HOUSTON, January 13, 2021 – Coach Nick Saban from the University of Alabama was named college football Coach of the Year at the American Heart Association’s Paul “Bear” Bryant Awards, presented by Marathon Oil. The 35th annual awards program, held virtually this year, benefits the Association, the world’s leading voluntary health organization devoted to a world of longer, healthier lives. 

Nick Saban won the Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Award previously in 2003 while serving as head coach at Louisiana State University. This season, he led the University of Alabama to an undefeated record, including the Southeastern Conference Championship and a seventh national championship. On Monday, January 11, 2021, his Crimson Tide defeated the Ohio State University 52-24 to win this year’s title.

Saban has called “Bear” Bryant the greatest coach to ever coach college football saying, “He had success over a long, long period of time and college football changed dramatically during his time. He won championships running the wishbone and passing the ball. He effectively changed with whatever his players could do and what was required at the time. Plus, the impact of integration of football in the South, which may be his most significant accomplishment. I don’t know anyone else who could provide the leadership that could match that.” 

In accepting his award this evening, Coach Saban said, "On behalf of our University, our athletic department, all of our coaches and players, especially our players who made sacrifices this year to be able to compete and play, I'm very honored to accept the Coach of the Year Award."

The Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Award recognizes the country’s top college football coach for coaching excellence and leadership. Notably, the Coach of the Year Award is voted on by the National Sports Media Association and NCAA college football coaches and is the only college coaching honor selected after all bowl games are concluded.

Paul “Bear” Bryant died of a heart attack in 1983. He frequently talked about being a part of something bigger than himself. In the years immediately following his death, the Bryant family teamed up with the American Heart Association to honor Bryant’s life in a meaningful way. Together, they created the Bryant Awards in his name which have done just that. Behind the scenes, these awards are much bigger than a season or career success. The awards have become an opportunity to honor coaches with heart in both their professional and personal lives and bring awareness to heart disease and stroke – the leading causes of death in the US.1

Fans had a chance to participate in the awards with the introduction of the nationwide Coach of the Year Fan Vote. Starting in October 2020, fans were able to log their votes through bryantawards.com for their favorite coach. In a hard-fought battle, Coach Nick Saban, University of Alabama, won the Fan Vote with over 7,000 votes.

In addition to the Coach of the Year, and new this year, the Paul “Bear” Bryant Awards program presented Conference Coach of the Year Awards to coaches from each of the “Power Five” collegiate athletic conferences (Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 10, Big XII, Pac 12 and Southeastern Conference) and one from the “Group of Five” conferences (American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, Mid-American Conference, Mountain West Conference, and Sun Belt Conference).

The 2020 Conference Coaches of the Year awardees are (in alphabetical order):

  • Big 10 - Tom Allen - Indiana University
  • Big XII - Matt Campbell - Iowa State University
  • Group of 5 - Jamey Chadwell - Coastal Carolina University, Sun Belt Conference
  • Pac 12 - Mario Cristobal – University of Oregon
  • ACC - Brian Kelly – University of Notre Dame
  • SEC - Nick Saban – University of Alabama

As previously announced, the awards also recognized the 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by Memorial Hermann. Coaching legend Howard Schnellenberger, whose coaching tenure spanned an impressive 54 years, received the award at the virtual ceremonies. Known as the “founding father” of Florida Atlantic University’s football program, Schnellenberger’s impressive career runs the gamut from The University of Miami’s first ever National Championship in 1983 to a 6-0 collegiate bowl game record, seven NFL Playoffs and guiding The University of Louisville to a top-10 nationally ranked football program.

On December 4, 2011, Coach Schnellenberger coached his final game in the newly opened Florida Atlantic University Football Stadium, better known as “The House that Howard Built,” which was later named in his honor in 2014. He rounded out his historic coaching career with a collegiate record of 158-151-3.

Pioneering coach Sylvester Croom received the 2020 Heart of a Champion award, an award that recognizes an individual in the world of sports whose notable contributions and positive influence have helped define the ways we enjoy, watch and engage in sports, and whose life is exemplary of a champion through the display of characteristics for which Coach Bryant was known, such as integrity, perseverance, determination and grit.

Croom played football under Coach Bryant at the University of Alabama, winning three SEC championships and a national title in 1973, before returning as a coach. He served as an assistant under Bryant at Alabama for 11 seasons, coached for 17 years in the NFL and was then hired as the head coach at Mississippi State University in 2004, becoming the first African American head football coach in the Southeastern Conference. Croom coached the Bulldogs for four seasons and was named SEC Coach of the Year in 2007.

He resigned in 2008 and returned to coach the NFL, ultimately retiring after the 2016 season serving as running backs coach for the Tennessee Titans and ending his more than 40-year coaching career.

Marathon Oil has served as the presenting sponsor of the Bryant Awards for more than a decade, underscoring the company’s commitment to health and wellness and supporting initiatives that promote the well-being of workers and their families in the communities where they operate.   

Sports aficionados who were unable to watch the awards live can catch the broadcast on FOX Sports and FOX Sports GO. It will re-air on various FOX Sports affiliates in the coming weeks. 

For a recap of the event and behind the scenes details visit facebook.com/bryantawards or twitter.com/bryantawards. To learn more about the awards history and for 2021 event information visit bryantawards.org

Additional Resources:


About the American Heart Association
The American Heart Association is a leading force for a world of longer, healthier lives. With nearly a century of lifesaving work, the Dallas-based association is dedicated to ensuring equitable health for all. We are a trustworthy source empowering people to improve their heart health, brain health and well-being. We collaborate with numerous organizations and millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, advocate for stronger public health policies, and share lifesaving resources and information. Connect with us on heart.org, Facebook, Twitter or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.

For Media Inquiries:

Stacy Christian, Senior Director of Community Revenue and Engagement



For Public Inquiries: 1-800-AHA-USA1 (242-8721)

heart.org and stroke.org

1- Based on official US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, comparative U.S. mortality data from 2018 (latest information available), cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains the leading cause of death in the U.S. In the year 2020, approximately 350,000 lives were lost to COVID-19 in the U.S.; the release of data from the CDC regarding all causes of death in the coming years will enable rank comparison of disease-specific causes of mortality that include COVID-19. According to the CDC, provisional data suggest that COVID-19 may have caused enough deaths in 2020 to rank third.