BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- With his blue eyes glistening, Sean McDermott reflected on the death of his mentor, Jim Johnson, today at training camp.
A day after the former Eagles defensive coordinator succumed to an eight-month battle with cancer, the new defensive coordinator in Philadelphia remembered the man that taught him the game and taught him to "be a good person."
"I got a text [message] last night from a friend," McDermott said. "It said, 'It's apparent that the good Lord up above needed the best defensive coordinator up in heaven with him.'"
McDermott is just one of Johnson's students to go on to greater success. Four of the assistants that worked under Johnson with the Eagles eventually became coordinators; two -- John Harbaugh and Steve Spagnuolo -- would become head coaches.
"You look at the family tree he put out there and there's a reason why we've been successful," McDermott said. "It doesn't come back all to us and what we've done."
McDermott said he received the news prior to a team meeting. By the time he got out of the meeting he had messages from all those "brothers that we had, if you will. ... Everyone was checking on everyone else to make sure everyone was doing OK. And that's the way Jim would have wanted it," McDermott said.
Johnson was diagnosed with metastasized melanoma in December. The cancer spread to his spine, but the Eagles did not make his illness public until after the NFC championship in January.
"There were very few of us who knew and that's the way Jim would have wanted it," McDermott said. He thought back to after the title game when the Eagles fell to Arizona. "I remember sitting next to Jim -- both kind of having our head in our hand -- and wishing it would have went differently, obviously. There's nothing I would have wanted more than for Jim to call one more game," McDermott said.
Johnson was granted a leave of absence in May as he continued his fight. McDermott was then named the interim coordinator. That tag was lifted on Saturday when the La Salle High product was announced as Johnson's successor. Johnson died three days later at the age of 68.
The loss of Johnson hovered over yesterday's morning practice. Late last night the Eagles spray painted the initials "JJ" in large white letters on the small hill just beyond one of the fields. Fans set up an impromptu memorial also with Johnson's initials painted on the grass near the entrance to the stands that line the practice fields. There were also signs: "Our Good Friend Gone Too Soon. RIP JJ" read one.