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HOUSTON (KIAH) — University of Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell was named the 2021 Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year at an award ceremony in Houston on Tuesday night.

Fickell helped the Bearcats to a 13-0 regular season record and an American Conference championship, good enough to reach the College Football Playoff, becoming the first Group of Five team chosen for the playoff.

“On behalf of the University of Cincinnati, an amazing coaching staff, this team and the seniors who created the atmosphere, culture, style and expectation, it is my honor to accept this award,” Fickell said. “Thank you to our team and the 32 seniors that made this season incredibly special. It’s truly humbling and an honor. It has been an amazing ride.”

Fickell was named the award winner over five other head coach nominees, including Dave Aranda of Baylor, Jim Harbaugh of Michigan, Kyle Whittingham of Utah, Dave Clawson of Wake Forest, and Georgia’s Kirby Smart, who led the Bulldogs to the national championship in their win over Alabama on Monday night.

 The Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Award annually recognizes the country’s top college football coach for coaching excellence and leadership. The Coach of the Year award is voted on by the National Sports Media Association, current NCAA College football coaches, former Coach of the Year Award winners, the Bryant Awards’ Executive Leadership Team and the Bryant family.

There was also an online fan vote for their favorite coach, which was won by Arkansas’ Sam Pittman.

In 1983, football coaching legend, Paul “Bear” Bryant, died from a heart attack. Moved to amplify and drive education surrounding heart disease after his passing, the Bryant family teamed up with the American Heart Association in 1986, building on the Association’s Coach of the Year Award to create the Paul “Bear” Bryant Awards program. Each year since then, the awards have celebrated “Bear’s” legacy by recognizing coaching excellence while raising critical funds for research to eradicate cardiovascular disease. Funds are raised through event sponsorships, an auction and individual charitable donations.