News & Analysis

PFF's 2015 NFL Positional Coaches of the Year Awards

By Neil Hornsby
Jan 20, 2016

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Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips pumps his fist during the first half of an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)

The 2015 season marks the first time PFF is honoring positional coaches and coordinators across the NFL. We felt it was time that the guys behind the scenes got the recognition their efforts deserved, and took it as an opportunity to highlight the work we saw as exemplary.

It is important to understand that our selection process was not based around choosing the coach with the best overall talent, or even just the group who performed the best.

In its simplest form, it was about who managed to get the most from what they had, whether that be All-Pros or undrafted free agents and cast-offs. We looked specifically at the improvements that had been made over the previous year(s) and gave that factor a high weighting. Among other things we considered were how adversity had been handled and the overall experience level a coach/coordinator had to work with.

20 of our analysts voted for a first, second, and third place finisher for each award. Coordinators/coaches that received a first place vote from an analyst were awarded three points; second place, two points; and third, one point. The cumulative score for each coach was then added up to decide the winner and runners-up for each award.

For the first time ever, PFF proudly presents our Positional Coaches Awards.

 

Offensive Coordinator of the Year

Winner: Mike Shula, Carolina Panthers

Despite losing his best wideout before the season, Shula molded an explosive offense perfectly suited to his quarterback’s skill set. Somehow he managed to get the best out of nearly everyone he had at his disposal, with only three players who were on the field for 600 or more snaps finishing with a below-average grade. The story of the Carolina Panthers since GM Dave Gettleman came on board is a remarkable one, and integral throughout has been how Shula has built and improved the offense.

First runner-up: Harold Goodwin, Arizona Cardinals

Second runner-up: Hue Jackson, Cincinnati Bengals

 

Wide Receiver Coach of the Year

Winner: Darryl Drake, Arizona Cardinals

Drake may have had a superior set of talent to work with, but he squeezed the best out of every one of his players. All six receivers seeing playing time graded positively this season, and all but one improved over the previous year. And it wasn’t just their receiving prowess that shined—they did a more than competent job blocking for the run, finishing the year as our second-highest graded unit in that regard.

First runner-up: Jerry Sullivan, Jacksonville Jaguars

Second runner-up: Ricky Proehl, Carolina Panthers

 

Offensive Line Coach of the Year

Winner: Chris Morgan, Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta’s O-line turnaround was astonishing; the Falcons went from our 26th ranked unit in 2014 to fourth this year, without spending ridiculously in free agency or making a splash in the draft. Regardless of cost, three new players had to be integrated, and that is a difficult task in itself. In the end, both tackles improved markedly over their previous season, and both new guards meshed well, too.

First runner-up: Mike Tice, Oakland Raiders

Second runner-up: Bill Callahan, Washington Redskins

 

Tight Ends Coach of the Year

Winner: Arthur Smith, Tennessee Titans

We’ve consciously tried to avoid talking about individual players throughout this article, but the improvement of Delanie Walker from unfulfilled second tight end to superstar is remarkable. It’s also worth noting that every other Titan tight end has improved significantly over last year, and this is now (by far) the best blocking group in the league.

First runner-up: Jonathan Hayes, Cincinnati Bengals

Second runner-up: Richard Angulo, Baltimore Ravens

 

Quarterbacks Coach of the Year

Winner: Todd Downing, Oakland Raiders

While people saw talent in rookie QB Derek Carr, he was still our 38th of 39 ranked quarterback in 2014. His deep and underneath game was significantly flawed, and his ability to read blitzes remained poor. That completely changed in 2015, turning into a borderline top-10 signal caller whose deep game has improved out of all recognition, with a penchant for taking on extra rushers—his QB rating when blitzed is now 108.7. Downing deserves credit for his part in turning Carr from a borderline case to a franchise-worthy player.

First runner-up: Matt Cavanaugh, Washington Redskins

Second runner-up: David Lee, Buffalo Bills

 

Running Backs Coach of the Year

Winner: Tim Spencer, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

With a rookie quarterback, you need to relieve some of the pressure by running the ball, and as the run-blocking fell away, it appeared the runners just got stronger. A 65 percent increase in running back yards, despite the aforementioned decline in blocking, is enough in itself, but throw in a 40 percent increase in running back receiving yards and a huge improvement in pass protection, and Spencer became our clear winner.

First runner-up: Sherman Smith, Seattle Seahawks

Second runner-up: Stan Drayton, Chicago Bears

 

Defensive Coordinator of the Year

Winner: Wade Phillips, Denver Broncos

Phillips took elite talent and turned it into an elite defense, which in our opinion, is far more difficult than it sounds. Although he had the ability to get pressure with four, he still somehow found a sweet-spot in generating pressure by using the blitz often. That, together with his rotation of weapons, delivered a devastating smorgasbord of woe to nearly every offense they went up against. Again, this appears straightforward, but compare and contrast to a similar situation in Buffalo, which ended with completely different results.    

First runner-up: Matt Patricia, New England Patriots

Second runner-up: Sean McDermott, Carolina Panthers

 

Defensive Line Coach of the Year

Winner: Pepper Johnson, New York Jets

Sure, there’s an embarrassment of riches at the position, but with little at linebacker, particularly on the outside, there’s a lot to compensate for, and it was this group that ultimately propelled an otherwise unremarkable team to the edge of a playoff berth. Every other Jets unit had bad days to go with the good, but the DL was a model of consistent excellence throughout, and Johnson rightly deserves the plaudits for that.

First runner-up: Bill Kollar, Denver Broncos

Second runner-up: Jay Hayes, Cincinnati Bengals

 

Linebackers Coach of the Year

Winner: Reggie Herring and Fred Pagac, Denver Broncos

Yes, we know this group is stacked, too, but it’s one thing to bring a bunch of talent together—it’s entirely another to have them playing at the level of this group. Superstars have mixed seamlessly with free agent after-thoughts and rookies so coherently that at times, it doesn’t matter who is on the field.

First runner-up: Al Holcomb, Carolina Panthers

Second runners-up: Mike Vrabel, Houston Texans, and Gary Gibbs, Kansas City Chiefs

 

Secondary Coaches of the Year

Winner: Joe Whitt Jr. (CB) and Darren Perry (S), Green Bay Packers

The fact that the strength of the Packers’ defense contains three rookies and two second-year players says a lot about how well this pair has brought the youngsters along. Good drafting? Sure, but someone needed to put all those new pieces together in a secondary unit that ranked eighth overall in the NFL.

First runner-up: Josh Boyer (CB) and Brian Flores (S), New England Patriots

Second runner-up: Steve Wilks, Carolina Panthers

 

Special Teams Coach of the Year

Winner: Jerry Rosburg, Baltimore Ravens

Beyond any other unit, special teams is so much more than the sum of the individual parts. Having good players helps, but with so little time to allow them to gel (they are nearly always being pulled two ways with their positional coaches requiring time, too) it’s as difficult a coaching job as there is in football. The fact that Rosburg had our 11th-ranked group in 2013, third last year, and first in 2015 is a testament to the work he has done.

First runner-up: Dave Toub, Kansas City Chiefs

Second runner-up: Nate Kaczor, Tennessee Titans

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