Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson will not take part in next weekend's Pro Bowl, the team disclosed on Thursday, as he is being treated for melanoma skin cancer in his spine. Johnson complained of back pain during the playoffs and was unable to coach from his normal sideline position, and on Monday, after extensive testing, he was informed that he has a bone tumor in his lower back.
"The original site was a skin cancer in 2001," head athletic Rick Burkholder told reporters. "Who knows where it tracked to from there, but his symptoms came from the spine. Now there are some other areas in his body (that have cancer), but I'm not going to get into where else some other stuff is. They will all be treated together. The main deal is his back right now. He's got a bone tumor down in his low back and that's what we have to attack right now."
The team has said that Johnson intends to continue coaching in 2009, but that he will have radiation treatment now at Bryn Mawr Hospital and that the doctors there will monitor very closely how much, if at all, the cancer has spread. This bout with cancer is a reoccurence for Johnson, who first was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2001.
Johnson is hoping to have the tumor reduced so that he can eliminate the pain in his back that plagued him throughout the playoffs.
"One of the problems is he's in a lot of pain from the tumor on his spine and the radiation will calm some of that pain down and let him get back to a little bit more normal walking and stuff like that and then they'll broach what the next treatment is," said Burkholder.
The 67-year-old Johnson is one of the most accomplished defensive coordinators in the league, and the view for his situation is a positive one. He walked with the help of a cane after the Giants game and then used a golf cart to motor around in Arizona.
Although Burkholder has not talked to Johnson directly, he has been in contact with Eagles team internist Dr. Gary Dorshimer and team physician Peter DeLuca and both doctors are taking a positive view on things.
"Dr. Dorsheimer and that whole team of doctors over at Pennsylvania Hospital are very optimistic," said Burkholder. "Jim's very upbeat about it and Vicky, his wife, is upbeat about it. Nobody has given me a number -- you've got this much time -- or anything like that. It has all been positive in terms of treating this cancer."
The rest of the coaching staff will be in Hawaii for about 10 days, and then will return to the NovaCare Complex. They may even have a week off for vacation after that. In the meantime, Johnson will have radiation treatment and hope for good news.
It certainly is a sobering moment for all, as Johnson is as beloved as any coach here. Johnson began his coaching career in 1959 as the quarterbacks coach at the University of Missouri, and eventually made his way to the NFL in 1986 with the St. Louis Cardinals. He coached with the Cardinals, Colts and Seahawks before joining Andy Reid's staff in 1999.
Since then, the Eagles have annually had one of the best defenses in the league, ranking at the top of the NFL in key statistics like sacks, third-down efficiency, points and red-zone success. Additionally, the Eagles have had 26 Pro Bowl selections in the 10 years Johnson has been the defensive coordinator.