As a member of the Football Writers Association of America, I cast a vote each December for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award.
It’s usually not that difficult a decision; it seems there’s always one guy who simply stands head and shoulders above the rest of the candidates.
This season was different, though.
When it came down to it, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and Duke’s David Cutcliffe stood shoulder to shoulder with each other. If I had been cynical, I’d have simply flipped a coin to make my choice.
I almost did because I am, in fact, a bit cynical.
But in the end I voted for Malzahn, not just due to the Tigers’ magic carpet ride to the BCS National Championship Game, but because the AU coach pulled a program from the bottom of the landfill in record time.
Tiger faithful will never forget the 2012 season.
How could they?
Just two years removed from a national championship the Orange and Blue finished 3-9, going 0-8 in the Southeastern Conference and basically quitting in the biggest game of the year.
The season started with a 26-19 loss to Clemson in Atlanta and ended with a 49-0 thrashing at the hands of Alabama, an Iron Bowl drubbing that could’ve been as bad as Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban wanted it to be.
Gene Chizik lost his team well before that sorry end to a sorry season, which ended his stay on the Plains and left people wondering how long it would take a new coach to fix a program that wasn’t just broken but seemingly shattered to pieces.
Not long at all, as it turns out.
Malzahn was the offensive coordinator of Auburn’s 2010 national champions, helping mold Cam Newton into a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback.
Inheriting many of the same players who checked out under Chizik, Malzahn won the team over at the outset and has molded a club one year removed from being a laughingstock into a squad one victory away from claiming a national crown.
Of course I have no quarrel with anyone who thinks Cutcliffe deserves coach of year props, either.
Without Malzahn in the mix I’d have picked him, too.
To steer the Blue Devils to a 10-win regular season and ACC Coastal Division crown is remarkable.
But — and this is mainly why I went with Malzahn — the building blocks of a strong foundation were already in place because Cutcliffe put them there.
Last year — his fifth in Durham — Duke finished 6-6 in the regular season and earned a bowl bid.
In season six, Cutcliffe’s good work was there for the entire college football world to see as he authored a script that saw the frequent ACC cellar dwellers log a school record for victories and play for a league crown.
Cutcliffe has already won Coach of the Year honors from the Walter Camp Football Foundation — and he might claim the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award once all the votes are tabulated.
But whether he wins it or Malzahn gets the nod, a deserving man will be recognized for doing the best coaching job in major college football during a wild 2013 season.
Maybe flipping a coin to decide between them isn’t such a bad idea after all.