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Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Eagles' Johnson leaves an impressive legacy


Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

You knew when the Eagles announced last week that Sean McDermott would become the permanent defensive coordinator that his mentor Jim Johnson was in really bad shape. Johnson took a leave of absence last May to battle a cancerous tumor on his spine. On Tuesday, Johnson, one of the best defensive minds of the past 25 years in the league, passed away at age 68

He leaves behind a legion of admirers, both in the Eagles' locker room and among fans. As he battled cancer late in the 2008 season, he started using a cane. But he loathed talking about his discomfort. He wanted to be on the sideline to give instant feedback to his players, but he was forced to coach from the press box. 

After the playoff win over the Vikings, I recall Johnson sitting at a stool in front of his locker taking questions for 30 minutes after the game. He was willing to do that after a win or loss. Johnson was often referred to as an defensive genius, but he never really enjoyed that label.

He was the rare assistant in the NFL who never obsessed about being a head coach. I think he could have been a good one, but he relished the opportunity to coach the defense. In my opinion, he was the best in the business at making adjustments on the fly. 

I remember asking linebacker Stewart Bradley one time how many blitz packages Johnson would take to a game. He told me the number was around 22 heading into the playoff game against the Giants last season. Most defensive coordinators take seven or eight blitzes to a game. 

It sounds like Andy Reid was able to see Johnson one last time Monday. Reid is not the sentimental type, but I always got the feeling that he really looked up to Johnson. He was a coach who had a wealth of knowledge from all his years in the game, but he was also willing to change on a dime. 

Like everyone, I had hoped Johnson would coach again. I know he would have hated retirement. At 68, he didn't seem to be losing any passion for the game. 

Now the Eagles will have to move on without him. In many ways, he'll still be there. He has left a legacy that will last many years. And I'm sure the Eagles will dedicate the 2009 season to him. 

Please feel free to share your favorite memories of Johnson.