 (including a victory in the Independence Bowl) and a 3-8 record in 2000, the year before his arrival in Tuscaloosa. Alabama played well for most of the season, en route to a Top 10 ranking. But a desultory end-of-year performance against arch-rival Auburn dropped the Tide in the national polls. His rebuilding job at Alabama was the third in his career after he re-ignited the fortunes of TCU (25-10 in three years) and New Mexico (a 9-4 finish and a berth in the Insight.com Bowl in 1997). He was also named Region VI Coach of the Year in 1990, his first year at Southwest Texas State, where he compiled a 13-9 record in two years with the Bobcats. His 155 coaching victories are seventh among active coaches, and his 155-73-2 (.678) career record is eighth among active coaches in winning percentage. After earlier terming reports of his moving to A&M "idiotic," on Dec. 6, Franchione was named the new head coach at Texas A&M University.
With more than 800 members, the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association was originally formed in 1959 to honor sportscasters and sportswriters in the Carolinas. In 1960, the NSSA expanded to a national association and annually recognizes the National Sportscaster of the Year and the National Sportswriter of the Year.
While the Coach of the Year Award has been an annual tradition since 1957, the American Heart Association adopted and re-named the award in 1986 to honor Paul "Bear" Bryant, who died of a heart attack in 1983. The Paul "Bear" Bryant Coach of the Year dinner and award presentation appropriately has become a major annual fund raiser for the Houston Division of the American Heart Association, with many business and community leaders and sports figures annually lending support to the event. Proceeds from last year's dinner assisted in the funding of more than 10 Houston-area research grants totaling more than $1.4 million. The American Heart Association leads the fight against heart disease and stroke through research, education and advocacy programs.