Former New England Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, who was part of the organization for seven years and helped it win its first three Super Bowls, was nominated for the prestigious Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman Award earlier this month. The trophy, named after the late Sports Illustrated writer, honors a coach’s lifetime achievement as an assistant and is handed out annually by the Pro Football Writers of America.
This year, two of the eight men nominated were named as winners — and Crennel is one of them as was announced by the PFWA on Monday:
The late Bill Arnsparger, who was the mastermind of Miami’s “No-Name Defense” and “Killer Bs” and helped take three different franchises to the Super Bowl, and Houston associate head coach Romeo Crennel, who is in his 38th season as an NFL coach and has coached on five Super Bowl championship teams, have been selected as the 2020 Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman Award winners by the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA).
Arnsparger and Crennel are the 15th and 16th recipients of the Dr. Z Award, which was instituted by the PFWA in 2014.
The 73-year-old is now the fourth former Patriot to win the award. Long-time offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia was one of the recipients in 2015, one year after Ernie Zampese (offensive coordinator, 1998-99) and Fritz Shurmur (defensive line coach, 1978-79; defensive coordinator, 1980-81) were honored.
Crennel’s career in coaching began in 1970, when he became the defensive line coach at his alma mater, Western Kentucky. Following other stops in college football, he made the jump to the NFL in 1981, when he joined the New York Giants as their special teams coach — a role he held for nine years before taking over the team’s defensive line in 1990. Three years later, his first of two stints in New England began.
Re-joining with long-time Giants head coach Bill Parcells, Crennel joined the Patriots as their defensive line coach between 1993 and 1996. After stints with the New York Jets (1996-99) and Cleveland Browns (2000), he returned to the Patriots in 2001: now under head coach Bill Belichick, a former colleague of his in New York, Crennel was named the team’s head coach and as such was one of the architects of a dominant defense that helped the club win three world championships over a four-year span.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Romeo, and I have a lot of trust in him,” Belichick said about Crennel during his introduction in New England back in 2001. “It is a close personal relationship and a close professional relationship. People talk about my defensive system, but nobody has worked as closely in the system with me as Romeo has. We’ve been through an awful lot of games, workouts and practices. Of all the people I have worked with, I think I have the most history with him.”
Crennel left New England following the 2004 season to become head coach in Cleveland (2005-08) and later defensive coordinator and head coach in Kansas City (2010-12). Since 2014, he has filled numerous roles with the Houston Texans, most recently as assistant head coach for the last three years.
Crennel and fellow recipient Bill Arnsparger beat out Dick Hoak, Rod Marinelli, Bobb McKittrick, Floyd Peters, Buddy Ryan and Bobby Turner for the honor.