The late Bud Carson, who was the architect of one of the NFL’s best all-time defensive units – Pittsburgh’s “Steel Curtain” – and was part of two Super Bowl-winning teams, has been selected as the 2017 Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman Award winner by the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA).
Carson is the 10th recipient of the Dr. Z Award, which was instituted by the PFWA in 2014.
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.
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. Zimmerman served as PFWA president during the 1982 season. When he suffered his strokes, he was still writing multiple columns a week for the magazine and its website, SI.com. Zimmerman lives in West Caldwell, N.J., and is cared for by his loving wife, Linda.
Other 2017 nominees for the Dr. Z Award were Gunther Cunningham, Bruce DeHaven, Jim Hanifan and Bobb McKittrick.
Carson was a three-year letterman at defensive back at North Carolina (1949-51). After serving in the United States Marine Corps, he began his coaching career at Scottdale (Pa.) High School from 1955-56. Carson returned to North Carolina in 1957 as a freshman coach and served as the Tar Heels’ assistant coach from 1958-64. After one year as an assistant at South Carolina in 1965, he moved to Georgia Tech as an assistant coach/defensive coordinator in 1966. He became the Yellow Jackets’ head coach in 1967, replacing the legendary Bobby Dodd, and led Tech from 1967-71. He entered the NFL as the defensive backs coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1972, and he was the club’s defensive coordinator from 1973-77. During his time with the Steelers, he combined Pittsburgh’s “Steel Curtain” front four with a complicated zone coverage in the secondary, which became known as Cover 2. After his time in Pittsburgh, Carson served as defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams (1978-81), Baltimore Colts (1982), Kansas City (1983) and the New York Jets (1985-88). After two seasons (1989-90) as Cleveland head coach, he was the defensive coordinator for Philadelphia (1991-94) and the St. Louis Rams (1997), and he completed his career as a consultant for the Rams in 2000. Carson coached in Super Bowls IX and X with the Steelers and Super Bowl XIV with the Rams. Carson died in 2005.
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 daily. Jim Trotter, who is a NFL reporter for ESPN, is the organization’s president for the 2017-18 seasons, while Bleacher Report national columnist Dan Pompei is the PFWA’s first vice-president and Newsday’s Bob Glauber 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; 2017 – Bud Carson.