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A look at past Jim Johnson proteges

Will Sean McDermott follow in the footsteps of other great Jim Johnson proteges?
Will Sean McDermott follow in the footsteps of other great Jim Johnson proteges?

A couple weeks ago I wrote that I didn't expect Jim Johnson to return as the Eagles' defensive coordinator. Certainly not this season, probably not ever. Still hoping I'm wrong on that one...

Since then I've noticed it becoming a theme for national writers and other bloggers to question what impact Jim Johnson's absence will have on the defense. Certainly conventional wisdom would say that if a team loses a great coach and such a fantastic defensive mind, that they would suffer... But that's where the true greatness of Jim Johnson is revealed. Not only has he produced great defenses and great defensive players... he's produced great defensive coaches as well.

After the jump we'll take a look at former Jim Johnson assistants, how they've fared after leaving the Eagles, and what this all might mean for acting Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott.

The most famous Jim Johnson protege is of course Steve Spagnuolo. His career path is almost parallel to that of Sean McDermott. He spent 8 years with the Eagles coaching both the secondary and linebackers. He was hired away by the New York Giants in 2007 and using Jim Johnson's system and attacking philosophy, completely transformed the Giants defense into one of the best NFL. That defense carried New York to a super bowl victory in Spag's first year. Spagnuolo turned down an offer to coach the Redskins' that summer and one year later ended up accepting an offer to become the head coach of the St Louis Rams.

Spags wasn't the only former Jim Johnson assistant to coach his unit to a super bowl appearance, in fact he wasn't even the first. That was Ron Rivera, who coached the dominant Bears defense during their run to the superbowl in 2006. Rivera started with the Eagles in 1999 as a linebackers coach. When he was hired away by the Bears in 2004, he turned their defense into the second best in the NFL in just one year.

But wait, there's another JJ assistant who won a superbowl! Current Vikings' defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. Frazier was the Eagles defensive backs coach from 1999-2003. He was hired away by the Browns and one year later the team was 3rd in the NFL in takeaways. He went on to be named defensive backs coach of the Colts in 2005 and in one year the Colts' pass defense improved from 15th in the NFL to 2nd. The Colts won the superbowl in 2007, largely on the back of their defense. Noticing a theme here? Frazier was then hired as the Vikings' defensive coordinator and has developed that unit into one of the best in the NFC.

To a lesser extent, John Harbaugh could also be counted as a Jim Johnson protege of sorts. After spending nearly a decade as the Eagles special teams coordinator, Harbaugh moved to the defense and was named the team's secondary coach. After one year Harbaugh was hired as the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, who he coached to an 11-5 record and an appearance in the AFC title game.

Sean McDermott's resume reads very much like the start of all these great former Jim Johnson assistants. He's been in the system for a decade and he's coached both the linebackers and secondary... McDermott had become a hot coaching prospect this offseason, being rumored as a candidate for defensive coordinator jobs in Green Bay and St Louis. In fact, it was reported that the Eagles blocked Steve Spagnuolo from taking McDermott to St Louis as his DC.

So while you never truly know how a guy will perform until the live bullets start flying... McDermott seems to be on a path that's proven to be very successful.

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