(EDITOR'S NOTE: During this offseason we frequently ask guest columnists to contribute. One of the most familiar is NFL historian John Turney of Pro Football Journal, who today pushes the late Alex Gibbs for a Pro Football Writers' award he considers "the Hall of Fame for assistant coaches.")
When long-time NFL offensive line guru Alex Gibbs passed away earlier this month, it brought to mind that he is yet another of the great assistant coaches who should to be rewarded for his career accomplishments.
Specifically, he should be in line for the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) “Dr. Z” Award that goes to the best-of-the-best career NFL assistant coaches. And Alex Gibbs is certainly one of those.
And then some.
Gibbs was one of the pioneers (not the inventor) of the zone-blocking scheme that has become standard in the NFL today, one that relies on smaller, quicker linemen rather than the behemoths that were populating the NFL in the 1980s. His linemen blocked for MVPs, won championships and became All-Pros and Hall of Famers.
The central figure there was the man who coached them, Alex Gibbs. When his time comes, he deserves to be recognized with the Paul Zimmerman – or “Dr. Z” award – an honor that should be considered the Hall of Fame for assistant coaches.
Or, as Raiders’ coach Jon Gruden once put it, “a prestigious-ass award.”
Alex Gibbs entered the NFL (after 15 years in the collegiate ranks) under Dan Reeves in 1984—the same year Mike Shanahan entered the NFL as a wide receivers coach. The next season Shanahan was promoted to offensive coordinator, and Gibbs became his offensive line coach for 13 of the next 19 seasons, implementing and perfecting the zone-blocking scheme that was so effective with the Broncos’ running game that it helped put Terrell Davis in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Davis ran for 1,000 yards four times (including a 2,000-yard season), was a Super Bowl MVP, a league MVP, two-time Offensive Player of the Year, three-time All-Pro and two-time Super Bowl champion.
Furthermore, in Gibbs’ nine seasons as assistant head coach/offensive line coach during Shanahan’s head-coaching tenure in Denver (1995-2003), the Broncos led the NFL in rushing-yards-per-game (139.9) and were among the top five in rushing seven times. When Shanahan was Denver’s offensive coordinator, Gibbs was instrumental in putting the Broncos in consecutive Super Bowls (1986-87), coaching a unit that blocked for quarterback John Elway’s 1987 NFL MVP season.
In all, during Gibbs’ coaching and consulting career, he had eight running backs rush for 1,000 yards for a total of 16 times—not including Bo Jackson’s 950 yards in less than a full season in 1989.
But those are just a partial list of his credentials. He also was a teacher and motivator of linemen like Hall-of-Famer Gary Zimmerman and Mark Schlereth. He made sure backs understood the blocking scheme so they could be as effective as possible, one reason why running backs like Olandis Gary and Mike Anderson stepped in after Davis suffered a devastating knee injury and produced 1,000-yard seasons.
All of these accolades are the stuff of someone who should, at some point, be the winner of the Paul Zimmerman Award. Twenty-eight seasons, multiple thousand-yard rushers, two MVPs (Elway and Davis), two Super Bowl rings, multiple rushing titles and top-five finishes make Gibbs worthy.
In my view, he’s on the short list among the very best offensive line coaches of all time.