When the story broke last night I was gearing up to watch the Phils play the D-Backs; football was the furthest thing from my mind.
Jim Johnson was even further.
Not because I didn't care about his battle, or about his family. No, it was because I just assumed he'd pull through.
You see as an Eagles fan I, like many, have had the privilege of learning a great deal about the 68-year-old defensive coordinator the last 10 years. The foremost of which being that the strength of Jim Johnson has always been the strength of his defensive scheme; perseverance. So my belief that Jim would overcome this latest challenge was due to his already established record.
When he came to Philadelphia, his impact was immediate. If you weren't going to hustle every play, if you weren't going to give everything you had every play, you weren't going to be here very long.
And simply being a high draft pick or a coveted free agent didn't mean you got a pass on this, as many can attest. Because he'd just take some late round pick or undrafted player, put them in your place and have them be in Pro Bowl discussions until you got your act together.
In fact, guys like Quintin Mikell, Joselio Hanson, Derrick Burgess owe their entire careers to him. As talented as Brian Dawkins is, there's no doubt in my mind he'd be less of a household name if he played for any other coach these last ten years. Dawkins would attest to this by saying:
"He was an absolute blessing to me with the way he used me on the football field and allowed me to show my God-given ability. His confidence in me meant so much —he looked to create new defenses each week to utilize my talents"
Johnson would develop entirely new schemes and packages to install for Dawkins to reek havoc in.
How many quarterbacks in this league have been quoted as saying; "I didn't know where they were coming from..."?
How many times have we as fans watching the game seen an Eagle player make a tackle and have to wait for the third replay to finally figure out where he came from?
The tendency in life, unfortunately is to take for granted what you have until it's gone.
Every off season the topic around the Eagles is what, if any, offensive players the front office is bringing in. When Asante Samuel got here a year ago the response was somewhat lackluster and when T.O. first came everyone was excited.
That's largely because week after week the one thing Eagles faithful could count on was Jim Johnson was going to have the defense ready to play. We expected them to make big plays, get sacks, fumbles, and interceptions. The only time we noticed is when they didn't.
Johnson never had the talent on D like a Buddy Ryan had. He was constantly changing out a starter or two each year due to injury or free agency which makes his resume even more impressive.
During his 10 years his defenses have forced the third most turnovers during that span and are in the top five in points allowed. When Johnson came here in 1999 he said:
"We're going to be a defense that gives up the fewest points and causes the most turnovers."
In a world where a man's word has increasingly little value, Johnson stood by his and delivered every week, every season.
And yet we really didn't know enough about Jim Johnson the man off the field.
How much he loved spending time with his grandchildren, how much he loved his wife. How little the gruff man on the sidelines who could cower grown men with glare resembled the man his family knew. When he was asked about his wife's statement that he's a softy at home he, without an ounce of shame or hesitation confirmed it.
His defense could have shut out the Patriots in a Superbowl win and it still would not be as endearing to me as that simple admission. Close, but not the same.
His loss will be especially felt when the Eagles do finally win a Superbowl ring. Because no one is more deserving, or been more crucial to the Eagles success and he won't be here to enjoy it.
Even though Andy Reid gets a lion share of the acclaim for the Eagles success, the best thing he did for this team was hiring Jim Johnson.
Johnson got Reid's attention when his winless Colts pulled a stunning upset of the Packers in 1997. The win impressed Reid so much, two years later when he was asked about potential defensive coordinator candidates the first and only name Reid gave was Johnson's.
Johnson is the reason John Harbaugh and Steve Spagnuolo are head coaches and why Ron Rivera could have been a head coach but decided to be one of the highest paid defensive coordinators today.
Johnson is also the reason why for the first time in a decade there are questions about the Eagle defense. Questions that will remain unanswered well past opening day.
My prayers and thoughts go out to his wife, his two children, and four grandchildren as they cope with the void he leaves behind.
Leave it to Dawkins to sum it up best:
"Jim was tailor-made to coach in Philadelphia. He was a tough coach who wasn't afraid to let you know how he was feeling, but at the same time, he cared about us deeply."
He will truly be missed.