Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Awards

December 29, 2007 by CFP Staff and National Football Foundation

Their teams amassed 43 wins this year against a mere eight setbacks; their student-athletes displayed exceptional discipline on the field, integrity off the field, and excellence in the classroom; and they exercised their leadership position in their communities with countless hours and considerable financial or emotional support to a variety of civic and charitable causes. Who are they?

They are the 2007 Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Award winners: Ron Zook of the University of Illinois; Jerry Kill, formerly of Southern Illinois University; Bill O'Boyle of Chadron State (Neb.) College; and John Gagliardi of Saint John's (Minn.) University.

"This award stands out among the many others in sports because it not only celebrates these coaches' 2007 seasons, but also the way they have built their football programs -- with young men of character, sportsmanship and integrity," said ESPN/ABC college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit. "Simply put, they not only win, but they win the right way. They symbolize what is good today in college football."

Chosen by an elite selection committee and fan votes at as the college football coach in his division who best exemplifies responsibility and excellence on and off the field of play, each winner receives from Liberty Mutual $50,000 to support his civic and charitable activities, and $20,000 in scholarship money for their Universities' alumni associations. In addition, Coaches Zook, Kill, O'Boyle and Gagliardi will be honored in the permanent Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Award display at the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind.

"The National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame takes great pride in being associated with The Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Award," said NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell. "With a set of criteria that reaches far beyond the scoreboard, this award stands for many of the same values that our organization has been promoting for the past 60 years: integrity, sportsmanship, community leadership, academic achievement and athletic excellence."

Division I-A/Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) -- Ron Zook, University of Illinois

In his third year at the helm of Illinois, Coach Zook turned the 2006 Fighting Illini from a two-win squad into 9-3 Big Ten runners-up in 2007. A current four-game win streak that began at home against Ball State on October 27 was punctuated a month later by a 28-21 upset of Ohio State in Columbus, rewarding Illinois with its first Rose Bowl berth since 1984 where they will take on Southern California.

Off the field, Coach Zook demonstrates great commitment to his players' success in the classroom, noted by the eight-point improvement in the team's Academic Progress Rate (APR) in 2007. He also is active in many community and charitable endeavors, including a women's football clinic that he hosts to raise money for the American Cancer Society, and organizing a team-wide supply drive to support Cunningham Children's Home in Urbana.

Division I-AA/Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) -- Jerry Kill, Southern Illinois University

Coach Kill's dream to lead an FBS team came true earlier this month when he was named head coach of Northern Illinois. But not before he culminated his seven-year, 55-win career at Southern Illinois with a 12-2 season and earning the Salukis a fifth consecutive berth in the FCS playoffs. His student-athletes regularly perform well in the classroom, earning team APRs much higher than the Gateway Conference average. Away from the sidelines, Kill is a leader in the Carbondale community. He and his team regularly participate in community-service and goodwill projects, such as Habitat for Humanity, the Special Olympics and the Souper Bowl for Hunger Campaign. After a bout with kidney cancer in 2005, Kill formed the Coach Kill Cancer Fund, which assists needy Southern Illinoisans seeking cancer treatment.

Division II -- Bill O'Boyle, Chadron State College

Coach Bill O'Boyle's fourth season at Chadron State was near-perfect, with the Eagles rolling to an 11-0 regular season record before losing a quarterfinal Division II playoff game to finish a second consecutive year at 12-1 and ranking fifth in the American Football Coaches Association poll. O'Boyle professes academics first for his Eagles, and has coached two Academic All-Americans in the past three seasons. Even when he's not coaching, you'll find O'Boyle on the field -- as an avid artist, he paints the Chadron State gridiron before each home game and logos on local Little League baseball fields. Each Sunday, he can be found helping "Operation Bread Basket," which delivers bread to the needy.

Division III -- John Gagliardi, Saint John's University

Saint John's Coach John Gagliardi, the first active head coach inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, and the winningest coach in college football history, led the Johnnies to a 10-2 record and a Division III playoff appearance in his 55th campaign in Collegeville, Minn. Always a proponent that concentration and flawless execution breed success, the Johnnies this year committed nearly 20 percent fewer penalties than the nine-team Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference average.

His student-athletes are high performers in the classroom, with four players earning Academic All-American honors since 2005. Coach Gagliardi's community service record is equally legendary: he continues to run youth football clinics and camps every off-season, and remains actively involved in supporting youth sports in Trinidad, Colo., where he began his coaching career while team captain at Trinidad High School in 1943 at the age of 16. The Coach John Gagliardi Sports Complex was dedicated there last June.

"We know how passionate college football fans are, and more than 800,000 cast votes since September for the coaches they believe embody what this award celebrates: integrity, sportsmanship and unwavering responsibility to his student-athletes and community, accomplishing all while delivering outstanding results on the field," said Greg Gordon, Liberty Mutual vice president, Consumer Marketing. "These four men share a 'lead by example' philosophy, and with the charitable and scholarship prize money this award provides they will continue to have a positive effect on countless athletes, students and people in their communities."

Coaches Zook, Kill, O'Boyle and Gagliardi outscored other finalists on a combination of selection committee ballots cast by national college football media and College Football Hall of Fame coaches and players. The media and Hall of Fame votes contributed 25 percent and 55 percent to each coach's final score, respectively. In addition, fan votes cast December 5-15 at contributed 20 percent to a coach's overall score.

The finalists were determined by evaluating the top 25 coaches with fan votes in each division (September 6 - November 27) with an objective model designed exclusively for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Award and reviewed and endorsed by the College Football Hall of Fame. The model arrived at the finalists by scoring each of these qualifying coaches in four areas: coaching excellence, sportsmanship and integrity, academic excellence, and community commitment. Data used in the evaluation process include won/loss records, penalties and personal fouls, Academic Progress Rates and Academic All-Americans, charitable and civic activities and contributions, and more.

Media voters include: Craig Bennett (USA Today), Jack Bogaczyk (Charleston Daily Mail), Tim Brando (CBS Sports, Sporting News Radio), Pat Coleman (, Colin Cowherd (ESPN Radio), Bob Eblen (, Marcus Fitzsimmons (Maryville Daily Times), Teddy Greenstein (Chicago Tribune), Kirk Herbstreit (ESPN), Clyde Hughes (, Keith Jackson (Hall of Fame Sportscaster, retired), Dan Jenkins (Sportswriter/National Football Foundation historian), Bill King (Rivals Sports Radio Network), Ivan Maisel (, Stewart Mandel (Sports Illustrated), Keith McMillan (, Gordie Mann (, Brandon Misener (, Ryan Tipps (, and Bud Withers (Seattle Times).

College Football Hall of Fame voters include: Tom Beck, Marino Casem, Jim Christopherson, Carmen Cozza, Terry Donohue, Vince Dooley, LaVell Edwards, Joe Fusco, Archie Griffin, Roger Harring, Don James, Billy Joe, Ron Johnson, Gordie Lockbaum, Archie Manning (Chairman, National Football Foundation), Fred Martinelli, Darrell Mudra, Don Nehlen, Bob Reade, Jerry Rice, Jim Sochor, Jessie Tuggle, Herschel Walker and Frosty Westering.