Be It Offensive Lines or Cancer, the Late Jim Johnson Coached His Way Through

Dan ParzychSenior Writer IJuly 30, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - SEPTEMBER 21: Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson of the Philadelphia Eagles walks off the field during pre-game warmups before their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on September 21, 2008 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

To the city of Philadelphia and its fans, he was known as a defensive genius who loved to blitz the opposing team’s quarterback.

For the rest of the NFL, he was not only a defensive genius who caused headaches for opposing offenses, but also one of the most respected defensive coordinators in all of football.

Sad news came for the Eagles and the city of Philadelphia this week as long-time defensive coordinator Jim Johnson lost his battle with cancer at the age of 68. 

The news came just four days after the team named Sean McDermott the defensive coordinator for the 2009 season.

Back in January, the team announced Johnson was diagnosed with a malignant tumor on his spine, around the same area where he was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2001. Shortly after doctors noticed the tumor, he began radiation treatment.

Over his 10-year career as the Eagles defensive coordinator, Johnson always had his defense near the top of the rankings.

From 2000-08, his defenses ranked second with 390 sacks. He has helped develop 26 Pro Bowlers and made the playoffs seven times, including five trips to the NFC Championship game and one Super Bowl.

One of Johnson’s best seasons as a defensive coordinator came in 2001, when the Eagles became the fourth team in NFL history to go 16 regular season games without allowing more than 21 points. That season, the Eagles made it to their first of four straight NFC Championship game appearances.

Johnson arrived as a defensive coordinator in the City of Brotherly Love in 1999, the same year Andy Reid was named head coach. According to an interview from, Reid claims he would not be where he is today if it weren’t for Johnson.

“The Andy Reid regime here that’s taken place wouldn’t have been possible without Jim,” coach Andy Reid said. “I’m not sure there’s a person that I’ve met that isn’t a Jim Johnson fan. He really represented everything this city is all about with his toughness and grit—that’s the way he fought this cancer.”

Reid’s comments regarding Johnson’s battle with cancer could not be more true. During the Eagles’ last two playoff games last January, Johnson coached the games from the press box due to back pain.

In May, he coached during the post-draft minicamps from the sideline on a scooter and a cane to help him walk around.

Not only did Johnson have an impact on Reid’s career as the Eagles head coach, but he had a major impact on the players who played under him. Former Eagles safety Brian Dawkins appeared in seven Pro Bowls in the 13 years he played under Johnson.

Everybody knows the type of talent Dawkins was gifted with, but Johnson’s desire to draw up specific plays to help maximize his talent level shows us the type of relationship he had with his players.

“Jim was tailor-made to coach in Philadelphia,” Dawkins said in a statement. “He was a tough coach who wasn’t afraid to let you know how he was feeling. 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.”

He may have lost his battle with cancer, but Johnson did everything within his power to avoid letting the disease keep him from coaching the game he loved. When he was diagnosed with melanoma back in January, most of us can’t even imagine the type of pain he must have been going through.

Instead of taking a leave of absence like most coaches or players would do, he did everything he could to stay on the field during post-draft minicamps as a coach until it became too much for his body to handle.

There is no doubt any one’s mind that Sean McDermott will succeed as the Eagles new defensive coordinator. He has been involved with the team’s defense as an assistant over the years and had one of the best mentors show him the way in Johnson.

Johnson's passing leaves a void in the Eagles organization that some can only describe as irreplaceable. He may no longer be with the team, but his presence will live on with the Eagles and the city of Philadelphia for years to come.

He has developed a successful system that has worked wonders for the Eagles over the last 10 seasons. This system will continue to be used by McDermott and the Eagles for years to come, no matter what.

As a die-hard Eagles fan, all I can say is that on behalf of the city of Philadelphia and their fans, we will miss you on the sidelines each week in the fall.

Thank you for all of exciting playoff runs, the intense, consistent blitzes on opposing quarterbacks, and the hard work and dedication you have put into this organization over the last 10 years.

Everything you have done for the organization will never be forgotten and you will truly be missed. Be sure to look down upon the Eagles and their 2009 season.

Dan Parzych is the Eagles Fan Voice for