I was saddened to hear of Jim Johnson's passing.
The St. Louis Cardinals drafted me in 1986 -- that same year Jim joined the Cardinals staff in his first year coaching in the NFL.
He coached our defensive linemen and later our defensive backs. At the time, we had a big veteran defensive end named Al "Bubba" Baker who was surly, mean and nasty. Jim was a young assistant with no prior NFL experience -- frankly, he lacked the credentials to impress seasoned NFL players and Baker took every chance to tell him so.
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Bubba was especially peeved that Jim took him out on third down situations -- the most coveted down for a D-lineman because it’s a passing down that offers the opportunities for quarterback sacks. During one game, Bubba and Jim had to be separated on the sidelines -- it spilled into the locker room at halftime.
Last summer when I was visiting with Jim at training camp, he laughed as he retold the story. He added that at the end of the game, he walked into the locker room convinced he would be fired because of the exchange with Bubba on the field and at halftime.
But, at that point, he was more concerned for his safety. He fully expected that Bubba would want to finish the fight by pounding him into oblivion. So, he balled his fists and was prepared to get at least a shot in, even if he was about to be killed.
Instead, he was relieved when he entered the locker room. A remorseful Baker was standing in front of the team, apologizing to the team and to Coach Johnson for his outburst.
Jim Johnson took a deep sigh of relief. He wasn't fired. Instead, he became one of the most innovative minds and successful coaches in NFL history.
He will be missed.