Eight coaches and eight days.
That’s what is left in the fourth installment of USA TODAY High School Sports’ “Best Of” contest series - the first-ever Best High School Football Coach competition. The coach contest ended its regional round on Friday, with the 51 regional finalists being cut down to just eight national finalists.
The national round begins at noon ET Monday and ends at noon ET Oct. 29, with all vote totals starting back at zero. The champion is crowned based on most votes in the final round.
Roughly 4.5 million votes were cast during the regional round, with Philip Haywood of Belfry (Ky.) receiving the most at 653,111. He edged Mike Lalor of Stillman Valley (Stillman, Ill.) in Region Four. Lalor received 642,342 votes in what turned out to be a heated race to the final buzzer.
The other finalists are Jim Hightower of St. Thomas More in Lafayette, La., with 227,529 votes in the regional round, Mike Herrington of Hart in Newhall, Calif., (180,332 votes), Rick Jones of Greenwood, Ark., (88,010), Jim Hoover of Walton, N.Y., (83,904), Kevin Lynott of Middletown, Md., (319,572), Marcus Boyles of Petal, Miss., (216,473) and Jeff Van Leur of Bridgewater Emery Ethan in Emery, S.D., (163,444).
The regional round lasted nine days on the heels of a state round in which fans cast approximately 4.8 million total votes. The leading vote-getter among the 408 coaches in the state round was again Haywood of Kentucky. He received 149,760 votes in the state competition.
USA TODAY staffers selected eight active head football coaches in each state and Washington, D.C. after more than a month of conversations with local media and other state/school officials with high school football expertise. From there, the fans decide which coach emerges from a list of 408. The state round began Sept. 30 and ended Oct. 8.
The athletic department of the winning coach will receive $2,000. Second through fifth places also receive cash prizes for the athletic departments: second ($1,000), third ($500), fourth ($250) and fifth ($100). All eight finalists receive banners for their schools.
The “Best Of” contest series launched last November with the best high school football rivalry competition, won by Brookfield vs. Marceline in Missouri. The teams celebrated their national title rivalry on Sept. 13 in Brookfield. In January, Hartford (Vt.) was crowned as the People’s Champion high school football team. And the monster of them all – the top high school mascot last spring – was won by the Centralia (Ill.) Orphans after 80 million total votes were cast during the competition.