Two current NFL assistant coaches, Monte Kiffin and Wade Phillips, have been selected as the Class of 2016 for the Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman Award by the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA).
The Dr. Z 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.
Kiffin and Phillips comprise the third group of assistant coaches selected for the honor by the PFWA. The late Bobb McKittrick was also a 2016 Dr. Z Award finalist.
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 West Caldwell, N.J., and is cared for by his loving wife, Linda.
The Dr. Z Award Class of 2016:
Monte Kiffin – In his 29th season as a NFL coach, Kiffin is in his first year as a defensive assistant for the Jacksonville Jaguars. After his college career at Nebraska as a two-way tackle, he played one season of pro football as a defensive end with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1965. Kiffin began his coaching career in college at his alma mater, the University of Nebraska, as a defensive assistant for seven seasons (1966-72) and four years as the Cornhuskers’ defensive coordinator (1973-76). He moved to Arkansas as defensive coordinator (1977-78), and he was promoted to assistant head coach/defensive coordinator in 1979. Kiffin received his only head-coaching opportunity at North Carolina State for three seasons from 1980-82. He moved into the NFL coaching ranks as a linebackers coach with the Green Bay Packers in 1983, and he also coached linebackers for the Buffalo Bills (1984-85), Minnesota Vikings (1986-89) and the New York Jets (1990). He returned to Minnesota as the defensive coordinator in 1991, and he then coached the Vikings’ inside linebackers from 1992-94. Kiffin served one season as the New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator in 1995, before a long successful stint as the defensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1996-2008), where his defenses ranked in the league’s top 10 in 11 of his 13 seasons. He returned to the college ranks as the defensive coordinator at the University of Tennessee (2009), working under his son, Volunteers’ head coach Lane Kiffin, and he followed Lane to the University of Southern California as assistant head coach from 2010-12. Kiffin returned to the NFL coaching ranks in 2013 as the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive coordinator, and he was the Cowboys’ assistant head coach/defense in 2014. After a year away from football, he was hired by the Jacksonville Jaguars as a defensive assistant in March 2016. Kiffin refined and popularized the “Tampa Cover 2” defense, and he coached the Buccaneers’ defense to a Super Bowl XXXVII victory. He was selected as the PFWA’s Assistant Coach of the Year in 2002.
Wade Phillips – In his 39th season as an NFL assistant coach, Phillips is in his second season in his second stint with the Denver Broncos as defensive coordinator. After playing linebacker in college at the University of Houston, he went right into coaching as a graduate assistant at his alma mater in 1969. Phillips spent three seasons (1970-72) as the defensive coordinator at Orange (Texas) High School, before he returned to the college ranks as the linebackers coach at Oklahoma State from 1973-74. After one season as a defensive line coach at Kansas, he broke into the NFL as a linebackers coach in 1976 and defensive line coach from 1977-80 with the Houston Oilers, working under his late father, head coach Bum Phillips. He went to the New Orleans Saints as defensive coordinator (1981-85), and served as the Saints’ interim head coach for the final four games of the 1985 season. Phillips was the defensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles for three seasons (1986-88) before his first stint with Denver as defensive coordinator from 1989-92. He was promoted to head coach in 1993, and he served the Broncos in that position for two seasons (1993-94). Phillips moved to Buffalo as the Bills’ defensive coordinator from 1995-97, before he was promoted to VP of football operations/head coach for three seasons from 1998-2000. After a year off, he returned to the NFL as the Atlanta Falcons’ defensive coordinator (2002-03), and he served as the Falcons’ interim head coach for the final three weeks of the 2003 season. The San Diego Chargers hired Phillips as defensive coordinator from 2004-06. Dallas hired him as head coach in 2007, and he served in that position for the Cowboys from 2007-10. He moved to the Houston Texans as defensive coordinator from 2011-13, which included the final three games as interim head coach in 2013. He returned to coaching in 2015 with the Broncos for the second time as defensive coordinator. Phillips, known as one of the game’s most creative defensive playcallers, has been a part of 20 top-10 defensive units, and he has coached in two Super Bowls (XXIV and 50 with Denver). Phillips was the PFWA’s Assistant Coach of the Year twice, with the Texans in 2011 and a co-winner with Cincinnati’s Hue Jackson in 2015.
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. Jeff Legwold, who covers the Denver Broncos for ESPN.com, is the organization’s president for 2015-17, while Bleacher Report national columnist Dan Pompei is the PFWA’s first vice-president and ESPN’s Jim Trotter 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; 2015 – Dick LeBeau, Tom Moore and Dante Scarnecchia; 2016 – Monte Kiffin and Wade Phillips.