Thirteen finalists named for 2021 Eddie Robinson Award

Coach Whittingham on the sideline. Photo by Jevone Moore

DALLAS (FWAA) – The Football Writers Association of America, in conjunction with the Allstate Sugar Bowl, announced a record 13 finalists for the 2021 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award on Tuesday. Among the finalists are one former winner, three returning finalists from 2020, all four coaches competing in this season’s College Football Playoff, as well as four other coaches with teams playing in New Year’s Six Bowl games. Ten of the finalists led their teams to conference championships.

In alphabetical order the finalists are: Blake Anderson, Utah State; Dave Aranda, Baylor; Luke Fickell, Cincinnati; Thomas Hammock, NIU; Jim Harbaugh, Michigan; Billy Napier, Louisiana; Pat Narduzzi, Pitt; Nick Saban, Alabama; Kalani Sitake, BYU; Kirby Smart, Georgia; Jeff Traylor, UTSA; Mel Tucker, Michigan State; and Kyle Whittingham, Utah.

Saban is the dean of the 13 finalists as a two-time winner and now eight-time finalist. Fickell, who faces Saban in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl in a College Football Playoff semifinal, and Sitake were finalists last season. Harbaugh faces Smart in the other national semifinal, at the Capital One Orange Bowl on Dec. 31. Narduzzi takes on Tucker in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Hammock faces last year’s Eddie Robinson Award winner, Jamey Chadwell of Coastal Carolina, in the Tailgreeter Cure Bowl. Aranda will lead his Baylor team into New Orleans to face Ole Miss in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

“The Allstate Sugar Bowl is honored to remember a Louisiana legend by sponsoring the FWAA Coach of the Year Award named after Coach Robinson,” said Ralph Capitelli, Sugar Bowl Committee President. “In addition, we have the opportunity to give recognition to the best college coaches in the nation each year. We look forward to presenting the trophy to the winner in Indianapolis next month.”

The 13 finalists have been placed on a ballot which has been sent to the entire FWAA membership today. The 2021 recipient will be announced on Mon., Dec. 20. The official presentation will be at a reception Sat., Jan. 8, in Indianapolis prior to the College Football Playoff National Championship.

“We have a well-balanced group of finalists, geographically positioned across the country and coaches from all sizes of schools,” said FWAA Executive Director Steve Richardson. “Congratulations to all of the finalists for the great seasons they have had during the 2021 season.”

The FWAA has presented a coaching award since the 1957 season when Ohio State’s Woody Hayes was named the first recipient. The FWAA coaching award was named after the late Robinson, a coaching legend at Grambling State University for 55 seasons, in 1997.

A closer look at the 2021 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year finalists:

Blake Anderson, Utah State: Anderson, a first-time finalist, guided Utah State (10-3) to one of the best turnarounds in the nation in 2021 (plus-nine wins thus far) with the Mountain West Conference title in tow following a 1-5 record in 2020. Utah State faces Oregon State in the inaugural Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl presented by Stifel on Dec. 18. Picked to finish fifth in the Mountain Division in the preseason, the Aggies recorded 10 wins for just the fourth time in school history and became the first FBS team since 2013 to post a 7-0 road record. Anderson is the only first-year head coach out of 19 in the FBS to win 10 games. He is Utah State’s second all-time finalist and first since Gary Andersen in 2012.

Dave Aranda, Baylor: In Aranda’s second year the Bears (11-2) patiently pushed their way to the Big 12 title, tying for the country’s second-best turnaround with nine more wins following a 2-7 season in 2020 and will now face Ole Miss in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 2022. Picked eighth by media in the preseason, Baylor relied on Aranda’s strength – defense – as the Bears held opponents 11.6 points below their averages. A year after being last in rushing, the Big 12 rushing leaders are one of six teams with three wins over ranked teams this season. Aranda is the second finalist in the last three seasons for Baylor (Matt Rhule, 2019). Grant Teaff is the school’s only previous winner from 1974.

