HOUSTON, Dec. 16 The Paul "Bear" Bryant Awards committee of the American Heart Association selected its Bryant College Football Coach of the Year finalists. The winner will be voted on by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association (NSSA) and named live at an awards dinner benefiting the American Heart Association on Jan. 15, 2009 at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Houston.
The selection committee consists of current and past event chairmen, Bryant family representatives, NSSA representatives, college football sports analysts and former collegiate players and coaches. The Bryant College Football Coach of the Year is the only college coaching award given after all the bowl games have finished.
Also during the January event, Oklahoma legend and Super Bowl Champion, Coach Barry Switzer, will receive the Bryant Lifetime Achievement Award. The award recognizes excellence in coaching on and off the field during a career, allowing recipients to take their place in history alongside legends such as Bryant. Recent Lifetime Achievement recipients include Tom Osborne, Glenn "Bo" Schembechler, Jack Pardee and Lou Holtz.
The 2008 Paul Bear Bryant College Football Coach of the Year Finalists, in alphabetical order: Mack Brown, University of Texas; Turner Gill, University at Buffalo; Mike Leach, Texas Tech University; Houston Nutt, University of Mississippi; Chris Petersen, Boise State University; Nick Saban, University of Alabama; Bob Stoops, University of Oklahoma and Kyle Whittingham, University of Utah.
Mack Brown, University of Texas - The winner of the 2005 Paul "Bear" Bryant Coach of the Year award, Brown is one of a handful of coaches in the history of college football to lead two separate programs to a Top Five national finish. A member of the Longhorn Hall of Honor, Brown is the second coach in UT history to reach the 100-win plateau at Texas with a record of 114-26. The Longhorns have been the only team in the nation to record at least 10 wins for eight consecutive years. Brown led the Longhorns to an 11-1 record this past season with a chance to take another win on Jan. 5 at the Fiesta Bowl.
Turner Gill, University at Buffalo - In just three seasons, head coach Turner Gill has lifted the Buffalo football program to historic heights and has gained national attention for the Bulls' youthful program. Gill led the Bulls to an 8-5 record this past season, including a win at the Mid-American Conference Championship on Dec. 5. He takes the Bulls to the Connecticut International Bowl on Jan. 3.
Mike Leach, Texas Tech University - In his nine seasons with Texas Tech, Leach has not only transformed Texas Tech Football but has guided the Red Raiders to five NCAA passing titles. Leach's offense has produced school records in nearly every passing category in 2000, but surpassed those numbers in each of the last eight seasons. Leach led the Red Raiders to an 11-1 season and the program's highest national ranking in school history at No. 2. The 11 wins set a school record for regular-season victories, while the Red Raiders' 7-1 Big 12 record set a program record for conference wins. The Raiders now head to the Cotton Bowl Classic on Jan. 2. Leach has also been named Co-Big 12 Coach of the Year this year.
Houston Nutt, University of Mississippi - In his first season with Ole Miss, Nutt has ended a four season losing streak from a 3-8 season in 2007, to an 8-4 and 5-3 record in the SEC this past season. Nutt is the Rebels' fifth coach to take a team to bowl in his first season, as Ole Miss has earned the opportunity to play the Cotton Bowl Classic on Jan. 2. Nutt has been named SEC Coach of the Year for 2008 sharing the title with his peers Bobby Johnson and Nick Saban.
Chris Petersen, Boise State University - As the 2006 Paul "Bear" Bryant Coach of the Year winner, Petersen has taken the Broncos to an undefeated record of 12-0 this year in his third season as head coach. Along with the No. 9 position in the national rankings, he brings the sixth Western Athletic Conference championship to Boise State in seven years. Petersen takes the Broncos to the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 23, their seventh straight trip to a bowl game. He has also been named the Western Athletic Conference's Coach of the Year by The Sporting News.
Nick Saban, University of Alabama - In his second year as Alabama head coach, Saban has led the Crimson Tide to a 12-1 record this past season and the 2008 SEC Western Division Championship. Alabama will also be making its second-ever BCS Bowl appearance this season in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2. In taking the Tide to 12 wins this season, Saban set the school record for the highest increase in wins for the first two seasons of an Alabama coach. Saban has been named the SEC Coach of the Year and a finalist in the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year award.
Bob Stoops, University of Oklahoma - Stoops has become the first coach in Big 12 history to win three consecutive conference titles. Under his direction, Oklahoma has captured six Big 12 titles in nine years and the 42nd conference championship in Sooner history. In his 10th year with the Sooners, Stoops has led his team to a 12-1 overall record and a 7-1 record in the Big 12 Conference. With the No. 1 BCS ranking, Oklahoma will now have the chance to win another national title on Jan. 8.
Kyle Whittingham, University of Utah - In his fourth season as head coach for the Utes, Whittingham led his team to a 12-0 record and the opportunity to appear in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2. Utah ended the regular season ranked No. 6 in the BCS Standings, which ties its best in school history -- which is also the best BCS ranking ever by a team from a non-automatic qualifying conference. Under Whittingham's leadership, Utah owns the longest win streak in the nation at 13 games.
ABOUT THE PAUL BEAR BRYANT AWARDS
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. A Lifetime Achievement Award was added in 2000 to recognize career achievements. The Paul Bear Bryant College Football Coaching Awards appropriately has become a major annual fundraiser for the Houston Division of the American Heart Association, with many business and community leaders and sports figures annually lending support to the event. The American Heart Association leads the fight against heart disease and stroke, the No. 1 and No. 3 killers in the U.S., through research, education and advocacy programs. For more information visit: www.americanheart.org/bryantawards
ABOUT THE NATIONAL SPORTSCASTERS AND SPORTSWRITERS ASSOCIATION
With more than 700 members, the NSSA 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.
SOURCE American Heart Association