Wednesday whys: A great coach is gone

Why is the loss of Jim Johnson being met with such sadness?

We have lost a masterful defensive football coach; everyone knows that. More important, we have lost a gem of a man who was adored and admired for his direct and refreshing manner. Having been around the Eagles for the past six months, the impact of Jim’s presence, and now his absence, resonates throughout the building.

In the rough and tumble world of coaching and its testosterone-laden machismo, Johnson had a presence that did not require that bravado. He was well respected and perhaps even loved by every employee and player I have talked to. It’s easy to see why.

The words that continue to be used to describe Jim are “a coach’s coach” and “a man’s man.” Others can go on about his coaching prowess; I witnessed it firsthand with the Packers over nine years as he frustrated our offensive game plans with his constant pressure. Beyond the coaching, it was his honesty, directness and care for other coaches, players and team employees that resounded throughout the office and community.

Too often in professional sports, coaches are like many friends and agents of players: They tell players what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear. This enabling behavior may keep players happy for the moment but provides no lasting benefit. After talking to Eagles players, it’s clear that Johnson was not an enabler. He told players the direct and honest truth, pulling no punches about what they needed to hear.

Having been around him at the Eagles facility for a few months before he could no longer come to work, it was obvious Jim was hurting. However, he wanted no special treatment or assistance and no sympathy for what he was going through. I recall one day when I was near him as he lost his balance and was about to fall. I helped prop him up and assisted him back to his office. He apologized profusely and was genuinely sorry that I had to do that. He felt bad for me. Amazing.

Again, my time around Jim Johnson was brief compared to people who truly knew him. It didn’t take long, however, to realize the impact his presence had around the NovaCare facility in South Philadelphia.

As I continue to work on the Jeremy Maclin contract today for the Eagles, the passing of that elegant man in the office down the hall puts it all in perspective. Jim Johnson was an Eagle that truly soared.

Why did Brett Favre decide to stay retired?

That’s the Brett I know and love. Just when he and old friend Bus Cook, two smart men who play the role of unsophisticated country boys and are anything but, have the entire sporting public thinking Brett is coming back to play for the Vikings – whether for the money, because he can’t give it up, to spite the Packers, whatever – he does what no one expected and says he’s staying retired. The reason given is the physical and mental grind of the season, this after having avoided any potential grind from offseason workouts and mini-camps.

Brett is someone I have known for 10 years, and I’m still amazed by his ability to pull people back in just at the brink of pushing them away. Even with his enormous talents and accomplishments, there is insecurity in him that can make him both difficult and endearingly human at the same time.

The Wally Pipp factor was omnipresent with Brett. In Green Bay, he was well aware of how he got his job – an injury to Don Majkowski – and that was always in the back of his mind when a rising young player such as Matt Hasselbeck or Aaron Rodgers came along. And although he had limited relationships with teammates beyond a couple of close friends, he was a true friend to the “back room guys” at the Packers – the equipment managers, security officers, trainers and other assistants. He treated those people like gold.

We’ve been dealing with the “will he or won’t he” with Brett for the past decade. That’s part of the package. And it’s hard to believe that we’ve seen the end of it.

As I’ve written many times, I always had the impression that Brett wished he could do what Roger Clemens did in baseball -- stay “retired” until midseason and pick a team to join for the stretch run. He loves playing the games; he hates the meetings and the regimented minutiae of the season. Unfortunately for Brett, he lives in a sport that requires schematic design and repetition. It’s not like a pitcher walking to the mound to go one-on-one with a hitter. Clemens could do what he did, and had the leverage to do so. Favre does not -- or at least not yet. Stay tuned.

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