Wednesday, July 29, 2009

This One's for you JJ...

Very, very sad news for the Birds family, the city of Philadelphia and really the entire NFL last night. Eagles defensive coordinator and mastermind of blitz packages usually reserved for Play Station usage, succumbed to cancer last night at 68. Johnson, who fellow NFC East fans, offenses and coaches feared for the last 10 years, was forced to leave the Eagles for good in May due to the mestastized melanoma near his spine. Johnson is survived by his wife, Vicky, their children, Scott and Michelle, and four grandchildren. Funeral services are pending. The Eagles are expected to wear a patch commemorating Johnson on their uniforms this season.

Johnson's loss is truly tragic. Not just from a football perspective but from a human perspective. My heart bleeds for anyone who deals with loss, especially something so debilitating as cancer. Johnson was a fighter and many people, including Coach Reid, say Johnson embodied the Philadelphia spirit, probably more than any coach on any professional team.

People have often wondered why Johnson, an assistant for 22 years, never got a head coaching job. I know he interviewed for a few positions (the Baltimore and SF openings come to mind), but he was somewhat of a late bloomer in the coaching world. I think people were a little scared to hire a guy in his 60s, and I also know the Eagles paid him a salary that was extremely high for a coordinator. That underscores what he meant to this team.

The defense we had during our 2008-09 season was among the very best I've seen. I will never forget the run we made to get into the playoffs, highlighted by our defense taking apart Dallas, Minnesota and the NY Giants.

The stats and Johnson's "coaching offspring" speak to his legacy and dominance.

  • During Johnson's decade with the team, the Eagles made the playoffs 7 times, including 5 NFC Championship games and 1 Super Bowl.
  • In the 10 years he coached the defense, Johnson produced and astounding 26 defensive Pro Bowl selections for the Eagles. That's an incredible stat when you think about it.
  • Since 2000, Johnson's defenses have ranked second in the NFL in sacks and in forced fumbles, second in third-down and red-zone touchdown efficiency, and fourth in fewest points allowed.
  • Johnson's lineage includes two current NFL head coaches and three NFL defensive coordinators who all started as Eagles coaches (Ron Rivera - San Diego, Leslie Frazier - Minnesota, Sean McDermott - Philly, John Harabaugh - Ravens head coach, Steve Spagnuolo - former NY Giants defensive coordinator and current St. Louis Rams head coach).
Obviously profound sadness has hit the Eagles and their fans, but here's a sample of quotes I found, which resonated with me.
  • "He really represented everything this city is all about, with his toughness and grit. That's the way he fought this cancer. At this time, I think it's important that we do think of the good times that Jim brought us, as we go through the grieving process here, remember all the positives that he brought to the Philadelphia Eagles and to the city of Philadelphia. The whole Andy Reid regime here that's taken place, wouldn't have been possible without Jim." -Andy Reid-
  • "The moment I'll always remember was last January after we had just lost [to the Arizona Cardinals] and we were in the locker room." There were a few moments where I was alone with Jim and he came over to me and said, 'I'm so sorry we didn't deliver this for us.' I remember thinking to myself, 'Oh, my God, Jim, I have the best defensive coordinator in football for the last 10 years.' I told him, 'You have nothing to be apologetic about. You give more than any owner could possibly expect.' It was one of those rare, emotional moments when things are so upsetting because we hadn't advanced to the Super Bowl. He was so confident we were going to get the ring. He was just so apologetic and I'll always remember that moment." -Jeff Lurie-
  • "This is a sad, sad day for myself and my Philadelphia family." 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 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. I have been praying for him every day, and those prayers won't stop now. I'll be praying for his family and their comfort during this difficult time." -Brian Dawkins-
  • We went into Indianapolis for a Thursday night or a Sunday night game and they had half their defense out with injuries. We had a respectable team at the time and we thought we were really going to be able to make something happen here. Then Jim's defense came out blitzing us on every single play, and I think we lost by 30 points. Then we hired Andy and he mentioned Jim, and Jeff and I looked at each other and said, 'Wait, that's the guy who coached against us in Indianapolis.' They were missing their whole team and they killed us anyway. We were immediately like, 'That's a good idea.' -Joe Banner-

Jim Johnson will be missed, but clearly will not ever be forgotten.

1 comment:

  1. Ross,

    This was a fitting tribute to one of the best pro coaches Philly has ever known. Gave me a warm chill. You included some nice tidbits about JJ as a person as well. Nice work my friend