Hue Jackson's handling of Andy Dalton is a big reason he was named the NFL's top assistant coach for 2015.
For the second time Thursday Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis saw one of his staffers selected as NFL Assistant Coach of the Year when former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson got the nod from the Pro Football Writers of America.
For the first time since the PFWA awarded an Assistant Coach of the Year in 1993, there was a tie. Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips joined Jackson after leading Denver to the NFL's overall defense title by racking up the league's most sacks. In his second season as Bengals offensive coordinator, Jackson vaulted to the top of the list of head coach candidates by guiding quarterback Andy Dalton to a career year and the AFC passing title. Using a dizzying smorgasbord of formations and plays, the Bengals broke to their best start ever at 8-0 and finished with a franchise-best 12-4 record while three players scored at least 10 touchdowns for the first time in club history. Less than four days after backup quarterback Andy Dalton shocked the Steelers with a 16-point fourth quarter that nearly claimed a Wild Card Game, Jackson was named head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
He joined former Bengals coordinators Mike Zimmer (Minnesota) and Jay Gruden (Washington) as head coaches in the league. And then he joined Zimmer with the PFWA award. Zimmer won the top assistant title in 2009 when his fourth-ranked defense was the centerpiece of a division sweep that gave the Cinderella Bengals the AFC North title.
"Cincinnati and the Bengals organization will always be close to my heart," Jackson texted Thursday from Cleveland, reacting to the news as he put the finishing touches on hiring his staff.
" I just need to thank (Bengals president) Mike Brown, (vice presidents) Katie and Troy Blackburn and Marvin for their confidence they bestowed on me two years ago. But I must also thank the players that played so hard for me and gave so much of themselves to me. I also have to give a shout out to the staff that made my job seamless and gave me everything they had."
The PFWA also recognized Carolina's Ron Rivera as NFL Coach of the Year and Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan as Executive of the Year.
STAFF ADDITIONS: While Jackson is in the final throes of completing his first staff, Lewis appeared to finish off the biggest facelift of his 14 seasons with three moves on Thursday.
He re-assigned Robert Livingston to assist defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle, replacing Vance Joseph and Mark Carrier. Livingston, in his second season, served last year as defensive quality control/special teams assistant.
Lewis also hired two offensive staffers in Dan Pitcher, an assistant working with wide receivers and quarterbacks, and Robert Couch, a quality control coach who'll work with the offensive line.
Pitcher spent the last four seasons with Indianapolis, including the last two as a pro scout. He was a scouting assistant in 2012-13 after three years as the starting quarterback at SUNY-Cortland in his hometown of Cortland, N.Y. After he was a 2011 finalist for the Gagliardi Award presented to the most outstanding NCAA Division III player, he coached wide receivers at Cortland in 2012.
Couch, from Orlando, Fla., played offensive line at Vanderbilt before serving on the practice squads of the Falcons and Rams. Couch, who has spent the last few years in private business while coaching high school, also played in NFL Europe with Barcelona and London.