2019 PFWA Off-Field Award nominees announced

Each year, the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) vote for several off-field awards given to people working in or associated with the NFL. The 2019 Off-Field Awards balloting is underway through May 31, with the final results announced beginning June 3.

The awards the PFWA membership will vote on:

George Halas Award (NFL player, coach or staff member who overcomes the most adversity to succeed)

Good Guy Award (NFL player for his qualities and professional style in helping pro football writers do their jobs)

Dick McCann Award (Reporter who has made a long and distinguished contribution to pro football through coverage)

Jack Horrigan Award (League or club official for his or her qualities and professional style in helping the pro football writers do their job)

Pete Rozelle Award (NFL club public relations staff that consistently strives for excellence in its dealings and relationships with the media)

Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman Award (Lifetime achievement as an assistant coach in the NFL)

Here are the biographies of the 2019 nominees in each category.

George Halas Award (NFL player, coach or staff member who overcomes the most adversity to succeed):

RB James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers — Connor was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2015 as a student-athlete at Pitt. After 12 rounds of treatment, he was declared cancer free. The Steelers chose him in the third round of the 2017 draft, and in 2018 he started 12 games in the absence of holdout Le’Veon Bell, rushing 215 times for 973 yards and 12 touchdowns and catching 55 passes for 497 yards. His 1,470 yards from scrimmage were 10th-most in the NFL.

General Manager Dave Gettleman, New York Giants — Gettleman was diagnosed with lymphoma in June, but continued to oversee the Giants. He appeared gaunt and had lost his hair in July, but delivered an inspirational message at a press conference and said his cancer was in remission after five weeks of chemotherapy.

S Andre Hal, Houston Texans (retired) — Hal was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma last year and placed on the reserve/non-football illness list at the start of the season. In September, his cancer went into remission, and he was activated in July. Hal started two games and had three interceptions, and then retired after the season, saying his father’s death took away his passion for the game.

QB Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts — Luck had career-threatening shoulder surgery after the 2016 season, and sat out all of 2017. He came back in 2018 to have a career best 98.7 passer rating. In addition, he was voted the PFWA’s NFL Comeback Player of the Year, was named to the Pro Bowl and led his team to a playoff victory over the Texans.

LB Ryan Shazier, Pittsburgh Steelers — A head-first tackle in 2017 left Shazier paralyzed from the waist down.  He had spinal surgery, but he refused to give up on playing. He sat out the 2018 season, but remained with the team, helping in scouting and coaching. He has been able to run, lift significant weights and even dance at his wedding.

Good Guy Award (NFL player for his qualities and professional style in helping pro football writers do their jobs):

CB Prince Amukamara, Chicago Bears — Amukamara was nominated by both local writers as well as national media. He has won local Good Guy awards in his time with the Bears and the New York Giants and in one of the nominations it said: “To have such respect from writers in two of the NFL’s four biggest markets says it all.’’

DE Chris Long, Philadelphia Eagles (retired) — Long, who recently announced his retirement, was the PFWA’s 2018 Good Guy winner and was again nominated by both local and out-of-market media. He was consistently lauded for his willingness to provide thoughtful, in-depth answers on a variety of topics ranging from football to social justice to a host of other issues surrounding the league, both on and off the field.

S Devin McCourty, New England Patriots — McCourty was lauded for his openness, professionalism and consistent approach to both local and national media in a competitive market with a team that has consistently been in the Super Bowl mix. McCourty had multiple nominations that singled out “respect’’ for the interview process and the understanding of what’s needed.

QB Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers — Rivers was nominated by both local and national writers and was cited for consistently giving not only his time for interviews but for thoughtful answers on any and all topics as well. Rivers was consistently a go-to for local media, the weekly conference calls and for national media looking for thoughtful responses on a wide range of topics.

T Joe Staley, San Francisco 49ers — Staley, a 12-year veteran, was nominated as “the kind of player and person that the club has tried to build around. Through it all, Staley has been very good in his dealings with the media through his humor and insight. But, also, he is real. He does not even try to hide his emotions. When he’s upset, he says it and acts it. The reporters who cover the 49ers appreciate his honesty and the fact he is never phony.”

S Eric Weddle, Baltimore Ravens — Weddle was cited for consistency and professionalism at all points in his 2018 season with the Ravens. He was described as “always accountable, thoughtful, professional and respectful to the media that covered the team. Even after the toughest of losses, he’d stand in front of his locker and do waves of interviews.’’ Weddle signed with the Rams as a free agent in March.

Dick McCann Award (Reporter who has made a long and distinguished contribution to pro football through coverage):

Jarrett Bell, USA Today — Bell has covered the NFL for USA Today since 1993. He previously covered the San Francisco 49ers for the Marin Independent and was Dallas Cowboys Weekly editor. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector, serves on the contributor selection committee and is on the Super Bowl MVP panel.

