DALLAS -- Penn State's Joe Paterno was named coach of the year by the American Football Coaches Association on Tuesday, marking the record fifth time his peers have chosen him for their highest annual honor.
Although Paterno has received other top coaching prizes lately, he was surprised by this one because the voting closed Monday, after Mack Brown led Texas to the national championship with a victory over Southern California in the Rose Bowl.
"I think Mack Brown deserves to be up here, to be honest with you," Paterno said upon receiving the plaque. "But you know, at 79, I figure this is my last shot. Mack's still a young guy."
After four losing seasons in the last five years, each followed by calls for his retirement, Paterno guided the Nittany Lions to an 11-1 record, including a 26-23 triple-overtime victory over Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Penn State shared the Big Ten title and finished the season ranked No. 3, its best final ranking since being second in 1994.
Paterno was also honored by the AFCA in 1968, '72, '82 and '86, making this the fourth different decade he's taken home the award, which is the oldest of its kind and the only one voted on strictly by coaches. The 19-year gap is another AFCA record.
"To win for the fifth time, you think it's old hat, but it ain't old hat," Paterno said. "I'm probably a little bit more emotional about this one than any of them because a bunch of people came together and said, 'Hey, we're sick and tired of getting the heck kicked out of us. We need to rally around and get back to where we belong.' And we ended up a pretty good football team."
Along with Brown, Paterno beat other regional winners Pete Carroll of Southern California, Mike Shula of Alabama and Larry Coker of Miami. AFCA executive director Grant Teaff called it one of the toughest ballots in recent years.
Part of the reason Paterno was partial to Brown -- even saying, "I wish we could make this a co- thing" -- was payback for a favor. He sent coaches from his staff to Austin last year to learn how the Longhorns used Vince Young in hopes of getting the most out of their run-pass quarterback, Michael Robinson.
"We came away and we were better," Paterno said. "So, Mack -- thanks."
Brown was among those who voted for Paterno.
"Usually the coach of the year is the guy that overcame something," Brown said. "We didn't overcome anything. We just won a big game at the end and we hadn't been doing that. For Joe to do what he's done over the last few years and turn his program completely around is really, really special. I don't think there's any question he's deserving of this award."
The AFCA also honored Appalachian State's Jerry Moore (Division I-AA), Grand Valley State's Chuck Martin (NCAA Division II and NAIA) and Wisconsin-Whitewater's Bob Berezowitz (Division III).
Full-time assistants for all four winning coaches will received a $1,000 grant toward their education or professional development. Moore, Martin and Berezowitz are now invited to be assistant coaches at the Hula Bowl, with Paterno invited to be a head coach in the 2007 game in Honolulu.