By D’Mitri Chin
ATLANTA — Hotlanta was in full effect when the Falcons hosted the New Orleans Saints, their most hated division rival, on Thursday. But more importantly, the Home Depot College Football Awards Show lit the city of Atlanta up with college football’s brightest stars and prominent coaches.
The awards show was indeed a red-carpet affair that began with a press conference with the four coaches whose teams will be competing in the college football playoffs and, of course, the players who won their respective awards.
In case you decided to tune in to watch the Falcons win a pivotal matchup against Drew Brees and the Saints, or you forgot to set your timer to watch the awards show, there’s no need to fret I have got you covered.
The coach’s presser
The press conference included two seasoned veterans (Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney), as well as two first-year head coaches (Kirby Smart and Lincoln Riley). These coaches obviously differ regarding experience, but they all have one thing in common: Success!
During the press conference, neither coach was asked about a specific game plan, or even how they would handle certain players leading into their respective matches. Instead, the questions were closely related to how a head coach responds to a member of their staff accepting a lead-man role at another school and if that ultimately affects the players and coaches’ morale.
Being that Smart is in his second year as UGA’s head coach, and he accepted the opportunity to take that job while still on Saban’s staff, both coaches elaborated on the matter
“Jeremy [Pruitt] is going to finish the season with us,” Saban said in response to whether his defensive coordinator who recently accepted the position as Tennessee’s head coach would finish the season with Alabama. “When we’re ready to practice, he’ll be back with us and be a part of the playoffs.”
However, Saban’s following comments referenced how he was in the same situation in 2016 when Smart was offered a head coaching position with the Bulldogs.
“I really appreciate the fact that Kirby did a great job of doing that a couple of years ago when he had the opportunity, and I think it shows a lot of respect for the players on our team that worked hard to have success this season.”
Smart was also posed with a similar question being that rumors are surfacing that two of his assistants may very well accept other head-coaching positions once the season concludes.
“I think it’s an honor anytime your assistants get an opportunity to advance themselves — and I learned that from nonother than Nick [Saban], Smart said as to how he plans to handle the situation of possibly losing members of his staff this offseason. “When you get an opportunity for somebody to go on and increase their role and they get a promotion, I think that’s a great honor – I think that’s an honor to your staff and to the success you’ve had at your program, and I hope that our guys get that opportunity.”
Although a bulk of the questions were about position coaches taking head coaching jobs at other universities during the season, a reporter from Troy University asked all four coaches “which phase of the game, offense, defense or special teams, has the advantage with one month to prepare” for their big game. Smart and Riley both agreed that they don’t think there is an advantage in any phase of the game. Moreover, Saban said that skill players (wide receivers, running backs, quarterbacks and “fast guys”) have an advantage because “they sort of bounce back from the break a lot more quickly than the bigger guys.” Swinney also agreed there is no advantage because “we all have the same amount of time,” but the advantage comes from what you do with that time.
Yes, all the coaches agreed there is no glaring advantage, but who knows, maybe the advantage was not letting the other coach know the formula for getting your players prepared to take care of business after an extended break from the sport.
When one award just isn’t enough
Everyone was under the impression that Baker Mayfield was going to win the Davey O’Brien Award (National Quarterback Award), but Mayfield doubled down and claimed the Walter Camp Award and the Maxwell Award – which essentially made him the most highlighted athlete of the evening winning three awards.
Minkah Fitzpatrick, the safety out of Alabama also had his name called more than once throughout the event. Fitzpatrick won the Chuck Bednarik Award as well as the Jim Thorpe Award. He’s undoubtedly one of the most gifted defensive players that will enter the NFL Draft this year, and he made sure to let the media know that he is truly living out his dreams. Fitzpatrick said that he never imagined he would be the recipient of both awards, I’m sure being drafted in this year’s NFL Draft will also seem surreal to the astounding safety.
Coach of the year
UCF and first-year head coach Scott Frost claimed The Home Depot Award and deservingly so. UCF went undefeated this year, which was probably the most impressive stat of the 2017 college football season, so there was no surprise in Frost winning that award.
Wait, I think they got this one wrong
The biggest shocker for me, and I’m sure for many others, was Orlando Brown Jr., the massive left tackle for Oklahoma, not winning the Outland trophy given to the best interior offensive lineman. Instead, Houston’s Ed Oliver won the award. No shade to Oliver, who is a disruptive defensive tackle for the Cougars, but Brown Jr had the odds in his favor to win this award. For those unaware of how important left tackle is to a team’s offensive success, just ask Mayfield. Brown serves as Mayfield’s blindside protector, and without him holding that end of the line down, Mayfield’s back meets the turf on multiple occasions throughout the year. Not to mention, Brown has also helped the Sooners run game remain consistent and explosive this year. Lastly, Brown’s father, Orlando Brown Sr., who played in the NFL for 10 years, was also an outstanding offensive lineman, so he had the name to go along with his solid play this year. Nonetheless, he will still be a high draft pick.
Kudos to Oliver, though.
For this being my first time covering this event, it was certainly a star-studded affair, and a time I’ll remember for a very, very long time. Congratulations! to the players that won awards, and good luck to the teams in the College Football Playoffs.