Three Appalachian State University assistant football coaches were honored this year with the NCAA's Award of Valor.
The coaches -- Rob Best, Shawn Elliot and Stacy Searels -- helped save the lives of Tony Barnett, the school's athletic trainer and driver of the van, and student assistant coach Jonathan Taylor after the vehicle crashed on a return trip from a September 30 victory over East Tennessee State University. Moments after they rescued Barnett, the van erupted in flames.
The NCAA Award of Valor is presented to a coach or administrator currently associated with intercollegiate athletics, or to a current or former varsity letter-winner at an NCAA institution who, when confronted with a situation involving personal danger, averted or minimized potential disaster by courageous action or noteworthy bravery. The award is presented only in years when there is a deserving winner.
The team bus came upon the two-car accident at about 12:22 a.m. October 1. Eleven of the 13 passengers already had escaped the van but Barnett and Taylor were still trapped inside by the tangles of an air bag and seat belts. With total disregard for their own safety, Best, Elliot and Searels climbed in the side door of the van. They broke Barnett's seat and unbuckled his seat belt before pulling him and Taylor out as the flames from the other vehicle advanced.
Nothing could be done to rescue the driver of the other car, which was engulfed in flames with the driver trapped inside when the bus arrived. Police reports stated that the driver had died on impact.
Although the entire travel squad of players, coaches and support staff who were not on board the van contributed to the rescue by providing first aid, evaluation of injuries and moving other accident victims away from the van, Best, Elliot and Searels helped save the two lives.
Best, the team's offensive coordinator, is a 1972 graduate of Texas Tech University. Elliot, who is a 1996 Appalachian State graduate, serves as the tight ends coach. Searels, the offensive line coach, is a 1990 graduate of Auburn University.