RichRod honored as Pac-12 hands out year-end awards

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As Michigan gets set to make Brady Hoke its ex-head coach — a 4:30 p.m. ET press conference today has been called on that front — the man Hoke replaced is making the situation in Ann Arbor a little tougher to swallow.

Tuesday afternoon, the Pac-12 announced its year-end awards for the 2014 season, with Rich Rodriguez taking home honors as the conference’s Coach of the Year.  In his third season at Arizona, Rodriguez guided the Wildcats to a 10-2 regular season, a South division title and a spot opposite Oregon in the league title game.

In three years at UA, Rodriguez is 26-12; in his three seasons at UM, Rodriguez went 15-22.

Below are the winners of the other four major awards, with blurbs provided by the conference:

Offensive Player of the Year – Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: Mariota, a junior from Honolulu, Hawaii, threw for 3,470 yards and 36 touchdowns while throwing just two interceptions, leading the Pac-12 and the nation with a 190.2 passing efficiency rating. Mariota led all Pac-12 quarterbacks in rushing yards with 636 (53.0 yards per game), accounting for 47 touchdowns in total with his 36 though the air and 11 on the ground. The Davey O’Brien Award & Maxwell Award finalist has led the ducks to wins over No. 7 Michigan State, No. 18 UCLA and No. 20 Utah, helping Oregon close the year out on a seven-game winning streak and win the Pac-12 North to earn a berth in the Pac-12 championship game. Mariota ranked second in the Conference and fifth in the nation in total offense averaging 342.2 yards per game. Mariota was selected as the Conference’s offensive Player of the Week twice this season. Mariota takes Player of the Year honors two seasons after earning honors as the Freshman of the year.

Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year – Scooby Wright III, LB, Arizona: Wright, a sophomore from Windsor, Calif., anchored an Arizona defense that captured its first-ever Pac-12 South division title, while leading the Conference in forced fumbles (6) and ranking third in the nation in sacks (14). A finalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, and Rotary Lombardi Award, he led both the Conference and the nation in tackles for loss, recording 27.0 total and averaging 2.25 per game. Wright helped spearhead a defense that forced two or more turnovers and scored a defensive touchdown in each of its last four games en route to clinching the South title. Wright, who recorded 139 tackles this season (11.6 avg), helped the Wildcats to their first 10-win regular season since 1998. The sophomore was selected as the Conference’s defensive Player of the Week three times this season and earned Pac-12 honorable mention honors as a freshman last season.

Freshman Offensive Player of the Year – Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon: Freeman, a freshman from Imperial, Calif., made an immediate impact in his first season of collegiate football, leading a Ducks offense that ranked first in the Conference in rushing (232.0 ypg), total offense (539.5 ypg) and scoring (45.9 ppg). Freeman led the Conference with 16 rushing touchdowns and ranked fifth in the league in rushing yards per game (98.8 ypg). The freshman ranked fifth in the league in scoring, averaging 8.5 points per game and accounting for 17 touchdowns in total (one passing), more than any other running back in the Conference. With 1,185 yards rushing this season, he’s extended an Oregon streak of having a 1,000-yard rusher in eight consecutive seasons.

Freshman Defensive Player of the Year – Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC: Jackson, a freshman from Belleville, Ill., came in and made a difference as a three-way standout for the Trojans. Jackson alternated between being a shutdown corner on defense, an impact receiver on offense, and a threat as the Trojans’ kick return man on special teams. On defense Jackson was often called upon to matchup with opposition’s best receiver and he helped lead the team to a finish as the Conference’s second ranked defense while also limiting opposing quarterbacks to the Conference’s second lowest passing efficiency rating (118.5). Jackson ranked fourth in the nation in kickoff return average (27.7) and took one kick back 100 yards for a touchdown (at Utah 10/25) and added two receiving touchdowns. Jackson earned honors as the Conference’s special teams Player of the Week one time this season, and now becomes the third Trojan in the last four years to be named Freshman Defensive Player of the Year.

Georgia Tech promotes Brent Key from interim to head coach

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
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Georgia Tech named interim coach Brent Key to the full-time position on Tuesday after he led the team to a 4-4 finish.

Key, 44, was in his fourth season as assistant head coach, run game coordinator and offensive line coach before Geoff Collins was fired on Sept. 26, two days after the Yellow Jackets lost 27-10 to Central Florida and dropped to 1-3.

Georgia Tech’s improvement under Key, who played for the Yellow Jackets and graduated in 2001, convinced Institute President Dr. Angel Cabrera and athletic director J Batt to make Key the full-time coach instead of looking outside the program for the hire.

“I am so proud and grateful to be the head coach at my alma mater, Georgia Tech,” Key said in a statement released by the school. “Like I’ve said many times over the past two months, I love this team, and I couldn’t be more excited to be their head coach. We will work unbelievably hard to make our fans, alumni and former players very proud of this program.”

Cabrera said Key’s history with Georgia Tech as a student, player and assistant coach was important.

“As an alum, he understands and cares deeply about this place and our extraordinary student-athletes,” Cabrera said. “He’s not only incredibly competitive but will do everything he can to make sure students grow as athletes, professionals and human beings.”

