The 2008 Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year finalists have been announced for Division I-A, and the finalists are:
Mack Brown: University of Texas
Pat Fitzgerald: Northwestern University
Brady Hoke: Ball State University
Urban Meyer: University of Florida
Joe Paterno: Penn State University
Chris Petersen: Boise State University
Nick Saban: University of Alabama
Bob Stoops: University of Oklahoma
Jim Tressel: Ohio State University
Kyle Whittingham: University of Utah
The commitment of college football coaches across the country is a very big one, to say the least. Every man on this list has had to spend hours and hours away from his family, missing holidays, birthdays, and many other important family functions that everyday college football fans take for granted. They spend long hours every day going through activities such as team meetings, film breakdowns, and coaches' meetings.
The demands on a college football coach are greater than many people believe, and a lot of times people don't get to truly appreciate the product that is placed out there on gameday. Their passion for the game is at an extremely high level because they must spend so much of their daily lives focusing on one thing: football.
That's not even considering the fact that players get in trouble during the offseason and place a tremendous amount of unnecessary stress on their coaches. If it was all about what was happening between the lines, then the life of a college football coach would be much easier.
But it's not, and it will continue to be that way because of the intense media scrutiny and pressure that comes with making millions of dollars every year.
College football coaches must wear many hats. They must be able to please the boosters, the president and athletic director of their University, the media, and last but not least, the fans of their team.
They also have to deal with a variety of people in the academic arena, from teachers and faculty members to academic advisors and tutors. More and more pressure is being placed on college football coaches to make sure their players successfully complete their academic careers.
One question is posed on the award's website: If a coach is fired midseason, should he continue coaching the team through the end of the season? I think the answer to that question should be completely up to the coach.
He's spent an endless amount of his time breaking down film, hitting the recruiting trail, practicing during two a days, and many other activities that require a ton of time, so if he can handle finishing out the season, then he should. If he feels like it would cause too much mental anguish for him to finish, then I think he should step down.
I just don't think it's for the "good of the program" for a coach to step down midseason.
The players will have to adjust to new personalities and new schemes in the middle of the season, which is usually an extremely difficult transition. Coaches often speak of putting the "team" before themselves, and I think if a coach quits on his team in the middle of the season, then that's putting himself before the team and not following his own advice.
Coaches love to talk about sacrificing individual needs and wants for the good of the team and the program, and I think stepping down would tell your kids, "It's okay for me to be selfish, but not you guys." No coach in college football wants to set a double standard like that. For your players to want to sacrifice all of their blood, sweat, and tears for you on the gridiron, then you must show them that you are all equals.
If I was going to vote for a head coach on the finalists list, I would choose Kyle Whittingham of Utah simply because the Utes have had such a dazzling campaign this season. He led the Utes to a sparkling 12-0 campaign this year and a BCS berth in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Utah completed its best season since Urban Meyer was the head man in Salt Lake City, posting two wins over top 20 opponents in TCU (13-10) and archrival BYU (48-24). The Utes also defeated two BCS conference opponents in Michigan (25-23) and Oregon State (31-28).
Utah's Louie Sakoda is arguably the best kicker in college football.
Under Whittingham's tutelage, Utah's kicker Louie Sakoda was recently named a first-team All-American kicker by the AFCA. In doing so, Sakoda became the first player in school history to make a major All-America team at two different positions (kicker and punter).
A top three finalist for both the Lou Groza (kicking) and Ray Guy (punting) awards, Sakoda is second in the entire nation in kick-scoring points with 115 and has connected on an eye-gouging 91.3 percent (21-23) of his field goal attempts this season.
He nailed several clutch kicks throughout the season, none of them bigger than his 37-yarder as time expired to lift the Utes to victory over the Oregon State Beavers (31-28) and keep their BCS dreams alive.
Utah quarterback Brian Johnson made several key plays throughout the season to ensure that his Utah Utes kept their BCS dreams alive. The Utes will face Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2.
Under Whittingham's watch, Utah has also produced one of the most prolific quarterbacks in Mountain West Conference history in quarterback Brian Johnson.
Johnson has been the catalyst to the Utes' spectacular season, completing 68.8 percent of his passes for over 2,600 yards, while tossing 24 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. The senior is the undisputed leader of the Utah football team, and without his production in critical moments, this magical season clearly would not have been possible.
My choice for the 2008 Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year: Utah's Kyle Whittingham.
If you want to vote for Kyle Whittingham for the 2008 Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year, please go to this site. Fans can continue to vote for Whittingham or any other candidate until Dec. 22. Fan votes account for 20 percent of each coach's final score, while the College Football Hall of Famers and national college football media account for 55 percent and 25 percent, respectively.
The 2008 Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Award winners will be announced on ESPN during halftime of the Music City Bowl on Dec. 31.