POINT/COUNTERPOINT: Coach of the Year

 Brian Curtis and Eric Sorenson slug it out over the most pressing football questions

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    Brian Curtis, CSTV Senior Editor Eric Sorenson, CSTV.com Analyst
    GEORGE O'LEARY
    So how do you go about choosing the National Coach of the Year? Do you go for the guy who got the most out of the least talent, or the guy who had the biggest turnaround from 2004? Or the coach who pulled off some huge upsets even though his team's overall record wasn't great? This season has given us so many candidates, so let's go with those who should be considered:

    George O'Leary: O'Leary did a tremendous job taking UCF from 0-11 to the Conference USA East division title and a berth in the conference championship game. Think about it winless in 2004 and eight wins in 2005. That is good coaching. Regardless of the conference or non-conference competition, UCF won most of its games, which is great for any school, especially one that didn't get one victory the previous season.

    Joe Paterno: A year after many were calling for his head (including me), Paterno takes his team, chock full of true freshmen, and leads them to a share of the Big Ten title and a berth in the BCS. The Nittany Lions won 10 games, lost just one, a last-second heartbreaker to Michigan, and steamrolled many quality opponents. Paterno has put Penn State back on the map and the Lions should be a contender in 2006 as well.

    Karl Dorrell: In his third season at UCLA, Dorrell heads into the USC game 9-1-way ahead of schedule. Dorrell was even on people's hot seats to start the season-incorrectly, he wasn't going anywhere-and all the coach did was lead the Bruins to wins over the likes of Oklahoma, Arizona State and Cal. They may not be Top 10 teams, but for a program still rebuilding, nine wins is impressive. Now, if they should somehow beat USC, well, that's a whole other ballgame.

    Steve Spurrier: Many hate to admit it, but Spurrier has brought South Carolina football back. They are now a feared SEC opponent, a team that beat Florida and Tennessee among others. And Spurrier did this with talent from Lou Holtz, which wasn't great. Give the coach a recruiting season or two and South Carolina will be really good.

    Pete Carroll: It is true he has the nation's top talent but no coach has the pressure of the winning streak, defending the national title, and controlling the egos in Los Angeles. Week after week, "experts" say this is the game they will lose, yet despite the adversity, the Trojans manage to win. Carroll has pushed all the right buttons; has kept a team of superstars buying into the team concept and is about to go down in college football history. Talk to any coach and they'll tell you how hard it is to win on a weekly basis. And Carroll's team does it taking everybody's best shot.

    Others To Consider

    Mike Bellotti:: Quietly, Bellotti has made Oregon into a Pac-10 power once again, going 10-1, with the Ducks' only loss coming at the hands of No. 1 USC. And the coach has done it without the services of star QB Kellen Clemens for many games.

    Phil Bennett: OK, so SMU only sits with five wins. But this is a young team coming off a three-win season last year. And keep in mind that SMU is the only team this year to beat TCU and finished the season with three straight wins.

    Charlie Weis: I'm not as fawning over Weis as some of my colleagues, but I do admit he did a great job with the Notre Dame offense, using basically the same players as Ty Willingham and allowing them to put up record numbers.

    Tommy Tuberville: The much-maligned coach lost a whole lot of NFL talent from last year's undefeated squad, yet the team may actually be better - 9-2 is great.

    And so after much consideration, the winner has to be George O'Leary. I mean, to go from nothing to something in just a year is the most impressive. Paterno and Carroll had the talent, O'Leary had the masterful coaching ability to turn a program around with virtually the same talent. When I asked the coach the difference between 2004 and 2005 he simply answered: "attitude". So congratulations to O'Leary and to all the other candidates. Now, about 2006 ...

    JOE PATERNO
    "And with most precincts reporting, it's by a landslide."

    First off, if you would've had a magic 8-ball back in 1966 and told Penn State Coach Paterno that 39 years from that day he would still be coaching in Happy Valley and his team would be playing in a bowl game that paid something like $10-15 million, he would've footed you in the butt with those black cleats of his.

    Hell, if you would've told him that same thing a year ago, he might have still booted ya'. What Joe Paterno has done this year is nothing short of remarkable. Forget the fact that this guy is older than some people they've already built statues for.

    But c'mon, considering what he's been going through the last few autumns, who even comes close to what he's pulled off this year? Mack Brown? Les Miles? Steve Spurrier? Pete Carroll? George O'Leary? That should be no, no, no, no and well, maybe.

    Truthfully, there's no way you can give the National Coach of the Year award to anyone else. Mack's got more talent to work with than Scott Boras. Miles inherited good players and still has brain-cramps in key situations (see the Tennessee game). Spurrier has done wonders in Columbia, but 7-4 is still no match. Pete's a genius, but he's more like the Coach of the 2000s and Mr. O'Leary isn't taking his team to a BCS game (Oh that's right, the way the BCS is set up makes it nearly impossible to do that anyway.)

    Keep in mind from throughout this argument that JoePa's Penn State charges are coming off a 4-7 season in 2004. Spelled out, that's four-and-freakin'-seven, people. Crikies, State fans would probably have been happy with simply having a winning team this year.

    Instead they got the second biggest turnaround in the nation, as the Lions finish the regular season at 10-1, as Big 10 champions, and in Joe Paterno's first BCS bowl game.

    I am actually taking a lot of glee out of this year's glorious return to prominence. People were calling for this guy's neck a few years ago. In fact, just for kicks, I went on Google the other day and pulled down some articles from 2003 and 2004 that were calling for Joe Paterno's resignation. Heck, even Paterno ally Bill Conlin, a famous Philadelphia scribe, was suggesting the old coach should step down. Ridiculous statements like "the game has passed him by" were being thrown around by everyone from the Punxsutawney Press to the GameDay set.

    Okay, so maybe it's obvious that he did make a few changes this year. Of those, these were the most important:

    1. He played more freshmen
    Derrick Williams, Jordan Norwood and Deon Butler have been dynamic, big-play wideouts.

    2- He gave more responsibilities to his assistants
    Offensive Coordinator Galen Hall should be the Assistant of the Year and D-Coordinator Tom Bradley did another solid job.

    3- He put Michael Robinson back at QB
    And in doing so, he let the guy go nuts with his athletic ability.

    Oh and 4. He did that dancing mouse-looking thing at the pep rally
    Proof positive that Joe's loosened his collar a bit and the students and fans have responded. They even incorporated "Paternoville" this year.

    But a few things remain constant; Paterno's teams still stay hard-nosed on defense, his assistants stay loyal to him and those white socks and black cleats will never go out of fashion. Thankfully.

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