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Eagles' mad scientist of defense will be sorely missed

Jim Johnson was a little bit of a contradiction.

His defensive schemes reflected the kind of way-out-of-the-box thinking that one would expect from someone with the personality of a mad scientist. He was so inventive and so creative, you expected a man who carried himself in a manner that was, well, a little bit out there.

And nothing could have been further from the truth.

The Jim Johnson I knew was a no-nonsense kind of guy who was satisfied with doing his job as well as possible and little else beyond that.

He was engaging, his tall and lanky frame making him an imposing presence, his deep voice commanding your attention and his tremendous insights into all aspects of football requiring that it be undivided.

But being defensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles wasn't about him. It was about building some of the best and most effective defenses the NFL has ever seen. And it was something Johnson did with a great deal of dignity and class.

The signature of Johnson's scheme was innovation and aggressiveness. Opposing quarterbacks not only could count on being blitzed, they could count on often not knowing who would blitz and the direction from which the blitzer was coming.

Johnson coached without fear. He believed in his strategy and in his ability to get his players to execute it well.

However, Johnson's confidence never overshadowed his results. Some people are great at telling you what they're going to do but not so good at doing it. Johnson was the opposite of that. He said it. He did it.

Numerous current and former Eagles defenders have Johnson to thank for their success. A remarkable 26 Pro Bowlers came out of his system.

Johnson also was responsible for helping to launch some outstanding coaching careers. John Harbaugh took that education with him when he became head coach of the Baltimore Ravens. Steve Spagnuolo did the same when he became defensive coordinator of the New York Giants and helped them win a Super Bowl, and he is relying on it now as head coach of the St. Louis Rams.

Two other current defensive coordinators, San Diego's Ron Rivera and Minnesota's Leslie Frazier, are employing that aggressive, blitz-happy approach they learned from Johnson, and both are likely candidates to ascend to the head-coaching ranks as well.

The irony is that Johnson never became a head coach in the NFL. He certainly had the talent for the job, but he carved out a tremendously successful career as a top lieutenant. Andy Reid is a superb head coach, but it could be argued that the Eagles would not have become a perennial Super Bowl contender without Johnson.

Sadly, Reid and the rest of the Eagles must deal with life without Johnson, who lost his battle with cancer Tuesday. A lot of us will notice the void left behind by a true defensive mastermind whose creativity defined what he did but not who he was.

We'll miss you, Jim.

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