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You're Only As Good As Your Help


It might not be as tough replacing the man, as it is replacing the man who replaces the man.

As an Eagles defense that finished last season ranked 3rd in the league in yards allowed and 4th in the league in points allowed continues without coordinator Jim Johnson, on an indefinite leave of absence, all eyes are on Sean McDermott.

Johnson, who was diagnosed with a form of skin cancer near the end of last season, has not been with the team since its post-draft minicamp and it’s become less certain he will be there when training camp stats next month.

McDermott, a long-time assistant who had been rumored to be on the short list of a lot of teams looking for coordinators this past offseason, has taken over the role of defensive coordinator.

That might not be as much of a problem as you think.

McDermott, from all indications, appears ready for the new job. He’s bright. He’s been at this a long time. And if past performance, or lineage, means anything he is on the right course.

Consider that Johnson’s defensive tutelage has produced the following coaches, Ron Rivera, Steve Spagnuolo, Leslie Frazier, and to some extent John Harbaugh.

Rivera, a linebackers coach under Johnson, was the defensive coordinator with Chicago when the Bears went to the Super Bowl and is now the coordinator in San Diego.

Spagnuolo, a linebacker and secondary coach under Johnson, earned a Super Bowl ring with the Giants as their coordinator and parlayed it into the head coaching job with the St. Louis Rams.

Frazier, a secondary coach under Johnson, was first the coordinator with Cincinnati the last time the Bengals made the playoffs and is now with the Vikings, who made the playoffs as NFC North champions with him last year.

Harbaugh was more known for his special teams prowess, but it took a year on Johnson’s unit in the secondary for him to become the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, who made it to the AFC Championship Game in his first season.

While that may be good news for McDermott, it’s also a cause for concern. If McDermott does get the coordinator’s job for the 2009 season, he has none of that kind of coaching experience under him.

When the Eagles went to four straight NFC Championship Games from 2001-04 and finally to the Super Bowl in ’04, Johnson had the luxury to lean on the likes of Rivera, Spagnuolo, Frazier and his long-time defensive line coach and good friend Tommy Brasher.

Who does McDermott have for those roles?

The defensive line coach is Rory Segrest, the failed special teams coach who was re-assigned after the season and will give the line a try for the first time ever in the NFL.

The linebackers coach is Bill Shuey, a promising young coach, but the key word again is young. This is his first try with the linebackers after being a low-level assistant his first three years with the team. He will be assisted by former player Mike Caldwell, who has no other coaching experience.

In the secondary, Brian Stewart, the most experienced member of the defensive staff, comes over from Dallas where he failed as coordinator and has no experience in the Johnson/McDermott system. He will be assisted by another former player, Mike Zordich, whose experience at coaching is on the high school level.

When a young, inexperienced Andy Reid became the Eagles head coach in 1999, coming from Green Bay as the quarterbacks coach, his two most important hires were Johnson as his defensive coordinator and Rod Dowhower as his offensive coordinator.

Reid knew what he didn’t know and made sure he had two men in Johnson and Dowhower, coaching lifers who had seen and did all you could in the NFL.

It worked.

When Dowhower retired, Reid promoted Brad Childress who was ready at that point and then brought in another veteran of the West Coast offense and a former coordinator and a head coach in Marty Mornhinweg.

McDermott is not getting that luxury.

Stewart? Shuey? Segrest?

They are 34, 34, and 36 years old respectively. One of them may emerge as another in the long line of successful Eagles assistants on defense. Then again, they may not.

McDermott, 35, is going to be fine in terms of keeping the system intact, getting the players to play for him and even making the tough calls during the game. That last thing has some worried, but knowing him, I think he’s more than able to handle that aspect.

Where the concern should lie is not with the man in charge of the defense, the Eagles have another good one, but with the men around him.