Bo's Bits: ZHODB boasts tradition of great coaches
By Bo Carter
It is hard to beat an intersectional matchup of Power Five Conferences – Utah from the Pac-12 and West Virginia from the Big 12 – in the eighth annual Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. (CST) on ESPN.
Even more intriguing is another matchup of nationally-famous head coaches in Utah’s Kyle Whittingham and West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen and the accomplishments of their teams in 2017.
The Holgorsen-Whittingham strategy session rivals several of those on the first seven years of the ZHODB.
The very first bowl in 2011 of the series played at historic Cotton Bowl Stadium featured NFF College Hall of Fame player and Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald against the inimitable Mike Leach, then at Texas Tech and currently serving as head coach at Washington State. The result was an entertaining 45-38 shootout triumph by the Red Raiders in a Big 12 (Tech) vs. Big Ten Conference (NU) tussle.
A year later, Houston headed by new head coach Tony Levine (replacing Kevin Sumlin who left to take the same position at Texas A&M) tangled with Penn State guided by interim head coach Tom Bradley (replacing 46-year PSU and NFF College Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno) and downed the Nittany Lions 30-14.
The 2013 Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl saw another marquee Power Five matchup when Oklahoma State (Big 12) toppled Purdue (Big Ten) 58-14. Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy was well on his way to becoming the winningest head football coach in OSU annals (113 all-time victories and 12 bowl trips in 13 seasons) against the Boilermakers interim head coach Patrick Higgins replacing veteran head coach Danny Hope.
In 2014 the Dallas postseason skirmish had North Texas (Conference USA) and coached by veteran program turnaround chief (at Iowa State and UNT) Dan McCarney against UNLV head coach Bobby Hauck who brought the Rebels to DFW with a 7-5 record – one of the school’s best marks in a decade. The Mean Green turned a solid defensive performance into a 36-14 verdict.
2014 also marked the first time ZHODB contests were played in the same year as ESPN moved the date up to Dec. 26, 2014. Louisiana Tech (Conference USA) with veteran head coach Skip Holtz (son of NFF College Hall of Fame coach Lou Holtz) rolled past Illinois of the Big Ten 35-18. The Fighting Illini were piloted by former Toledo head coach Tim Beckman.
The 2015 contest continued the new tradition of near-Christmas dates on Dec. 26 when Washington (Pac-12) outscored Southern Miss (C-USA) 44-31. The Huskies were headed by coach Chris Petersen who has a 129-28 all-time collegiate mark as head coach at Boise State (20016-13) and UW (2014-present). Southern Miss was guided by Todd Monken (cousin of Army head coach Jeff Monken and currently defensive coordinator of the NFL Tampa Bay Bucs).
In 2016 Army West Point made its second bowl visit to the DFW area in four seasons (after a 16-13 win over SMU in the 2013 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl) and upended North Texas 38-31 in the first overtime encounter in ZHODB history. Army head coach Jeff Monken later joined Louisiana Tech’s Holtz to win bowls at three different postseason venues in the DFW region – all played since 2013. First-year UNT head coach Seth Littrell also became the first Mean Green mentor to take North Texas to back-to-back bowl berths since Darrell Dickey in 2003 and ’04.
Holgorsen, 53-36 in seven seasons at WVU with a Big East Conference title for the Mountaineers in 2011 before they joined the Big 12 in 2012, already has made a name for himself while Whittingham is 110-56 in 13 seasons with the Utes and an amazing 10-1 (.909 winning percentage) in bowls. He has guided Utah to 11 of its first 20 all-time bowl invitations.