Luke Fickell, Cincinnati: Fickell returns as a finalist from 2020 after leading the Bearcats (13-0) to an historic College Football Playoff bid, a first for a so-called Group of 5 school. The American Athletic Conference champions are the No. 4 playoff seed and one of two teams to rank in the top 10 nationally in both scoring offense (8th, 39.2 ppg) and scoring defense (t-4th, 16.1). Cincinnati, 22-1 the past two seasons, has set school records for points (510) and touchdowns (70) and faces Alabama in the CFP semifinals at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl on Dec. 31. Cincinnati, which had Brian Kelly as a finalist in 2009, has never had an Eddie Robinson Award winner.

Thomas Hammock, Northern Illinois: Hammock and the Huskies (9-4) won the Mid-American Conference with a ‘worst-to-first’ season with another nine-game improvement following an 0-6 record in 2020. NIU won seven games by one score or less – four of them by two points or less – before easing past Kent State 41-23 last week for their fifth MAC title of the last 11 seasons. The nine wins are NIU’s most since 2014 as they head into the Tailgreeter Cure Bowl to face Coastal Carolina. Hammock is NIU’s second all-time finalist, joining Dave Doeren in 2012.

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan: Harbaugh guided the Wolverines (12-1) to their first Big Ten Championship Game with a resounding 42-27 win over then-No. 2 Ohio State, then earned Michigan its 43rd Big Ten title and a spot in the College Football Playoff with a runaway 42-3 win over Iowa in the title game. Michigan has the nation’s top turnaround thus far with 10 additional wins heading into the Capital One Orange Bowl CFP semifinal following a 2-4 record in 2020. The Wolverines returned to the top 10 in the national polls for the first time since late 2019 at midseason and have remained in the top 10 for 10 consecutive weeks. Harbaugh is Michigan’s first finalist since 2011. Bo Schembechler won Michigan’s only FWAA Coach of the Year award in 1969.

Billy Napier, Louisiana: Napier, a first-time finalist and the first in Louisiana’s history, guided the Ragin’ Cajuns (12-1) to a school-record 12th straight win and a Sun Belt Conference championship last week only days after accepting the head coaching position at Florida. Napier was named SBC Coach of the Year as Louisiana broke its 54-year-old win-streak record and won the SBC’s West Division for a fourth consecutive season behind a defense that gives up only 18.7 points per game (13th in FBS). Louisiana faces Marshall in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 18.

Pat Narduzzi, Pitt: Narduzzi led the Panthers (11-2) to their first 10-win season since 1981 and their first Atlantic Coast Conference title since joining the league in 2013 with a 45-21 win over Wake Forest in last week’s ACC title game. Narduzzi sparked one of the country’s top passing combos with All-America candidates Kenny Pickett (ACC and school-record 42 touchdown passes) throwing to Jordan Addison (national-best 17 touchdown receptions). Pitt faces Michigan State in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Dec. 30. Narduzzi is Pitt’s first finalist since the award began naming finalists in 2010. Johnny Majors won the FWAA Coach of the Year Award at Pitt in 1976 and 1973.

Nick Saban, Alabama: The achievements run long on Saban’s ledger with the Eddie Robinson Award as the top-seeded Crimson Tide (12-1) prepare to face Cincinnati in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl in the CFP semifinals Dec. 31. Alabama won the SEC Championship Game last week, blowing past the nation’s top defense and formerly top-ranked team, 41-24 over Georgia. Saban is a two-time winner (at Alabama in 2008, at LSU in 2003) and is one of Alabama’s two previous winners along with Gene Stallings in 1992. He is now an eight-time finalist, earning the designation in five of the last eight seasons.

Kalani Sitake, BYU: Sitake is a repeat finalist from 2020 following a season in which the Cougars (10-2) posted five wins over Pac-12 schools, including a 26-17 win over Pac-12 champion Utah, as well as wins over Mountain West Conference champion Utah State and Virginia. BYU running back Tyler Allgeier is tied for the national lead with 20 rushing touchdowns and the Cougars’ offense is ranked in the top 30 in 12 different categories. Sitake, also a finalist for entry into the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame this year, is a former player under Lavell Edwards, who is BYU’s only previous Eddie Robinson winner from 1984.

