PFF’s 2015 NFL Positional Coaches of the Year Awards

PFF founder Neil Hornsby proudly presents our first ever NFL positional coaches awards, honoring the best of the 2015 season.

| 9 months ago
(AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)

(AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)

PFF’s 2015 NFL Positional Coaches of the Year Awards

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

| PFF Founder

Neil founded PFF in 2006 and is currently responsible for the service to the company's 22 NFL team customers. He is constantly developing new insights into the game and player performance.

  • McGeorge

    >>Winner: Pepper Johnson, New York Jets

    You gave him this award because he got production out of:
    Mohamed Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Leonard Williams, Damon Harrison

    Were Wilkerson and Richardson and Harrison unknowns last year? And it was his coaching that improved them? Plus he was handed Leonard Williams (who was considered one of the highest rated players entering the draft) .
    He may well have done a good job, but he was handed a very good group of players.

  • Backinmd

    Matt Cavanaugh should have won QB Coach of the Year ..Kirk Cousins was the lowest rated NFL QB at the start of the 2015 season ..He improved more and faster than David Carr did in Oakland… Cousins improved every week during the season with no running game to speak of ..

    • Neural Bullet

      Oh, yes, Cousins definitely improved way more than David Carr. His brother Derek, the Raiders’ QB? Not so much.

      • Backinmd

        Big rap on Derek Carr was he couldn’t read defenses coming out of college and never learned in the Pro’s …DC press was comparing K. Cousins to Al Capone in the beginning of Sept. .” Worst ” starting QB in the NFL they said numerous times …. Now if Derek would have had a better QB coach in the NFL he might have been more dominate and played longer … David Carr DID have a good year and I saw plenty of highlight clips of him and their great rookie receiver – Amari Cooper… From the highlights Amari is going to be a superstar ….

        • Chad Thostenson

          you’re kind of right, you just need to realize, derek carr plays for the raiders, and david carr is an analyst on NFL network and former houston QB. Oakland will never have a good franchise because they are surrounding carr with a great O-line and weapons, they never run(especially in the red zone), and most of his stats are in garbage time passing on 1st, 2nd and 3rd down all while having no defense. bottom line is, those things make a quarterback seem a lot better than they actually are. he’ll get a huge, huge contract, probably the biggest after andrew luck, and he’ll never be worth it and they’ll never win a super bowl. the most undervalued player on the raiders roster is L. Murray, and they never give him the ball, look at what he does with 20 or more carries, they don’t run the ball in the redone, this is a guy who runs like AP and they are too worried about padding D. Carr’s stats to sell jerseys.

  • 24AHAD

    Chiefs rb coach?? No way

  • Will

    It’s spelled Joe Whitt, just fyi.

  • SeattleSteve

    Nice to see the Packer’s secondary coaches getting some love. It seems like every year they’ve got either an undrafted or late round guy making plays.

    • Brian Dugan

      Agreed. Joe Whitt has been doing amazing work for years now.

  • JC Harris

    Mike Shula, yet not one interview for a HC spot …

    • crosseyedlemon

      And it’s doubtful the Crimson Tide will require his services again anytime soon.

    • Tim Edell

      Shula said he would not interview until their season was over. Teams had expressed the desire to interview him but most, except for Atlanta last year, will not wait until February to hire their coach.

      • Allen

        Word is that he actually never said that and that another coaching candidate’s agent was spreading the rumor. Unfortunately Shula doesn’t have an agent of his own and he was to wrapped up in game prep to actually make his interest in interviewing clear.

        • Tim Edell

          Interesting.. Had not heard that

          • Allen

            There’s an article on profootballtalk about it. All Shula said was that he was focusing on the playoffs

    • Mark Erickson

      I’m not sure what the league’s general consensus is on Shula at the helm, but I will say I think the teams that were shopping for a new HC got impatient and wanted to fill their vacancies, leaving attractive prospects like Shula and Mcdaniels that were in the midst of a deep postseason run with no opportunities to interview. Sad to see teams like the Eagles and Titans settle for lesser candidates (retaining Mularkey is just downright depressing), but maybe this is part of the reason why bad teams stay bad..

      • Backinmd

        I hear that when he was HC @ Alabama, he lacked leadership & motivational skills ..Same reason Norv Turner never made it as a head coach — in Washington anyway … Shula , I feel, would be making a mistake taking any head coaching job again whether in the NFL or College …We’ll never see Norv Turner as a head coach again ..Nothing against Mike Shula .. He did a great job with Cam Newton and turned his career around , and when he became OC turning the Panthers around ..His play calling is spectacular ….30% of a head coaches job is motivation .. In the NFL Vince Lombardi was supposed to be the best ever as far as motivation goes …He got more out of the Packers than they had ..Who’s the best motivator in the NFL now ? .. I don’t know ..

  • Devin

    What about Brendan Daly for defensive line coach. The Patriots had a top 10 run defense and they had 49 sacks, good for second best in the league. The only real “big name” player he has is Chandler Jones. The rest of the production came from guys like Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal sheard, Alan branch, and malcolm brown.

  • crosseyedlemon

    This list is long overdue in my opinion. Hopefully next year at the mid season point we will see a similar list of leading candidates.

  • Matt

    Offensive line coach John Matsko (Panthers). Took what has been weakness in the past and turned them into a strength. Made Michael Oher into a competent, maybe even above avg, left tackle. Should have been considered for just that feat alone.

    • twelsh36446

      Look at all the years Oher was considered a bust. He is playing at a high level now.

  • Kason Edell

    Matt Patricia deserves it over Wade Phillips.

    • DCTexan

      PFF got it right with Phillips. Denver wouldn’t have a winning record, much less have secured the #1 seed in the AFC against the toughest schedule in the NFL this season (Broncos have beaten 6 of the 12 teams in the playoffs) without Wade calling the defense. Their offense was a joke, and they still put up 12 wins. Consider that Jack Del Rio had this same personnel group last year when he was Defensive Coordinator for the Broncos, and he had no idea what to do with them.

    • Bob

      U are a complete liar

      • twelsh36446

        Screw you bobby boy.

    • WICKED

      Does he? Lmao. The playoff performance says different.

    • twelsh36446

      No he doesn’t.

  • Alfredo Cota

    Jethro Franklin has to be at least a honorable mention among D-Line coaches. The Raiders have average talent (excluding Mack) but they ranked at #4 overall in D-Line rating.

    • Chad Thostenson

      you can’t exclude Mack, and then credit the d-line on a #4 ranking. that ranking is all Mack,

  • WL- Minneapolis

    Andre Patterson, the Vikings Defensive Line Coach, deserved at least a runner-up nod. He had just about every player at every position along the line playing well, and developed 21-year old rookie Danielle Hunter into a force who landed on the Pro Football Writers’ All-Rookie team, with more sacks his first year than he had in college, and despite being picked #88 overall in the draft. Starting NT Linval Joseph was the PFF All-Pro at his position as well, and DE Everson Griffen a Pro Bowl alternate. In short, he made the most of the talent he had to work with, and then some.

    • Chad Thostenson

      if those guys were wearing green and gold, you wouldn’t even have to mention it. Hunter should be on everybody’s radar. smith, joseph and barr should have been easy pro bowl votes. but guys like khalil mack get pro bowl for DE and LB with 55 tackles(very impressive), and clay matthews, who wasn’t even a top 20 LB. its all about who has a bigger name and dumber fans.

  • Anita Pea

    Okay, if you think that Bill Callahan wasn’t the best oline coach in the league, then I think PFF should start doing drug tests.