The PFWA’s Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman Award 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.
As a 15-year-old, Zimmerman sparred with Ernest Hemingway in a Manhattan gym. He broke his nose four times as an offensive lineman in high school (Horace Mann High in the Bronx, N.Y.), at two colleges (Stanford and Columbia) and for his Army team (the Western Area Command Rhinos, in Germany). He also played semi-professionally in New Jersey for the Paterson Pioneers and the Morristown Colonials.
Before joining SI in 1979, Zimmerman worked for the Sacramento Bee, New York Journal-American and the New York World-Telegram & Sun, and he spent 13 years at the New York Post, where he covered pro football and three Olympic Games. He was one of the few journalists to get close to the Israeli compound during the 1972 hostage-taking in Munich; he bucked two lines of security guards and took a rifle butt to the head.
He served as the 10th president of the Pro Football Writers of America during the 1982 season. He received the PFWA’s highest honor, the Dick McCann Award, in 1996 for a long and distinguished contribution to pro football through coverage.
Zimmerman was still writing multiple columns a week for the magazine and its website, SI.com, until he suffered his strokes.
He was cared for until his death on November 1, 2018, by his loving wife, Linda, known as “the Flaming Redhead” in his writings. The couple was married in 1999.
PAUL “DR. Z” ZIMMERMAN AWARD WINNERS (For lifetime achievement as an NFL assistant coach):
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
2019 — Gunther Cunningham and Mike Westhoff
2020 — Bill Arnsparger and Romeo Crennel
YEARLY FINALISTS (winners in bold)
2014 — Bill Arnsparger, Alex Gibbs, Jim Hanifan, Jim Johnson, Bobb McKittrick, Howard Mudd, Dante Scarnecchia, Fritz Shurmur, Mike Westhoff, Ernie Zampese
2015 — Bill Arnsparger, Dick LeBeau, Bobb McKittrick, Tom Moore, Dante Scarnecchia, Emmitt Thomas
2016 — Monte Kiffin, Bobb McKittrick, Wade Phillips
2017 — Bud Carson, Gunther Cunningham, Bruce DeHaven, Jim Hanifan, Bobb McKittrick
2018 — Joe Bugel, Bobb McKittrick, Jim McNally, Emmitt Thomas, Dave Toub
2019 — Gunther Cunningham, Rod Marinelli, Bobb McKittrick, Terry Robiske, Mike Westhoff
2020 — Bill Arnsparger, Romeo Crennel, Dick Hoak, Rod Marinelli, Bobb McKittrick, Floyd Peters, Buddy Ryan, Bobby Turner