Jim Johnson spent only one season with the Seahawks, but it was long enough to realize that he was a great coach and an even better man.
Johnson died Tuesday after battling cancer. He was 68.
While it became apparent last week that things were not going well when the Philadelphia Eagles named Sean McDermott as a permanent replacement for the venerable defensive coordinator, Johnson’s death still was a shock.
Johnson was hired by then-Seahawks coach Dennis Erickson in 1998 to coach the team’s linebackers, after Johnson had blown Erickson away during his interview for the job.
When Mike Holmgren was hired to replace Erickson the following year, he tried to persuade Johnson to stay on as linebackers coach. But Johnson wanted an opportunity to be a coordinator, and Eagles coach Andy Reid gave it to him.
How much impact did the innovative and aggressive Johnson have on the Eagles’ run of success that included playing in four consecutive NFC title games (2001-04) and one Super Bowl (’04)?
“The whole Andy Reid regime here that’s taken place, wouldn’t have been possible without Jim,” Reid told reporters at the Eagles’ training camp Tuesday night.
Imagine what might have happened if Johnson had stayed with the Seahawks. After Fritz Shurmur, Holmgren’s long-time defensive coordinator, died of cancer in 1999 before ever coaching a game, Johnson could have stepped in.
Rather than playing in one Super Bowl, it’s a pretty good bet that the Seahawks would have appeared in at least one more with Johnson unleashing his blitz-based genius in Seattle rather than Philly.
Too farfetched? Not to Matt Hasselbeck.
The Seahawks quarterback had this to say via Twitter: “Jim Johnson – one of the best Def Coordinators of all time. Ask any QB.”
Hasselbeck should know. In his first home start for the Seahawks, Johnson’s aggressive scheme turned Hasselbeck into an unwitting pinball as he whirled from one blitzer only to smack into another.
End result from that 2001 game at Husky Stadium: Seven sacks for 41 wrong-way yards in the Eagles’ 27-3 victory.
I kept in touch with Johnson after he left the Seahawks, and it was always entertaining and informative to get his brutally honest – and spot-on – assessments of players and their performances.
As Eagles middle linebacker Stewart Bradley told the Philadelphia Daily News, “He definitely could get into you, but that was Jim – he was an equal-opportunity yeller.”
Not to mention one of the best coaches – and men – to ever walk the Seahawks’ sideline.