Remembering Jim Johnson

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Remembering Jim Johnson
(Photo by Getty Images)

By Ryan of The Sportmeisters

We can easily name some of the greatest coaches in the game. Names like Vince Lombardi and Chuck Noll roll off the tongue with ease.

But in today’s NFL, coordinators are just as important, if not more important in some roles, than the head coach. That is why we need to remember a defensive innovator such as Jim Johnson, who died July 28 after losing a battle with cancer.

Jim Johnson spent over forty years coaching, first in the college ranks before a quick USFL stint, and then finally emerged into the NFL in 1986. Eight seasons as defensive line and secondary coach for the Arizona Cardinals saw the start of a promising career.

Johnson finally took the reigns as a defensive coordinator in 1997 for the Indianapolis Colts, but that reign was short lived, as he was fired immediately after the season. However, behind every door is another opportunity.

After a stint as linebackers coach in 1998 with the Seahawks, which saw that team score eight interceptions for touchdowns (second most in NFL history), Jim Johnson took over as the Philadelphia Eagles Defensive Coordinator, a role he held until just this past Sunday.

With Johnson, Head Coach Andy Reid was allowed to focus more on his offense. He gave full reign of the defense to Johnson, who did not disappoint. His tenure saw some of the most tenacious Eagle defenses ever in the NFL.

Johnson's teams recorded 342 sacks in a seven year span (2000-07)—the most in the NFL. In that same span, his team allowed the fourth fewest points per game (17.6).

His 2001 team was probably the most tenacious, as they were just the fourth team to ever allow less than 21 points a game for the entire season. That streak ran a total of 34 games, the second most in NFL history.

Johnson has had 26 Pro Bowl selections from his defensive units—including Brian Dawkins, Hugh Douglas, Troy Vincent, and Asante Samuel.

It is extremely rare that we see a coordinator be given such freedom to run his defense, especially in today’s "win now or go home" NFL. Coaches keep their coordinators on tight leashes, as they’re trying to save their jobs, and the coordinators are working for head coaching jobs.

Jim Johnson had a gift for creating pressure through various blitz packages. As a New York Giants fan, I got to see this from both sides—whether it was a sea of green slamming down on Eli Manning, or when one of Johnson’s disciples, Steve Spagnuolo, spent two years using those same schemes running his defense.

There will be many NFL coaches and coordinators, but it is highly unlikely we will ever see another Jim Johnson.

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