Joe Bugel, who spent 27 of his 32 NFL seasons as an assistant coach and is best known for building Washington’s famous “Hogs” offensive line unit, and Kansas City defensive backs coach Emmitt Thomas, a Pro Football Hall of Famer who is in his 38th season as a NFL assistant coach in 2018 and lauded for his ability to develop players in the secondary, have been selected as the 2018 Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman Award winners by the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA).
Bugel and Thomas are the 11th and 12th recipients 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, 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.
Other 2018 nominees for the Dr. Z Award were Bobb McKittrick, Jim McNally and Dave Toub.
Bugel was a three-year letterman at offensive line and linebacker at Western Kentucky (1960-63). He started his coaching career at WKU as a graduate assistant for the Hilltoppers in 1964 and served three seasons as WKU’s offensive line coach (1965-68). He also was a college assistant coach at the United States Naval Academy (1969-72), Iowa State (1973) and Ohio State (1974). He began his NFL career with the Detroit Lions (1975-76) as the offensive line coach and spent four seasons with the Houston Oilers in the same role (1977-80). During his first stint in Washington (1981-89), Bugel developed the “Hogs”, the Redskins’ dominant offensive line that helped running back John Riggins thrive and enabled Washington to overcome quarterback transitions, first as offensive coordinator (1981-82), and then, assistant head coach/offense (1983-89). He was the Phoenix Cardinals head coach from 1990-93, was assistant head coach/offense with Oakland from 1995-96 and the Raiders’ head coach in 1997. He returned to the assistant ranks as the offensive line coach with the San Diego Chargers (1998-2001) and finished his career with the Redskins (2004-09) as assistant head coach/offense (2004-07) and offensive line coach (2008-09). He coached in three Super Bowls (XVII, XVIII, XXII), all with the Redskins – winning two, and six conference championship games.
Thomas is in his ninth season (2010-present) with the Chiefs as the defensive backs coach, where he has coached a pair of PFWA All-NFL players – safety Eric Berry and cornerback Marcus Peters. He played quarterback and wide receiver at Bishop (Texas) College (1962-65), and he joined the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in 1966. Thomas played 13 seasons (1966-78) as a cornerback and set a club record with 58 career interceptions and 938 interception return yards. After his playing career ended, he served two seasons (1979-80) at Central Missouri as an assistant coach. Thomas began his NFL coaching career with the St. Louis Cardinals (1981-85) as a tight ends/wide receivers coach. He moved to Washington and spent nine seasons with the Redskins (1986-94) as a wide receivers (1986) and secondary (1987-94) coach. Thomas then served as defensive coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles (1995-98), Green Bay Packers (1999) and Minnesota Vikings (2000-01). He moved to the Atlanta Falcons and worked eight seasons (2002-09) as secondary coach (2002-03), senior defensive assistant/secondary (2004-06), defensive backs (2007) and assistant head coach/secondary (2008-09). He also was Atlanta’s interim head coach for the final three games of 2007. Thomas has coached in two Super Bowls (XXII, XXVI). winning both with Washington, and four conference title games. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008.
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. Bob Glauber, the national football columnist for Newsday, is the organization’s president for the 2018 season, while Bleacher Report national columnist Dan Pompei is the PFWA’s first 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; 2018 – Joe Bugel and Emmitt Thomas