Vinny DiTrani, Bergen Record (retired) — “The Sage,” as Bill Parcells called him, covered the New York Giants for 34 years. DiTrani became the first media member to announce a pick at the NFL Draft in 2010 at Radio City Music Hall. He formerly served on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times — Farmer has covered the NFL for 25 years. For his first 16 years at the Los Angeles Times, Sam covered the NFL without a team in his market. He was named California Sportswriter of the Year in 2016, and he has been named Associated Press Sports Editors beat writer of the year. He also was the Raiders beat reporter for five seasons with the San Jose Mercury News.

Clark Judge, Talk of Fame Network — Clark started covering the NFL in 1982 at the Baltimore Evening Sun. He went on to cover the Chargers and 49ers before becoming a columnist for FoxSports.com and CBSSports.com. He is member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is a member of the Hall’s contributor selection committee.

Jeff Legwold, ESPN.com — Legwold is in his third decade as a NFL writer. He covered the Broncos for nine years for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News before joining ESPN.com in 2013 as the Broncos’ reporter. He represents Denver on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is a member of the Hall’s senior selection committee. Legwold was the PFWA president for the 2015-16 seasons.

Gary Myers, The Athletic — Myers was the New York Daily News‘ NFL columnist from 1989 to 2018. He began covering the Cowboys in 1981 for the Dallas Morning News and became the paper’s columnist. A contributor to The Athletic who also has done extensive TV work, Myers is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee member and author of the books “The Catch”“My First Coach”“Brady vs. Manning” and “How ‘Bout Them Cowboys”.

Jack Horrigan Award (League or club official for his or her qualities and professional style in helping the pro football writers do their job):

Chris Ballard, Indianapolis Colts general manager — A two-time finalist for the Horrigan Award in his three years as the Colts’ general manager, Ballard just “gets it.” He is accessible to both local and national media throughout the year and understands that transparency leads to better, more informed coverage. From one beat writer: “Maybe most important of all, he’s been honest. I cannot think of an instance where he intentionally lied on or off the record. That has developed a trust, which must go both ways.”

Jerry Jones, Dallas Cowboys owner/president/general manager — Jones is a rare accessible voice among NFL owners, speaking with local and national reporters frequently throughout the year, as well as after every game, providing insights on his team as well as league issues.

Joe Horrigan, Pro Football Hall of Fame executive director — In his Twitter bio, Horrigan calls himself a “pro football historian” and that somehow doesn’t seem to fully cover his role in documenting league history and making that history accessible to journalists covering the league. Horrigan is retiring on June 1 after 42 years at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Andrew Howard, NFL Network communications manager — Howard has built a strong relationship with reporters across the league through his willingness to connect media with NFL Network talent for interviews. Howard understands the value that NFL Network’s analysts bring to coverage of the league and works tirelessly to make sure those requests are fulfilled.

Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams head coach — McVay is “incredibly accessible and always patient” in dealing with both local and national media, said one PFWA member. McVay has a personal touch in dealing with reporters and managed to remain accessible and insightful during the Rams’ NFC championship season.

Pete Rozelle Award (NFL club public relations staff that consistently strives for excellence in its dealings and relationships with the media):

Baltimore Ravens — Under Kevin Byrne and Chad Steele and staff members Patrick Gleason, Tom Valente and Marisol Renner, the Ravens consistently receive enough nominations to be finalists each year. Baltimore has won three Rozelle Awards (2011, 2013 and 2017-tie).

Buffalo Bills — Under Derek Boyko and his staff of Kevin Kearns, Chris Fanelli and Nicole Hendricks, the Bills are among the six finalists, and they have an opportunity to win the Rozelle Award for the first time. Boyko was part of staffs at Philadelphia that won the award twice (2002, 2005).

Denver Broncos — Patrick Smyth and assistants Seth Medvin and Erich Schubert have become perennial finalists for the Rozelle Award. Since Smyth took over the department, the Broncos have won the Rozelle Award in 2014 and 2016. Denver also won the first Rozelle Award in 1990 when Jim Saccomano led the department.

Houston Texans — Amy Palcic and her staff of Allie LeClair, Omar Majzoub and Nathan Edwards have consistently excelled in assisting the media. The Texans are looking to win a NFL-leading sixth Rozelle Award (2004, 2007, 2010, 2012 and 2017-tie).

Los Angeles Rams — Artis Twyman and assistants Julia Faron, Tiffany White, Travis Langer and Joanna Hunter helped the local and national media cover the NFC champions in 2018. The Rams haven’t won the Rozelle Award since 1997, when Rick Smith was in charge of media relations.

New England Patriots — Under longtime VP of media and community relations Stacey James, and his staff of Aaron Salkin, Michael Jurovaty, Mark Robbins and Anne Noland, the Patriots are looking for the franchise’s first Rozelle Award after New England won its’ sixth Super Bowl title in 2018.

Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman Award (Lifetime achievement as an assistant coach in the NFL):

Gunther Cunningham — Cunningham spent 35 seasons in the NFL, including 33 as an assistant coach. He began his NFL career with Baltimore/Indianapolis (1982-84), and he also worked with San Diego (1985-90), Los Angeles Raiders (1991-94), Kansas City (1995-2000 – including two seasons [1999-2000] as head coach – and 2004-08), Tennessee (2001-03) and Detroit (2009-16). Chiefs owner Clark Hunt summed it up pretty well about the late Cunningham: “During his nine seasons as defensive coordinator and two as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, he led some of the most feared defenses in our franchise’s history with his energetic and motivating coaching style. Gunther made a tremendous impact on so many lives on and off the playing field in nearly five decades of coaching.”

Rod Marinelli — Marinelli is in his 24th season in 2019 as a NFL coach, and his seventh year (2013-present) with the Dallas Cowboys, where he is the defensive coordinator (promoted in 2014) and defensive line coach. He entered the NFL as a defensive line coach, and later assistant head coach, for Tampa Bay (1996-2005). After three seasons as Detroit head coach (2006-08), he was Chicago’s assistant head coach/defensive line coach in 2009, and was promoted to assistant head coach/defensive coordinator (2010-12). A premier defensive line coach, the Buccaneers led the NFL in overall sacks during his tenure there, and the Bears led the league in interceptions (24) and takeaways (44) in 2012. In Dallas, the Cowboys defense has consistently improved each year, including a jump from 32nd to 19th in 2014, when Dallas went 12-4, and finishes of eighth (2017) and seventh (2018). Marinelli has coached in one Super Bowl (XXXVII) with Tampa Bay, when the Buccaneers dominated Oakland for the title.

Bobb McKittrick — McKittrick, who developed undersized offensive lines during 21 years and five Super Bowl titles with San Francisco, spent 28 years as a NFL offensive line coach. His 49ers lines protected quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young during 21 seasons (1979-99) with San Francisco. Sports Illustrated said McKittrick “may be the most successful position coach of his era” since “few coaches have done so much with so little.” McKittrick was an assistant for the Los Angeles Rams (1971-72) and San Diego (1974-78) before joining the 49ers in 1979. He coached in five Super Bowls (XVI, XIX, XXIII, XXIV, XXIX) with the 49ers, winning all five, and was one of only four 49ers coaches who were part of all five title teams.

Terry Robiskie — Robiskie is in his 38th season in 2019 as a NFL coach, and his first with Jacksonville as the Jaguars’ running backs coach. After a five-year NFL playing career, the began his coaching career in 1982 with the Los Angeles Raiders as a special teams assistant and spent 12 seasons with the Raiders, including five (1989-93) as offensive coordinator. He moved to Washington and spent seven seasons with the Redskins (1994-2000), including serving as interim head coach in 2000. He worked six seasons (2001-06) with Cleveland, and he once again served as an interim head coach, completing 2004 for the Browns after his promotion to offensive coordinator earlier that year. He was a wide receivers coach for Miami (2007) and Atlanta (2008-15), before he returned to a offensive coordinator role for Tennessee (2016-17). After one season with Buffalo (2018) as wide receivers coach, he joined the Jaguars in 2019. His experience spans decades and eras, and few coaches know the passing game better. Among the players he coached: Marcus Allen, Stephen Davis, Julio Jones and Roddy White. Robiskie has coached in one Super Bowl (XVIII), winning the title with the Raiders.

Mike Westhoff — Westhoff spent 32 years as a NFL assistant coach, and he is regarded as a special teams pioneer. He began his NFL career with the Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts (1982-84), where he worked with the offensive line, tight ends and special teams. After one season with the USFL’s Arizona Outlaws as an offensive line coach, Westhoff returned to the NFL with Miami (1986-2000) as a special teams coach. He moved to the New York Jets (2001-12) as the special teams coordinator, and during his stint in New York, the Jets led the NFL with 16 touchdowns on kickoff returns. He retired after the 2012 season, but was lured out of retirement by New Orleans in the middle of the 2017 season. He worked with the Saints’ special teams units, and helped turn Taysom Hill into a Swiss Army knife of a player. Westhoff retired again after the 2018 season.

The 2019 PFWA Off-Field Awards will be announced each day from June 3-7 and June 10. The announcement schedule (release time 1 pm ET each day on ProFootballWriters.org, @PFWAwriters on Twitter and by email to members and media outlets):

Monday, June 3: George Halas Award
Tuesday, June 4: Good Guy Award
Wednesday, June 5: Dick McCann Award
Thursday, June 6: Jack Horrigan Award
Friday, June 7: Pete Rozelle Award
Monday, June 10: Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman Award