I never thought I’d see the likes of Jim Johnson again. Yet here we are 10 years later and another guy with the same first name, a similarly dry sense of humor and an equally devastating defense is holding down the same job.
At the same level.
I think about Jim Johnson a lot. I was around him for 10 years and was always impressed not just by his ability to coach defense at an extraordinary level, but by his ability to motivate and communicate, his leadership, his wisdom, his compassion.
There are some fundamental differences between Johnson, the Eagles’ brilliant defensive coordinator from 1999 until his death after the 2008 season, and Schwartz, who has served as Doug Pederson’s defensive coordinator since 2016.
Johnson loved smart, older veterans, while Schwartz seems to really favor playing young, fast guys. Johnson loved to blitz. Schwartz doesn’t.
But the similarities are strong. Both were veteran linebacker coaches who served under offensive-minded coaches who have complete trust in them. Both paid their dues in almost identical fashion, Johnson making nine college and NFL stops in 25 years before settling down in Philly and Schwartz holding down nine jobs in 26 years before arriving here. Both were in their 50s when they joined the Eagles.
More than anything, both almost instantly turned struggling defenses on bad teams into smart, tough, physical, disciplined defensive units on playoff teams.
When Johnson arrived in 1999, the Eagles hadn’t ranked in the top four in the NFL in points allowed since 1981. Then they ranked fourth, second, second, seventh and second from 2000 through 2004 and then ninth and fourth in 2007 and 2008.
When Schwartz arrived 17 years later, the Eagles were coming off three disastrous defensive seasons that were more the fault of Chip Kelly than defensive coordinator Bill Davis, whose units were forced to play a record number of minutes and snaps because of Kelly’s hurry-up offense and invariably collapsed late in the season.
Like Johnson, Schwartz had the Eagles fourth in points allowed by Year 2. We’re now in Year 3 and I fully expect this to be a top-three unit when all is said and done.
It took the Eagles six years to get to a Super Bowl with Johnson, just two to win one with Schwartz.
Johnson respected his players, trusted them, listened to them, and they paid him back by always playing the game the right way and giving everything they had. Schwartz is the same. He throws a lot at them, challenges them to be great. And they respond.
Both were so well-respected in the locker room that even the superstars they coached — Brian Dawkins under Jim Johnson, Fletcher Cox now under Jim Schwartz — played hungry, played unselfishly, played in the team concept.
Get the superstars to buy in, and everybody else will.
But the similarities go beyond their coaching styles.
Their personalities are so similar. That dry, sarcastic wit. Both terrific storytellers. Both completely lacking in bombast or braggadocio. Humble. Honest. Funny. Inspiring.
More than anything, they put a product on the field that keeps the Eagles in virtually every game, and when the most was at stake, they were at their best.
The Eagles played 17 playoff games under Johnson and his units allowed a ridiculous 15.8 points per game in those games.
Schwartz’s unit last year allowed 16.7 per game in the postseason, and yeah, the Patriots piled up a lot of yards and points in the Super Bowl, but when someone absolutely had to make a play, Brandon Graham made a play.
The one thing that really ties both Jims together is their passion for the game and the way they treat people.
That’s contagious. It carries over into the locker room. This sort of brilliance, innovation, creativity and passion only comes along once in a lifetime.
Or in this case, twice.