While all the offseason NFL coverage is dominated by Michael Vick coming back and Brett Favre not coming back (to the latter of which I say, thank God), you may have missed the sad news of the death of Jim Johnson, the Philadelphia Eagles’ longtime defensive coordinator, after a long battle with cancer. IN 10 years under the blitz-happy Johnson, the Eagles made one Super Bowl and five NFC title games, including last January’s loss to Arizona.
I’ve never been much for the “genius coordinator” meme. Every time an NFL team features a scoreboard-popping offense or a swaggering, ballhawking defense, announcers and presshounds start to throw around the word “genius” when talking about the offensive or defensive coordinator. Often enough, it’s just hype generated by an assistant who’s looking to land a head coaching gig of his own. Sometimes the genius coordinator actually turns out to be a successful head coach (Tony Dungy). Sometimes he’s a genius who’s overmatched by the demands of head coaching (Mike Martz). And other times he’s a smoke-and-mirrors act, riding the coattails of the head coach’s system and the talent of the players under him (Charlie Weis). Johnson never actively sought a head coaching job but stayed in a position that suited his strengths and his temperament, and though he got tagged with the “genius” label, too, he never looked to cover himself in glory. He simply made the Eagles into a team that gave you trouble.
There’s every reason to think that NFC East offenses will have an easier time this season, but there will be time to worry about the football implications of this later. For the moment, Cowboys fans should take their caps off to a worthy adversary who’s with us no longer.