By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

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HOUSTON — Fresh off a thrilling college football national championship game, coaches Dabo Swinney of Clemson and Nick Saban of Alabama are among the finalists for 31st annual Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Award presented by the American Heart Association.

Swinney’s squad pulled off a late rally for a 35-31 victory that secured with 1 second left Monday night. It was the second straight year the teams met in the season’s final game, with Saban’s team having won another thrilling game the previous year.

The Bryant Award is college football’s only top-coach honor determined after all the bowl games have been played. It is named for the man who retired with the most wins in college football history; Bryant died following a massive heart attack in 1983, and the award was established in his honor. It’s been given annually since 1986.

Swinney, Saban and the other six finalists are expected to attend the ceremony, which is sponsored by Marathon Oil Corporation. Over its history, the event has raised more than $7 million to fund AHA research, advocacy and educational programs across the country.

The ceremony will be televised live on Fox College Sports Network at 8 p.m. CT. A special created from the event later will air on Fox Sports Southwest.

Dabo Swinney

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney

Votes are cast by members of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. If Swinney or Saban win, they’d also pick up an additional claim to fame: Swinney would be the first person honored in consecutive years and just the second two-time winner. Saban also would become a two-time recipient, having also won in 2003 when he coached LSU.

Nick Saban

Alabama coach Nick Saban

If either wins, it also would be yet another feat for Alabama — where Bryant is best known for coaching, where Saban now coaches and where Swinney was part of its 1992 national championship team.

“I was one of those kids that watched the Bear Bryant Show every Sunday, and every time Alabama was on or on the radio, I was listening,” Swinney said in the days leading to the national championship game.

The other finalists are P.J. Fleck, who coached Western Michigan this past season but recently was hired by Minnesota; Paul Chryst of Wisconsin; James Franklin of Penn State; Clay Helton of Southern Cal; Dana Holgorsen of West Virginia; and Mike MacIntyre of Colorado.

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 ceremony. 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.

Fans can show their support for their favorite coach-of-the-year candidate through an online donation campaign. As of early Tuesday, Helton was the leader at $1,365. An online auction also is connected to the event.