Andy Reid and Sean McDermott walked an invisible tightrope, stretched across the NovaCare auditorium stage.
Both men spoke of their debt to Jim Johnson, whose 10-season run as one of the NFL's most respected defensive coordinators ended when McDermott was announced as his replacement. Both Reid and McDermott emphasized their concern for and frequent communication with Johnson, 68, whose battle with metastasized melanoma apparently is not going at all well. McDermott said he had "dialogued back and forth" with Johnson as the need for a permanent transition became clear. He said they'd spoken within the last week, but not within the past few days.
Reid said Johnson and his wife, Vicky, "fully support" the move, as "absolutely the best thing for the team."
Still, Reid also wanted to make it clear he was "excited to announce" McDermott's elevation to the position, which McDermott called "a dream come true for myself and my family."
McDermott, 35, was born in Omaha but grew up in West Chester, Paoli and Lansdale, splitting high school between North Penn -- alma mater of his father, Rich -- and La Salle High. He joined the Eagles in 1998 as a scouting administrative coordinator, after finishing his playing career and getting an introduction to coaching at William & Mary. "I've been able to climb the ladder ... I've worked my tail off" as a quality control coach, secondary coach, and linebackers coach, McDermott said.
"This is an opportunity I take very seriously, and an opportunity I have prepared for," McDermott said.
McDermott won't change Johnson's scheme -- "this system, it works," he said. But he also added that "you have to walk in your own shoes," meaning he intends to also put his stamp on things.
Asked the most important piece of advice Johnson has given him, McDermott said: "Blitz. And blitz again."
Johnson enjoyed a high degree of autonomy -- Reid had almost nothing to do with the defensive side. Reid said he didn't see himself getting more involved there, even with a much less experienced coordinator.
"It won't be any different than when Jim was here," he said.
Here is the complete transcript of the press conference:
Andy Reid Opening Remarks:
“We are glad to see everyone a day early here. We are excited to announce Sean McDermott is the defensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles. At the same time, both Sean and I are very sensitive to the situation with Jim [Johnson] and the battle that he is continuing with melanoma. I have been in contact with both Jim and Vicky [Johnson], and they fully support this situation of announcing Sean, knowing that, for right now, this is absolutely the best thing for the team to have someone in a leadership position that is here to lead the defense. And as you know, in this business, that is a very critical thing. I feel very strong about Sean in this position. He has worked very hard to put himself in a position where he can be a defensive coordinator at the absolute highest level in the National Football League. Obviously he had a great tutor in Jim Johnson, somebody that he’ll talk to you about here in a minute, and the effects that Jim had on him. I know the players and coaches and the organization just have the utmost confidence in Sean, and maybe most of all, Jim Johnson has the utmost confidence in Sean and the job that he’ll do. I’d like to just remind you that this is about Sean. We’ll get together again tomorrow and talk about the team. This is about the situation here and not about the rest of the team. So when you fire questions away, go ahead and do it in that matter.”
McDermott Opening Remarks:
“Good afternoon. I want to start off by letting everyone know about how appreciative I am of this opportunity, Mr. and Mrs. Lurie, Joe Banner and Coach Reid. It’s an opportunity I take very seriously. This seat is an important and respected seat that I’m sitting in right now. It’s an opportunity at that same time that I have prepared myself for. I have spent a considerable amount of time doing that, and I look forward to continuing to do that in the future. With that being said, it’s important to understand that some of my biggest concerns right now are for Jim, his wife, Vicky, and their entire family.”
On what he learned from Johnson beyond the X’s and O’s:
“What haven’t I learned from Jim? He has been a significant influence in my life both on and off the field. A mentor to me on field, of course, and I don’t think it would be fair to Jim, in this setting, to try and limit in one statement, one press conference, the effect that Jim has had on my life.”
On his career with the Eagles:
“It’s been a whirlwind. It’s been a great situation. I’m part of a great organization, and that’s where it all begins. With great people and great support I’ve been able to climb the ladder. I was given an opportunity years ago by Coach Reid, and I’ve worked my tail off, and opportunities since then have come my way, and I believe it’s what you do with the opportunity in your life, or the opportunities in your life, that make you who you are.”
On how he plans to balance using what he has learned from Johnson with putting his own stamp on the defense:
“There is one thing I know, and that is that this system, it works. Jim has spent a considerable amount of time in his coaching career researching and finding things that work and finding things that didn’t work, quite frankly, and I’m going to respect that and we’re going to build on that. From there we’ll add wrinkles.”
On some of the ways that make him different from Johnson and how he plans to lead differently:
“I think that you’ll see that over time. I’ve learned from Jim, but I think you have to walk in your own shoes at the same time. Jim has certainly given me direction over the course of my life and my career, but it’s important and only fair to the rest of the staff and the rest of the organization that I walk in my own shoes.”
