Four former NFL assistant coaches – the late Jim Johnson, Howard Mudd, the late Fritz Shurmur and Ernie Zampese – have been selected as the inaugural class for the Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman Award by the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA).
The newest PFWA award is given for lifetime achievement as an assistant coach in the NFL. The award is named for Zimmerman, who covered the NFL for 29 years as Sports Illustrated’s lead pro football writer.
Zimmerman’s writing career was cut short by a series of strokes in November 2008 that left him unable to speak, read and write. But his impact on the writing and football industries was profound. He’s widely considered one of the best football writers of all time, and his 1970 “A Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Football” and revised 1984 “The New Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Football” are textbooks to this day for young football writers trying to learn the game and trying to learn to write about the game. He was an offensive lineman at Stanford and Columbia, played on the offensive line for a U.S. Army team and a semi-pro football team. His first shot at covering pro football regularly was for the New York Post in 1966. In 1979, he moved to SI. When he was struck down, Zimmerman was still writing multiple columns a week for the magazine and its website, SI.com. He lives in Mountain Lakes, N.J., with his wife, Linda.
Zimmerman’s friend and colleague at Sports Illustrated, Peter King, wrote about the inaugural Dr. Z Award winners for his website, TheMMQB.com.
The Dr. Z Award Class of 2014:
Jim Johnson – A two-year AFL player with the Buffalo Bills, Johnson was a college head coach at Missouri Southern (1967-68) and worked as an assistant at Drake (1969-72), Indiana (1973-76) and Notre Dame (1977-83). He pro career began in the USFL as defensive coordinator with Oklahoma (1984) and Jacksonville (1985) before coming to the NFL in 1986 with the St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals as defensive line coach (1986-89) and secondary coach (1990-93). Johnson was linebackers coach (1994-95) and defensive coordinator (1996-97) for the Indianapolis Colts, and after one season as linebackers coach with the Seattle Seahawks (1998), he was named Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator in 1999, He served in that position until his death in 2009. Johnson, a member of the Eagles’ Super Bowl XXXIX staff, was noted for bringing pressure and disguising blitzes as a defensive coordinator.
Howard Mudd – A three-time Pro Bowl and two-time All-Pro selection with the San Francisco 49ers, Mudd began his coaching career at the University of California in 1972, where he spent two seasons. He came to the NFL in 1974 as an offensive line coach with the San Diego Chargers. He was an O-line coach for the Chargers (1974-76), San Francisco 49ers (1977), Seattle Seahawks (1978-82; 1993-97), Cleveland Browns (1983-88), Kansas City Chiefs (1989-92), Indianapolis Colts (1998-2009) and the Philadelphia Eagles (2011-12). Mudd is best known for his time with Indianapolis, where his offensive line protected quarterback Peyton Manning for the first 12 years of his career and where he was part of the Colts’ Super Bowl XLI and XLIV staffs.
Fritz Shurmur – Shurmur began his coaching career at his alma mater, Albion (Mich.) College, as a graduate assistant from 1954-55 and defensive coordinator from 1956-61. A nine-year stint as an assistant at Wyoming followed, and he was elevated to become the Cowboys’ head coach from 1971-74. Shurmur entered the NFL as a defensive line coach with the Detroit Lions in 1975. He was the Lions’ defensive line coach from 1975-76 and moved to defensive coordinator in 1977. He came to New England as a defensive line coach in 1978-79 and was the Patriots’ defensive coordinator from 1980-81. He served as a defensive coordinator for the rest of his career with the Los Angeles Rams (1982-90), Phoenix Cardinals (1991-93) and the Green Bay Packers (1994-98). He passed away just prior to the 1999 season. Best known for his defensive adjustments and use of the nickel defense, Shurmur coached in two Super Bowls with the Packers (XXXI and XXXII) and authored four books on defense.
Ernie Zampese – A two-year halfback at Southern California, Zampese moved into the coaching ranks at Allan Hancock (Calif.) Junior College after he was hired as a backfield coach (1962-63) by future Pro Football Hall of Famer John Madden. Zampese was Hancock JC’s head coach from 1964-65 before serving one season as backfield coach at Cal Poly (1966). He moved to San Diego State as a defensive backfield coach from 1967-75 before getting his first NFL coaching job as a defensive backfield coach for the San Diego Chargers in 1976. Zampese was a scout for the New York Jets (1977-78) and returned to San Diego in 1979. He was the Chargers’ receivers coach from 1979-82, assistant head coach/passing game (1983-84) and offensive coordinator (1985-86). He was also offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams (1987-93), Dallas Cowboys (1994-97) and the New England Patriots (1998-99). He also served as an offensive consultant for Dallas (2000-01), St. Louis Rams (2002) and the Washington Redskins (2004). Zampese, who is best known for his time in San Diego under head coach Don Coryell as one of the architects of the modern passing game, coached in Super Bowl XXX with Dallas.
ABOUT THE PFWA: The Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA) is the official voice of pro football writers, promoting and fighting for access to NFL personnel to best serve the public. The PFWA is made up of accredited writers who cover the NFL and the 32 teams on a daily basis. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter, who covers the Atlanta Falcons, is the organization’s president for 2013-15, while ESPN.com’s Jeff Legwold, who covers the Denver Broncos, is the PFWA’s first vice-president and long-time national writer Dan Pompei is the organization’s second vice-president. Follow the PFWA at ProFootballWriters.org and on Twitter at @PFWAwriters.
PAUL “DR. Z” ZIMMERMAN AWARD WINNERS (For lifetime achievement as an assistant coach in the NFL): 2014 – Jim Johnson, Howard Mudd, Fritz Shurmur and Ernie Zampese.