Philadelphia Eagles' Jim Johnson Remembered

Jason McGovern@maccgizzleCorrespondent IJuly 28, 2009

Philadelphia again faced the loss of a beloved sports icon, seemingly unfair for a city that has already endured the deaths of the legendary sportscaster Harry Kalas and longtime local Action News director Gary Papa earlier this year, when longtime Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson succumbed to cancer Tuesday afternoon.

Johnson joined the Eagles in 1999 when the uncelebrated Packers' quarterbacks coach, Andy Reid, took over for struggling Ray Rhodes. Under Johnson's complex, aggressive schemes, Philadelphia's defense immediately became known for dictating the game to opposing offenses rather than taking the more typical wait-and-react approach.

That attacking mentality, which Johnson unleashed game after game, year after year, enthralled the hardcore Philadelphia fans who reciprocated that very same fervor and mindset each and every Sunday themselves.

During this young century thus far, Philadelphia has ranked near the top in points allowed, sacks, defensive red-zone percentage, and third-down efficiency under Johnson’s tutelage and gameday command.

But more than numbers can speak to, it was Johnson's ability to dial up the right scheme at the right time that helped define his legacy as a defensive mastermind.

I still remember on opening day in 2001 against the Rams, when St. Louis was still considered the greatest show on turf, seeing Jim Johnson send not one, but two cornerback blitzes on the same play in the first quarter. Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent looked like two tigers taking down a gazelle.

Kurt Warner never knew what hit him, and from that point on, he was out of sync. Nobody had ever dared to blitz the Rams that way back in their heyday with the likes of such big-time scoring threats such as Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, and Torry Holt in their primes.

It was that kind of attitude and playcalling that kept both young and experienced quarterbacks alike in extra film study preparing for a Jim Johnson defense. If offenses had vulnerabilities, Johnson would find and expose them, forcing them to run what the Eagles defense wanted more often than not.

Jim Johnson sent 10 different Eagles to the Pro Bowl, totaling 26 appearances during the past 10 years. Only one of those players (Jeremiah Trotter) was from the linebacker corps, a unit that was often scrutinized under Johnson's tenure. A credit to Johnson though, as he did a masterful job covering up what the front office had seemed to overlook year-in and year-out until recently.

Ironically, last year was the first time during Jim Johnson's era in Philadelphia that management had assembled a core set of young talented linebackers as opposed to the rotating stop gaps that so often played the position for Johnson.

Barring injury, the youth movement could provide the city with its best set of backers since Seth Joyner, Byron Evans, and Willie Thomas were bringing the pain in Houston (See House of Pain Game).

Prior to joining Andy Reid, Johnson spent one year in Seattle as the linebackers coach when the Seahawks scored the second-most defensive interceptions for touchdowns in NFL history.

Like so many great minds of the game, Johnson's assistants had an outstanding record of success after leaving his nest.

Dave Spagnuolo, as defensive coordinator in New York the past two years, revamped a defense, which paved the way for another Super Bowl title for the Giants. Now he hopes to lead the Rams, as head coach, back to relativity.

John Harbaugh, in his first year as head coach of the Ravens, may have already won a Super Bowl ring had it not been for their arch rivals' (Steelers) three-game sweep, including the AFC Championship last season.

Both San Diego and Minnesota perennially have two of the league's stingiest defenses when healthy, led by two more of Johnson's assistants, Ron Rivera and Leslie Frazier, respectfully.

At 68, Johnson never held a head coaching position in the NFL, but only because he never wanted one. He never felt the need to prove himself to anyone. He loved what he did, and he didn't need the money as he was one of the highest-compensated assistant coaches in the NFL.

We will miss you Jim Johnson. R.I.P.