Georgia Tech had interest in Tulane coach Willie Fritz before choosing to promote Key.

“There was strong interest from across the country to be the next head coach at Georgia Tech, and we conducted an exhaustive national search,” Batt said. “At the beginning and end of the search, it was clear that the best choice for Georgia Tech is Brent Key.”

ESPN was first to report Georgia Tech had focused its search on Key.

Collins was 10-28 in his fourth season. When announcing the move with Collins, Georgia Tech also fired athletic director Todd Stansbury, who hired Collins. The school hired Batt, a former deputy athletic director at Alabama, as its athletic director on Oct. 14.

After Key was named interim coach, the Yellow Jackets beat two ranked teams, Pittsburgh and North Carolina, on the road. Georgia Tech finished 5-7 overall following Saturday’s 37-14 loss at No. 1 Georgia.

Even in the loss, Georgia Tech’s improvement showed. The Yellow Jackets trailed Georgia only 10-7 at halftime.

Key was Alabama’s offensive line coach from 2016-18 following 11 seasons at UCF. At UCF, Key coached under George O'Leary, who was his coach at Georgia Tech.

O’Leary said Georgia Tech made “a great decision” in promoting Key.

“I watched very closely this season as Brent took over and saw things move in the right direction,” O’Leary said. “It was clear that the team responded to the changes he made and played hard for him.”

Hugh Freeze asks Auburn fans for ‘chance to earn your trust’

Jake Crandall / USA TODAY NETWORK
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AUBURN, Ala. – Hugh Freeze‘s checkered past in the Southeastern Conference means he’ll have to win more than just games. He’ll also have to win over Auburn fans.

Freeze’s return to the league more than five years after his scandal-plagued exit was greeted by considerable backlash on social media from wary fans. The former Mississippi and Liberty coach had to talk about his past during Tuesday’s introductory news conference as much as his belief that Auburn can make a quick turnaround, urging fans to “please give me a chance to earn your trust.”

“Give me some time. Get to know us. Get to know our family. Get to know the truth of our story,” Freeze said. “And I think the ones who have done that have said, `Man, you know what, I kinda like this guy and this family.’

“But that’s all you can ask is, man, give us a chance to earn your trust and I think you’ll like the end result.”

His message clearly resonated with athletic director John Cohen. Now he has to win over fans tired of embarrassments, including the failed 21-game tenure of former coach Bryan Harsin.

Auburn gave Freeze a six-year contract worth at least $6.5 million annually, making him the eighth-highest paid coach in the SEC. The buyout, if Freeze is fired without cause, would be 75% of his remaining contract.

Freeze resigned from Ole Miss in the summer of 2017 after school officials uncovered a “pattern of personal misconduct” starting with a call to a number used by an escort service from a university-issued cellphone. The program ultimately landed on NCAA probation for 21 violations of academic, booster and recruiting misconduct mostly under Freeze’s watch.

Still Cohen, who was at Mississippi State at the time, said Freeze was his top choice from the outset.

“Coach Freeze was completely transparent about his past transgressions,” Cohen said. “He showed remorse, and he’s had an accountability plan that he’s used for the last five-plus years.

“Everything he disclosed to us turned out to be accurate, after speaking with credible industry sources. In this way, Coach Freeze was honest and truthful.”

Freeze’s hiring was delayed after a former Liberty student emailed Auburn officials about a direct message the coach had sent her defending the Flames athletic director after she had made critical comments. The woman said she was sexually assaulted at Liberty and had reached a settlement, a case that pre-dated Freeze’s arrival.

Cohen did not take questions from reporters at the news conference and later declined to comment when asked about the direct message by The Associated Press.

Freeze has gone 103-47 on the field in 13 seasons at four programs, but 27 of those wins at Ole Miss were vacated because of NCAA violations. He spent the last four seasons at Liberty.

Freeze’s first move was to keep Carnell Williams on staff as running backs coach and associate head coach. Williams, a former Auburn All-America running back, was interim coach for the final four games.

He was a candidate for the head job, interviewing with Cohen about a week ago. Williams expressed his support of Freeze.

“I did have the opportunity to state my case, but look, that’s old news,” said Williams, who attended the news conference. “Like I told them whenever they brought me the news, honestly, they looked more disappointed than me. They were, `I’m sorry.’ But I’m like, I’m disappointed, (but) I’m not upset.”

Freeze isn’t the first high-profile coach with NCAA baggage that Auburn has hired. Bruce Pearl was hired while in the final months of a show-cause penalty stemming from violations that led to his ouster from Tennessee.

Pearl has turned the program into an SEC power, but not without more trouble.

Auburn self-imposed a postseason ban two years ago stemming from a bribery scheme involving former assistant coach Chuck Person. Pearl served a two-game suspension and players Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy were ruled ineligible for at least one season. Person later pleaded guilty to a bribery conspiracy charge.

Now, Freeze is getting his own second chance to change the script in the SEC.

“I don’t know if rewriting the story is exactly the right word,” he said. “But it’s going to make for a good ending.”