MIKE O'HARA

Former Lions assistant Fritz Shurmur one of Dr. Z Award winners

Posted Jun 9, 2014

Fritz Shurmur, whose 45-year coaching career in college and pro football included three seasons with the Lions, is one of four members of the 2014 inaugural class to be honored with the Dr. Z Award.

Fritz Shurmur, whose 45-year coaching career in college and pro football included three seasons with the Lions, is one of four members of the 2014 inaugural class to be honored with the Dr. Z Award.

The awards – given by the Pro Football Writers of America and officially known as the “Paul ‘Dr. Z’ Zimmerman Award” – are for coaches who have distinguished themselves as assistants.

The award is named after Paul Zimmerman, a retired sports writer who last wrote for Sports Illustrated. Zimmerman suffered a stroke in 2008 that forced his retirement.

Other winners of the 2014 Dr. Z Awards are Howard Mudd, an offensive line coach for 39 years with eight teams; Ernie Zampese, a 24-year assistant who helped develop the modern passing game; and the late Jim Johnson, a 23-year defensive assistant who was a master of disguising blitzes.

Shurmur, who died in 1999 as he was about to begin his first season as defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks, grew up in Wyandotte and played and coached at Albion College.

After 21 seasons as a college coach, Shurmur began a 24-year career as an NFL assistant as the Lions’ defensive line coach in 1975. He was promoted to defensive coordinator in 1977 and left after that season when the coaching staff was fired.

Shurmur was beloved by players and co-workers and respected for his ability to structure defenses that maximized the ability of his players.

After leaving the Lions, Shurmur was defensive coordinator of the Patriots, Rams, Cardinals and Packers. The 1996 Packers won the Super Bowl and the 1997 team lost to the Broncos and John Elway in the Super Bowl.

In Detroit, Shurmur worked on a staff that included current New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who was in the beginning stages of what has become a Hall of Fame career.

After the 1975 season with the Baltimore Colts, Belichick spent the next two seasons (1976-77) in Detroit and arrived as a 24-year-old coaching novice.

Belichick often has spoken of the invaluable experience he got with the Lions under Shurmur’s guidance.