Notre Dame coach Lewis Cook has racked up quite a few accolades during his 33- year head coaching career, including last summer’s induction into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
Now, he is in the running for yet another honor.
And another big one, at that.
The NFL recently announced the high school football coaches nomi- nated by the 32 NFL teams for the Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year Award – representing the best at the high school level – and Cook made the list as the New Orleans Saints’ nomination.
“I just got the call and, honestly, I was pretty surprised because I didn’t know much about it,” said Cook, who coached the Pios to the Division III state championship in 2018, his fourth at Notre Dame and fifth overall.
“It’s pretty neat. I was told that previously, it was always guys (coaches) from the New Orleans area, so I’m one of the first from outside that area to get it.”
Cook (357-78 overall in his coaching career) and the 31 other nominees were recognized by their local NFL club for the prestigious award – named after Pro Football Hall of Famer Don Shula, the winningest coach in NFL history. The award is based on character and in- tegrity, leadership, dedication to the community, commitment to player health and safety and on-field suc- cess.
“We are honored to celebrate the 32 Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year nominees, as each
embodies the integrity, commitment and character of Coach Shula,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “High school football coaches not only serve as leaders, but as role models dedicated to shaping the lives of young high school players on and off the field.”
All Don Shula Award nominees are invited to attend the 2019 Pro Bowl in Orlando, FL and they will be recognized in special ways during the NFL’s week-long celebration of football.
Throughout the week, coaches will receive VIP access and accom- modations at various events such as Pro Bowl practices, the Play Foot- ball High School Skills Showdown and Play Football Celebrity Flag game; a chance to interact and engage with various members of the football community; and attend the Pro Bowl.
“I’ve never been to a Pro Bowl, so this will be a neat experience,” said Cook. “I’m kind of looking forward to watching practice and watching the skills competition amongst the players. That will be pretty neat.”
Each coach will also have an op- portunity to invite a senior on their roster to participate in the Skills Showdown to represent their high school football community.
“Unfortunately, we weren’t able to bring anyone with us,” said Cook. “It has to be somebody that isn’t involved in another sport and most of our guys that would be eligible for a skills deal are all participating in either track, basketball or baseball.
“We just weren’t able to work that part out.”
Two finalists will be selected from the group of 32 and each will receive $15,000 from the NFL Foundation, $10,000 of which will go to their high school’s football program. They will also attend Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta as special guests of the NFL.
“That would be pretty neat,” said Cook of potentially being a finalist. “I’ve been to one Super Bowl, but it was way back. To show you how long ago it was, it was played at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, before the Superdome was even built. I think it was Super Bowl IV with the Vikings and the Chiefs when the Chiefs upset the Vikings.
“It (Super Bowl) wasn’t anything like it is today. Back then, it was just like a regular game.”
The Don Shula NFL Coach of the Year Winner will be selected by a panel of distinguished individuals that includes Shua as well as Pro Football Hall of Fame President David Baker, Pro Hall of Fame coach and current NBC analyst Tony Dungy, Pro Football Hall of Famer and Super Bowl XXXV champion Rod Woodson and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, to name a few.
The Don Shula Award winner will be announced during the 2019 Pro Bowl, airing Sunday, Jan. 27 at 3 p.m. on ESPN and ESPN Deportes, and simulcast on ABC.
The winner will also be recognized and walk the red carpet at NFL Honors, a two-hour primetime awards special to air nationally on Feb. 2, the eve of Super Bowl LIII, at 9 p.m. on CBS.