Dec. 20, 2002
DALLAS, TX – Miami, Fla.’s Larry Coker, Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, Ohio State’s Jim Tressel and Notre Dame’s Tyrone Willingham have been named finalists for the 2002 FWAA/Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award.
From those finalists, the winner will be announced on Jan. 9 in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Fox Sports Net. The honoree will be named at a banquet hosted by the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and America West Airlines.
None of the finalists previously have won the Eddie Robinson/FWAA Award. The FWAA has presented a coaching award since 1957.
For the first time, FWAA members will be voting on-line for the winner at fwaa.com. Voting will start in late December and run through the Bowl Championships Series 1-2 game in Tempe, Ariz., between Miami and Ohio State.
That showdown game between Division I-A’s only two unbeaten teams will pit two of the FWAA-Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year finalists against each other, Coker and Tressel.
Coker, in only his second season as a head coach, has never lost a game. His Hurricanes completed his unbeaten rookie season, 12-0, in 2001. The season was capped by a lop-sided victory over Nebraska in the Rose Bowl.
He was the first rookie head coach in 53 years to coach his team to the national title and only the second ever to do so. His second team has gone 12-0 entering the Hurricanes second straight BCS 1-2 game.
The Hurricanes have had to rally for several of their victories this season, but have always managed to overcome some slow starts and have played flawlessly down the stretch in several big games.
“He is the most even-tempered person I have ever met,” said Miami athletic director Paul Dee. “He has very little fluctuation between high and low, if any. He is a very focused individual _ he know what the task is.”
Tressel, who was 7-5 last season with the Buckeyes, is also in his second season at Ohio State. He once was interviewed for the Miami, Fla., job about 10 years ago when he was coach at Youngstown State and on the way to winning four Division I-AA championships. This season, the Buckeyes’ solid defense and a conservative offense were the keys in the unbeaten record. Ohio State narrowly won at Purdue and Illinois and had a close game against nemesis Michigan in the finale before prevailing. Ohio State has not won a national title since the 1968 season.
Tressel could be the man to do it again and place his name on the FWAA mantel along with Woody Hayes, who won this award in 1957, 1968 and 1975. Tressel graduated from Baldwin-Wallace College in 1975, the last year Hayes won this award.
“I am thrilled, but certainly not surprised, that Jim has been selected as a finalist for this award,” said Ohio State Director of Athletics Andy Geiger. “To my way of thinking, Jim Tressel represents the very best there is, both as a coach and as a person. We are fortunate to have him as our head coach at The Ohio State University.”
Willingham led Notre Dame to a 10-2 regular-season record in 2002. And the Fighting Irish had visions of a playing for the national championship until late-season losses to Boston College and USC sent the Fighting Irish to the Gator Bowl.
Even so, Willingham’s 10 victories in his first season in South Bend are the most for any rookie Irish coach. He is the first Irish coach since Ara Parseghian in 1964 to start with eight straight victories.
The Fighting Irish showing greater discipline than in recent years played a tight defense, waited for turnovers and minimized mistakes on offense early in the season to build momentum. They defeated four ranked teams in a row-Maryland, Michigan, Air Force and Florida State.
“He’s a disciplinarian whose players love him,” Notre Dame athletics director Kevin White said of the former Stanford coach.
Ferentz, in his fourth season as head coach at Iowa, slowly has built up the Hawkeyes’ program. Iowa played in the Alamo Bowl last season and beat Texas Tech to finish with a 7-5 record. That served as a spring board to the current season which resulted in Big Ten co-championship and a berth in the Orange Bowl against USC.
The Hawkeyes enter the Orange Bowl with a nine-game winning streak and finished with a 9-0 record in the Big Ten Conference. Ohio State and Iowa did not play this season. The Hawkeyes’ only loss of the regular season came to Iowa State, 36-31.
“Nobody deserves this more than coach,” said Iowa offensive lineman Ben Sobieski.