Kirby Smart, Georgia: The Bulldogs (12-1) owned the No. 1 spot in the polls and the College Football Playoff rankings for most of the season prior to the SEC Championship Game. Smart still guides the nation’s top scoring defense giving up only 9.5 points per game as the No. 3-seed Bulldogs head into the CFP semifinals to face Michigan in Miami Gardens, Fla. Georgia, averaging 39.4 points (seventh nationally), is 4-1 against ranked teams including a pair of top-10 wins, and is only the fourth team in school history to finish the regular season undefeated. Smart was also a finalist in 2017 and Georgia’s third overall. Vince Dooley won the FWAA Coach of the Year Award in 1980.

Jeff Traylor, UTSA: Traylor took the Roadrunners (12-1) to new heights – their first C-USA West Division title, a win in their first Conference USA Championship Game (49-41 over WKU). UTSA had an 11-game win streak to start the season and has its winningest season yet heading into its Tropical Smoothie Café Frisco Bowl berth to face San Diego State. The Roadrunners also made their first appearance in the College Football Playoff and both national polls, topping out at 15th in the AP poll. Running back Sincere McCormick is having another All-America caliber season, rushing for 1,479 yards with 15 touchdowns. Traylor is a first-time finalist and the first in UTSA’s history.

Mel Tucker, Michigan State: The Spartans (10-2) were darlings of the Big Ten heading into November, posting an 8-0 start (following 2-5 in 2020) and competing for the Big Ten East Division title. Tucker rode the legs of Kenneth Walker III, the Big Ten Running Back of the Year with 1,636 yards to date and MSU’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2014, into the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl to face Pitt on Dec. 30. Tucker is MSU’s first finalist since 2015. Duffy Daugherty won the Spartans’ only FWAA Coach of the Year Award in 1965.

Kyle Whittingham, Utah: Whittingham, a finalist from the 2008 season, became Utah’s (10-3) all-time wins leader (143) while earning the Utes’ first Pac-12 Championship since joining the league in 2011 with its runaway win over Oregon. After a 1-2 start, Utah has won 9 of 10 games going into its first Rose Bowl appearance where it will take on Ohio State. Utah’s defense ranks fourth in the FBS in tackles for loss per game (7.6) and is 12th in team sacks (3.17). Whittingham, Utah’s only previous finalist, is preceded by Urban Meyer, the Utes’ only previous winner, from 2004.

The Eddie Robinson Award is a member of the National College Football Awards Association (NCFAA), which encompasses the most prestigious awards in college football. Founded in 1997, the NCFAA and its 25 awards now boast over 800 recipients, dating to 1935. Visit and @NCFAA on Twitter to learn more about the association.

The Allstate Sugar Bowl has established itself as one of the premier college football bowl games, having hosted 28 national champions, 99 Hall of Fame players, 51 Hall of Fame coaches and 19 Heisman Trophy winners in its 87-year history. The 88th Allstate Sugar Bowl Football Classic is scheduled to be played on Jan. 1, 2022 between Baylor and Ole Miss. In addition to football, the Sugar Bowl Committee annually invests over $1.6 million into the community through the hosting and sponsorship of sporting events, awards and clinics. Through these efforts, the organization supports and honors thousands of student-athletes each year, while injecting over $2.7 billion into the local economy in the last decade. For more information, visit

Founded in 1941, the Football Writers Association of America consists of journalists, broadcasters, publicists, photographers and key executives in all areas of college football. The FWAA works to govern media access and gameday operations while presenting awards and honors, including an annual All-America team. For more information about the FWAA and its programs and initiatives, contact Executive Director Steve Richardson at 214-870-6516 or

2021 Eddie Robinson Award
Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award | All-time winners and finalists