Who Should be Coach of the Year?

As the season comes to a close, it is time to determine who should take home the hardware for the various awards. Though most of the awards are targeted to players, the race for the National Coach of the Year award always draws varying opinions. This year is no different. With so many coaches in new positions and so many teams performing better than what was initially expected, there are a number of solid candidates worth considering.

The Nittany Nation will proclaim Joe Paterno is worthy of consideration for Coach of the Year recognition. He has taken a program that had losing seasons in four of the last five years to the top of the rankings when nobody expected more than a middle-of-the road finish in the tough Big Ten. Though the strategy was classic Penn State -- great defense, solid special teams and minimizing mental errors, the actual execution of the offense was clearly something different. Paterno relied on the leadership of Heisman contender Michael Robinson to guide a young corps of receivers. Behind a solid offensive line, a good running back and the jaw-dropping talent of Robinson, the Lions increased their point average by almost 20 per game from 2004 to 2005. They finished the regular season at 10-1 and are now waiting on a final decision on which BCS bowl they will attend. Paterno clearly is a candidate for Coach of the Year and is one of the top sentimental stories of the year.

Meanwhile, USC came into the season with very high expectations. With the hope of becoming the first team to be named back-to-back-to-back AP national champions, the Trojans took care of business all season. They struggled in some games, but they remained focused and executed with precision when necessary. Pete Carroll clearly had the team prepared and was able to prevent all the pressure and hype from becoming too much of an issue. Consider the "me" time that we live in and the fact that USC has two Heisman finalists from last year that never once squabbled. Further, consider that the leading Heisman candidate, Reggie Bush, never once complained about losing carries to a less-talented Lindale White. Finally, everyone predicted that the defensive minded Pete Carroll would miss Norm Chow and that the offense would struggle without the creativity and guidance of the now Tennessee Titan offensive coordinator. But Carroll proved his doubters wrong. Though one can argue that USC has more talent than any team, Carroll has done a terrific job ensuring that the Trojans never got too full of themselves.

After firing Tyrone Willingham, Charlie Weiss finally was named the head coach in South Bend. It has been awhile since Notre Dame consistently competed at the top echelon of college football, but Weiss has Fighting Irish fans ready for more. His team competed right out of the gate and had convincing victories over No. 3 Michigan, No. 23 Pittsburgh and No. 22 Purdue. Of course, none of these teams lived up to their expectations. Notre Dame is going to be remembered most for pushing the USC Trojans to the final seconds only to come up short. With the exception of that one performance, the Notre Dame season is more smoke than fire. In fact, very little is made of the fact that Willingham actually had a similar inaugural season as Weiss. Weiss will enter into the Coach of the Year discussions only because he is the coach for Notre Dame and the Irish had a decent season. The real proof of the pudding will come in their bowl game.

Karl Dorrell of UCLA wasn't expected to do much this season. He had a good QB returning, but Maurice Drew stormed on to the national scene very quickly. UCLA played with passion and heart to win games. The Bruins had more come-from-behind wins than any other team this year. Unfortunately, their luck ran out against Arizona. Dorrell has done an excellent job of getting this team back into the thick of things in the Pac-10. But, if UCLA were located in any other city in the country, then Dorrell would get more consideration for Coach of the Year honors. With a victory over USC, he might get more of a buzz.

Steve Spurrier has had a remarkable year in Columbia, S.C., and deserves a tremendous amount of credit for getting South Carolina even in the hunt for the SEC East. Beating Tennessee and Florida will certainly be highlights for him even if he doesn't admit it. By winning this year, Spurrier is going to open the door to recruits that doubted that South Carolina could compete in the SEC. Because of his name and his reputation, Spurrier will get some serious consideration for Coach of the Year.

When we look back at this season, there are so many storylines that will make it memorable. USC's pursuit of excellence, Paterno's resounding statement that Penn State is back and Spurrier's return to college football. Paterno will probably be the leading candidate for the awards, as well as he should be. As much as he has meant to college football and the impact he has had on his team, Paterno isn't my vote for Coach of the Year. My vote goes to Les Miles of LSU.

LSU has navigated through the very challenging SEC and has been very good this year. With a win over Arkansas this weekend, LSU will receive an invitation to play in the SEC championship. Miles clearly has done a terrific job of leading his team to victories. Had it not been for a fourth quarter meltdown against Tennessee, the Tigers would be undefeated and would be arguing that they should play for the national championship. Though his accomplishments on the field compare to the other premier coaches in the country, his accomplishments in light of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina take on a whole different meaning.

From players worried about their family members to dorm rooms that were packed with friends and families that were homeless, this team had more distractions than any other team in the country. Additionally, this was Miles' first season at LSU so there was no relationship or trust between him and the players. LSU's first home game was played in Sun Devil Stadium as LSU was forced to abandon Tiger Stadium after the hurricane.

No other team faced as many challenges as LSU did this year and the very fact that LSU was able to be competitive speaks volumes about the players and the coaches. The fact that LSU finished the season at the top of the SEC and could even win the SEC championship only confirms that Miles should be Coach of the Year.

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