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Tuesday, July 28, 2009
NFC West retrospective: Jim Johnson

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Jim Johnson was a terrific coach long before making a name for himself nationally as the Eagles' defensive coordinator. He spent eight seasons with the Cardinals and one with the Seahawks, among other stops, before landing with Philadelphia in 1999.

Johnson's death from cancer Tuesday at age 68 robbed the NFL of a likeable man. He was linebackers coach for Seattle in 1998, my first season as an NFL beat reporter. Johnson was generous with his insight and seemed to enjoy helping others learn about the game. 

The Seahawks watched Johnson join Andy Reid's inaugural Eagles staff as coordinator in 1999 before they knew Mike Holmgren's longtime defensive coordinator in Green Bay, Fritz Shurmur, would die of cancer before coaching a single game in Seattle. 

With Johnson in Philadelphia, Holmgren went through four defensive coordinators during his tenure. A team could have done worse than to have Holmgren running the offense and Johnson running the defense.

Johnson, known for his pressure defenses, credited the mid-1990s 49ers for shaping his defensive philosophy.

Johnson: "It was around 1994 or '95, when I was with the Colts and we were playing against San Francisco with Steve Young running the West Coast offense, releasing receivers all the time, guys getting by you. The idea was, 'Don't let these people dictate to you. You have to put more pressure [on the quarterback],' and every year we tried to figure out how to do that." 

Johnson found ways to do it more effectively than most. He will be missed. Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo, who worked under Johnson in Philadelphia, credited Johnson for positively impacting his coaching career.

Spagnuolo: "My wife Maria and I are deeply saddened to hear of Jim's passing. He was a dear friend and a special person. Our prayers and thoughts go out to his wife Vicki and their family. Jim meant the world to me, both personally and professionally. I am very blessed to have had the privilege to work for him and with him. The NFL has lost a good man."