HOUSTON (AP) — Gus Malzahn knows all about Bear Bryant, so this award meant a whole lot to the Auburn coach.
Malzahn is the Paul "Bear" Bryant College Coach of the Year after leading a remarkable turnaround in his first season in charge of the Tigers, who went to the national title game a year after they went 3-9.
Malzahn, who like Bryant is from Arkansas, said Wednesday night he was honored to be associated with an award with the name of the fabled former Alabama coach.
"When you're growing up he's the man," Malzahn said. "The fact that I'm from the state of Arkansas and he's from Fordyce, Arkansas and one of my best friends is coaching high school there makes it even that much more special."
Auburn came up just short in the national championship, with Florida State scoring a touchdown with 13 seconds left to pick up a 34-31 win.
"We're still hurting over the fact that we were close to winning the national championship and got beat," Malzahn said. "But if you can remove yourself from that it was a lot of fun, our players came a long way, they improved each week and we were 13 seconds away from being the national champion."
Malzahn beat out Baylor's Art Briles, David Bailiff of Rice, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio and David Shaw of Stanford for the honor.
The Tigers, who were winless in Southeastern Conference play in 2012, reeled off nine straight victories after a loss to LSU on Sept. 21 to gain a spot in the title game this season. They were the talk of college football when they returned a missed field goal 109 yards for a last-second score to beat then-top-ranked Alabama on Nov. 30.
Malzahn knew his team was talented, but even he was amazed at what Auburn was able to do this season.
"There's no doubt," he said. "It's hard to get better each week. I bet we're one of the few teams that actually did that, and the fact that we were playing our best football toward the end of the year, it was a lot of fun to watch those guys grow and end up where they did."