In a huge blow to the Philadelphia Eagles both on and off the field, the team announced today that defensive coordinator Jim Johnson will be taking a leave of absence as he undergoes treatment for a cancerous tumor on his spine. Johnson has been the Eagles’ DC since 1999 and has been a huge part of the team’s success over the past decade.
(Shockingly, the guy on the right is the one who’s sick)
Nobody would’ve minded if the 68-year-old Johnson decided to retire when he learned his cancer had returned, but that’s not who he is. Johnson was in such pain that he could barely walk during the Eagles’ run to the NFC Championship game last season, but he forged ahead without complaint. And just in the last couple of weeks Johnson was at the team’s minicamp on a motorized scooter.
Johnson was first diagnosed with skin cancer in 2001. He learned during the 2009 playoffs that the cancer had returned and spread to his spine. PHILLY.COM has the thoughts of head coach Andy Reid on Johnson’s leave:
“Jim and I agreed that he needs to concentrate all of his efforts on his recovery,” coach Andy Reid said in a statement. “His health is number one. He’s struggling, but he’s a tough guy and a true battler. I hope everyone will keep him in their thoughts and prayers during this period of time. We hope to have him back with the team as soon as possible.”
I’m no doctor, but cancer on the spine doesn’t sound like something that you come back from very easily. Even if Johnson can get healthy again, it will be a rather arduous fight and one wonders if he’ll still have the strength to return as a full-time coordinator. But then, the fact that Johnson persevered through this for the past five months says a lot about his desire to do his job.
For the time being, linebackers coach Sean McDermott will take over the coordinating duties. He has big shoes to fill, as Johnson’s defenses have been outstanding year after year despite ever-changing personnel.
Best wishes to Jim for a speedy recovery.