On what it means to have this opportunity in Philadelphia:
“I don’t want to sugarcoat this at all or hide this, this is a dream come true for myself and my family. To live and coach in the NFL, in and of itself, is a dream come true. But to do it in the city where I basically was raised definitely surpasses all expectations.”
On whether he has been able to speak with Johnson throughout this process:
“Yes I have, and we’ve dialogued back and forth a number of times. I look forward, in the future, to continue to do that, however we can do that on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. But again, I’ll reiterate that Jim has been a significant, positive influence on my life and my coaching career. He and his family both, and we look forward to continuing that friendship in the future.”
On whether he has spoken to Johnson since being announced as the new defensive coordinator:
“I have not spoken with Jim in the last couple of days but I have spoken with him with in the last week, yes.”
On whether Johnson knew this decision was being made and whether Johnson gave him any advice:
“Part of that question is for Coach Reid, but what I’ll say, and how I’ll answer that is Jim has always been behind me in every endeavor I’ve taken on in my life and in my coaching career. That meant, in answering a question earlier about holding different positions within this organization, Jim has always been there supporting me.”
On the most important advice he has received from Johnson:
“Blitz, and blitz again.”
On what his function on the sideline has been in the last couple years:
“My function, generally speaking, before the onset of the defensive communications system last year, has been to relay the calls from Jim to the middle linebacker, who calls the huddle on defense. Since the inception of the communicator last year on defense, Jim relayed those directly himself. And so, even back years ago prior to this time, Jim has been quite gracious in giving me opportunities to develop myself and make calls either in a game, at times when an opportunity arose, or also in practice. I think that’s a sign of a great leader, to train those underneath of him for times like these.”
On when he realized McDermott was capable of taking on a responsibility like this:
“For a couple years. At least a couple of years. He mentioned that he works hard, and he does work hard, he works extremely hard. He just gives you that confidence that he’s got it under control. I think if you talk to his players in every position that he’s coached-- he’s had an opportunity to do them all except the defensive line-- they all realize the same things. So, I’ve felt that way for at least a couple years.”
On how important it was for him to have McDermott stay with the Eagles:
“I would have said the same thing had Jim been healthy, and I wanted to keep him here. I think he was one of the top coaches when he was coaching his position, one of the top coaches in the National Football League in his position. Now, the natural progression is to become a coordinator. After Jim’s situation came about, I obviously wanted to make sure that he was in this position here coordinating the defense.”
On whether feels excited or pressured in taking over as defensive coordinator:
“You mentioned the word pressure. I think anytime you coach in the NFL, that comes with the territory, in terms of the pressure. In terms of excitement, if you can embody it and call it excitement, challenge, opportunity, all those words come to into my mind all at one time. This is what it’s all about. This is what I’ve worked for.”
On the team having a less experienced defensive staff than in years past:
“We have a very talented staff. I know the complexion of the staff certainly has changed since last year, but at the same time I can’t think of a year in the recent past when it hasn’t changed. That’s what made Jim so good. He was able to manage the change and effectively put a good product on the field every year. That’s how a leader handles that situation. I have a tremendous amount of confidence in the staff that we’ve put together coming into this year. [The staff is] very talented. I look forward to working with them and I hope they look forward to working with me, as well.”
On how he plans to move the young players on the defense forward:
“It all starts and ends with fundamentals. We’re not going to move forward until we have the basics and the core values of this system down pat. That’s where it all starts and that’s where it all ends. From there, as I mentioned before, we will certainly move forward. But it’s important that we are all on the same page from day one before we can move forward at any rate.”
On whether he feels like he has to win anyone over:
“I’m sure that there are people out there that see the experience factor, and I’ll acknowledge that, especially with the shoes that I’m looking to fill, being Jim’s. I don’t feel like I have to win anybody over necessarily. I think that I just have to continue being who I am. That’s gotten me to where I am today and that should serve me well moving forward.”
On whether having a new defensive coordinator means he will have to keep an eye on the defense:
“No, nothing will change with that. I have full confidence in Sean to do the job. It won’t be any different than when Jim was here.”
On who will take over coaching the secondary:
“Brian Stewart and Mike Zordich are going to work with the secondary. That’s how that will be done.”
Nothing new in talks between the Eagles and first-round wideout Jeremy Maclin. As Pro Football Talk noted Saturday, the CAA agency of Jim Steiner and Ben Dogra represents at least five first-round picks, none of whom are signed right now. There's probably quite a logjam just in communicating; there still is no evidence of any sort of substantial issue in the talks that might keep Maclin out of camp, which begins with rookies reporting Sunday evening to Lehigh.
Steiner told the Daily News Saturday that "discussions continue."