By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

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HOUSTON – The coaches of the only undefeated teams in major-college football – Nick Saban of Alabama and P.J. Fleck of Western Michigan – are among the nine finalists for the 31st annual Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Award presented by the American Heart Association.

Last year’s winner, Dabo Swinney of Clemson, is among the others in the running for this honor, which is college football’s only top-coach prize determined after all bowl games are concluded. Finalists were announced Wednesday.

The other remaining candidates are Paul Chryst of Wisconsin, James Franklin of Penn State, Clay Helton of Southern Cal, Dana Holgorsen of West Virginia, Mike MacIntyre of Colorado, and Bob Stoops of Oklahoma.

The winner will be revealed at a ceremony in Houston on Jan. 11, two days after the College Football Playoff National Championship game. Saban’s Crimson Tide and Swinney’s Tigers could meet in that game if their teams win semifinals on New Year’s Eve; it would be the second straight year those teams meet for the title.

Bryant won more games than any college football coach before him, then died following a massive heart attack in 1983. This award was established in his honor and has been given annually since 1986.

Over its history, the award ceremony – which is sponsored by Marathon Oil Corporation – has raised more than $7 million to fund AHA research, advocacy and educational programs across the country.

Saban won the award in 2003, when he coached LSU. He could become the second two-time winner of the award, and the first to do so at different schools. The only other two-time winner was Chris Petersen, who was honored for the 2006 and ’09 seasons. This is the third straight year that Saban has been a finalist.

Barry Alvarez, who led Wisconsin to three Rose Bowls over 16 seasons before becoming the school’s athletic director, also will be honored at the Jan. 11 event. He will become the sixth recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. Previous winners include Mack Brown, Jimmy Johnson, R.C. Slocum, LaVell Edwards and Hayden Fry.