clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Jim Johnson, former Eagles and Colts defensive coordinator, has passed away

Jim Johnson: 1941-2009
Jim Johnson: 1941-2009

One of the best coordinators this league has ever known has left us. Jim Johnson, who for ten years coached the fearsome Philadelphia Eagles defense and before that coached the defense for our Colts, lost his long battle with melanoma cancer today. He was 68.

Bleeding Green Nation has more on the late, great Jim Johnson.

For us Colts fans, we have always admired and appreciated what Johnson did for Indy's defense from 1996-1997. He took over for Vince Tobin, who left the Colts to coach the Arizona Cardinals. Johnson was Tobin's linebackers coach, and to say the linebackers were the backbone of Indy's defense is an understatement. They were the spine of the entire team.

In the magical year of 1995, Jim Harbaugh got all the credit for leading a scrappy Colts team within a Hail Mary of the Super Bowl. However, equally vital was the defense, in particular Jim Johnson's linebackers (Jeff Herrod, Quentin Coryatt, etc.). 

Few know this, but Johnson developed his now legendary defensive philosophy while a position coach and coordinator in Indy. Any Colts fan will tell you that the game that transformed the Colts from a doormat organization into a respectable franchise was the team's 1995 win over the San Francisco 49ers. And it was during that game that Jim Johnson turned his linebackers loose on then-49ers QB Steve Young. Johnson describes the game and his philosophy:

It was around 1994 or '95, when I was with the Colts, and we were playing against San Francisco with Steve Young running the West Coast offense, releasing receivers all the time, guys getting by you. The idea was don't let these people dictate to you. You have to put more pressure [on the quarterback], and every year we tried to figure out how to do that.

Johnson had many strong ties to the state of Indiana. Prior to being a position coach with the Colts, he was a defensive backs coach, defensive coordinator, and assistant head coach under Gerry Faust at Notre Dame. He also coached at Indiana University from 1972-1976.

Johnson took over the Indianapolis Colts defense in 1996, and despite numerous player injuries, the Colts played some of the toughest defense this city had ever seen. Only the 2006 playoff run rivals the kind of swarming, tough-guy defense Indy had under Jim Johnson. One of the best defensive games the Colts have ever played in the long history of the team in both Baltimore and Indy was the 47-0 destruction of the Miami Dolphins in 1997.

When Bill Polian became President of the Colts in 1998, many of us Colts fans wondered if the team would retain Jim Johnson. Sadly, the Colts didn't keep Johnson, and looking back on it that decision was a mistake. Johnson went on to carve out an impressive career in Philadelphia. And while there, we Colts fans marveled and respected the job he did.

Offer your thoughts about the late, great Jim Johnson here and at Bleeding Green Nation. Our condolences to Johnson's family, the Philadelphia Eagles, and their fans.