Yesterday, I got home from work and performed my customary routine: changed out of my work clothes and tuned in to Daily News Live. A short while later, after discussing the impressive display rookie tight end Cornelius Ingram showcased at that day's morning practice with Ray Didinger, the show went to commercial. When it came back, there was Neil Hartman conveying the sad news: Jim Johnson, the Eagles defensive coordinator for the entire 2000s, had lost his battle with skin cancer and passed away.
Of course, I was saddened, but I seemed to take it in stride at first. We all knew Johnson was not doing well, and I think we all knew deep down he'd never be with the Eagles again. But then, as Les Bowen and Paul Domowitch and Ike Reese and Sal Paolantonio relayed the tales of how Jim Johnson affected their lives, it began to hit me. Jim Johnson, easily the best coordinator the Eagles have had in my lifetime, was gone. The architect of that aggressive, blitz-happy defense gone.
I never met Jim Johnson. I don't really know a damn thing about him other than he was a damn fine coach. But I do know a hell of a lot about the defenses he constructed, and man, they have been devastating. Quarterbacks cringed when they had to face the Eagles, because no matter what, they knew they were going to get hit. Conventional wisdom be damned, Jim Johnson was bringing the blitz and attacking your weakness no matter what. And he did, and did it better than anyone.
It's hard to put things in perspective as to just what Jim Johnson has meant to the Andy Reid-era Eagles. Emphasis always seemed to fall at the feet of Andy's playcalling, never Jim's. But in this city, it was a fascinating dynamic that the fans had with the defensive coordinator. While Andy received the brunt of criticism for the team routinely coming up just short, Johnson has been praised and cherished by this hard-nosed fanbase. Perhaps it's because, no matter what, the Eagles were going to reflect the city on the defensive side of the ball — hard-nosed, aggressive, never backing down, consequences be damned.
Johnson coached some damn fine players: Hugh Douglas, Troy Vincent, Brian Dawkins, Jeremiah Trotter, Sheldon Brown, just to name a few. All of them credit him for their success. All of them.
No one knows what effect his loss will mean to the team. Sean McDermott is a Johnson disciple, a protege groomed to take the helm. If the success of Jim Harbaugh, Steve Spagnuolo and company are any indications, the Eagles should be just fine. Jim Johnson has proven himself an excellent teacher, to both players and coaches. But it's safe to say things will never quite be the same. How can they be? The team, the city just lost an icon.
R.I.P. Jim Johnson. You will be missed. Go join Harry up in heaven.