Whereas almost every Eagles fan has an up and down relationship with the head coach Andy Reid, you’d be hard pressed to find a fan who isn’t a pretty big fan of the teams defensive coordinator for the last 10 years, Jim Johnson. He has been forced into retirement by a battle with cancer.
Under Johnson, the Eagles have ranked near the top in almost every important defensive category in the last decade. Since 2000, the Eagles have been second in sacks (390), tied for second in tackles for a loss (457), second in forced fumbles (159), second in red zone efficiency (43.9 percent), and second in third down efficiency (34 percent). During the Johnson era, the Eagles have finished fourth in the NFL in points allowed — just 17.7 per game.
Ray Didinger of Comcast SportsNet and WIP610 recounts his obsessive creative process and why the quality of his defenses was so high:
[via Johnson Often Did His Best Work on Napkins – Ray Didinger – CSNPhilly.com]
The story has gone around for awhile now and Jim Johnson has never denied it. The coach was dining out with his wife one evening when, according to legend, he grabbed a handful of napkins and excused himself from the table. He was gone for quite awhile.
Most wives would have been concerned, but Vicky Johnson is a coach’s wife. She knew exactly what was going on. It was nothing to worry about, it was just football.
Jim returned 20 minutes later and the napkins were covered with diagrams and squiggly lines. His wife asked, “Where were you this time?” This time, Jim said, it was the coat check room. He ducked in there and in less time than it takes to polish off an antipasto, he had drawn up a new blitz scheme for the next game.
That’s just one example. There are dozens more, maybe hundreds. Jim Johnson was more than a defensive coordinator; he was an innovator whose mind never stopped working. He kept a notepad on the dresser at home and another in the car so that if he had a sudden idea while combing his hair or driving to work, he could jot it down.
That’s why his defense never got stale. That’s why the Eagles were so good on that side of the ball for a decade. They kept evolving as a defense and coming up with new looks because Johnson was always looking for that next big idea. And he usually found it.
Many a weekend I jumped out of my seat cheering one of Jim Johnson’s blitz crazy defenses. Good luck to he and his family as they battle with cancer.