As feared throughout the Eagles offseason, defensive coordinator Jim Johnson will probably not be part of the 2009 Eagles season. Johnson has been stoically fighting melanoma cancer and had taken a leave of absence following the team’s first mini-camp in May.
Johnson, 68, has always been Reid’s companion through his 10 years in Philadelphia that have mostly been filled with more ups than downs. The cornerstone of Reid’s coaching staff is a respected veteran defensive stalwart coach with 42 years in the business.
Johnson has been a steady warrior in coaching circles since 1967 when he was head coach at Missouri Southern. You know the "King of Blitz" would be at training camp at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa if he could, however he and his family will be concentrating on a bigger opponent.
In Johnson’s place, the team named Sean McDermott the new defensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday. The removal of the "interim" tag from his title was a bittersweet moment for the 35-year-old assistant coach, who basically grew up in the Eagles organization.
A Philadelphia-area native, McDermott had grown up watching the Birds and worked his way up in the organization over 11 years with the team—scouting coordinator to Reid’s assistant to assistant defensive backs coach to defensive backs coach to linebackers coach back to defensive backs coach, and finally defensive coordinator.
In being named to his new position, you could sense the excitement in the developing young coach.
But clearly a lot of his thoughts were with the man that taught him everything about defense. McDermott said at his announcement press conference, "It’s important to understand that some of my biggest concerns now are for Jim and [his wife] Vickie and their entire family."
In announcing McDermott, Reid stopped to reflect on Johnson’s battle.
"Both Sean and I are very sensitive to the situation with Jim and the battle he’s continuing with melanoma, I’ve been in contact with both Jim and Vickie and they fully support this situation, knowing that right now this is absolutely the best thing for the team, to have somebody in a leadership position who is here."
When asked what he has learned from Johnson over the years, McDermott smiled and said, "What haven’t I learned from Jim?"
The former Philadelphia All-Catholic hard-hitting safety from LaSalle High School and William & Mary added, "He’s been a significant influence in my life, both on and off the field.
"He’s been a mentor to me on the field, of course. But I don’t think it would be fair to Jim to limit to one statement, one press conference, the effect he has had on my life.”
From his mentor, McDermott will inherit an Eagles defensive unit that ranked No. 1 in the NFC in 2008—allowing 274.3 yards per game in the regular season.
When asked what he learned from Johnson that made the biggest impression on him, McDermott smiled again saying, "Blitz…and then blitz some more."
It will now be in McDermott’s hands to maintain Johnson’s high level of excellence especially at giving quarterbacks fits—48 sacks in 2008. I am sure he will lean on veterans like CB Sheldon Brown and defensive end Juqua Parker to convey Johnson’s way of defense to the younger players.
Under McDermott’s tutelage, the Eagles secondary has always been one of the NFC’s best and has sent members Brian Dawkins, Lito Sheppard, Michael Lewis, and Asante Samuel to the Pro Bowl.
In announcing his new defensive coordinator Reid said, "I know the players, coaches and the entire organization have the utmost confidence in Sean. Maybe most of all, Jim Johnson has the utmost confidence in Sean and the job he’ll do."
In NFL circles, McDermott even before stepping in for Johnson, was quickly becoming known as one of the NFL’s up and coming coaches along with Bucs head coach Raheem Morris and Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels.
Though Eagles fans may wait to assess Reid’s opinion of his new young coach, McDermott has a good reputation with players. During the later part of the 2008 season, former Eagles Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins credited him with his rejuvenated play.
McDermott said that his job would mainly be to continue what Johnson has done in his time with the team.
But he added, "There’s one thing I know—this system, it works. From there, we’ll add wrinkles. I think you’ll see that over time. I learned from Jim, but at the same time you have to walk in your own shoes."