After finally clearing a major hurdle while getting Baylor into its first bowl game since 1994, Bears coach Art Briles was selected Monday morning as the American Football Coaches Association Regional Coach of the Year for Region 4.
In just his third season at Baylor, Briles has turned the Bears' program around and tranformed them into one of the surprise teams in the nation this year. Baylor was 7-5 overall this season, finished Big 12 play with a 4-4- record, and will play Illinois on Dec. 29 in the Texas Bowl in Houston's Reliant Stadium.
The seven overall wins and four conference victories are the most by Baylor during its 15-year history toiling in the Big 12.
The Bears got off to a 7-2 start this season and were ranked as high as No. 22 in the country in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA TODAY coaches’ polls. It was the highest ranking by the Bears since the 1991 season.
Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin has been appreciative of the job Briles has done in turning this program right-side up.
"It is big for our program that we are still relevant this time of the year and going to a bowl game for the first time in a long time,'' Griffin said. "If those fans need an excuse to come out and support us, they have it now.”
One of Briles' best attributes leading up to winning the Coach of the Year award was his innate ability to keep his players living in the moment. He knew the Bears' past was nothing spectacular, so there was no need to reflect on it.
"The thing you have to be careful with as a coach, as a university and as a player, is that really the responsibility is now, the 2010 season,'' Briles said. "If you get caught (up) into looking back at trying to catch up, then a lot of times that's all you'll be doing.
"I was really proud of our players and our university and our administration of being focused on the present. The present was doing whatever we needed to do to make ourselves bowl eligible this season and our players did it. It's a huge accomplishment for 2010.”
The AFCA chooses five regional Coach of the Year winners in each of the Association’s five divisions: Football Bowl Subdivision, Football Championship Subdivision, Division II, Division III and NAIA. The winners are chosen by active members of the Association who vote in their respective regions and divisions.
This year's Regional Coach of the Year winners will be recognized at the AFCA Coach of the Year dinner on Jan. 11 at the 2011 AFCA Convention in Dallas.
-- Dwain Price