JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A little more than a year ago, while both their teams were preparing for the playoffs, Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson and New England Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel thought about coming to the Arizona Cardinals.
Both were long shots for the head coaching position, because team vice president Michael Bidwill was looking for a noteworthy hire, and Dennis Green provided the right buzz.
But the fact both have guided their defenses to Super Bowl XXXIX is further proof the Cards’ short list of candidates — which also included Jim Fassel — was an impressive one.
"It was their history of success and the type of disciplined and aggressive football they played," Cardinals vice president of football operations Rod Graves said. "That trend has followed them at every stop. They have been noted of having those types of defenses every year in the league.
"Both of those coaches were outstanding in their interviews, and it’s no secret they’ve enjoyed success. Michael and I were very impressed with both of them. You can see why both of them have been successful long-term."
The statistics don’t show either team with a defense that stacks up to, say, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. The Eagles ranked 10th in the NFL this season, the Patriots ninth.
The overall results, however, can be measured by the Super Bowl trophy each is competing for Sunday.
Johnson has developed a defense that is not only successful but player-friendly in its blitz-happy style, a perfect fit in Philadelphia.
"I love playing his defense," safety Brian Dawkins said. "You are never thinking about how the offense is attacking you, you are always thinking how you will attack them and force them to make mistakes. It’s nothing but a joy for me."
Crennel’s problem is that the Patriots have been too successful — getting deep into the playoffs the past two seasons has hampered his opportunities.
Teams usually want to hire head coaches as soon as possible, but assistant coaches cannot be hired until their team finishes the playoffs. The Cardinals were one of a handful of jobs Crennel interviewed for during the Patriots’ preplayoff bye last January.
Every single job was filled by the time the Patriots won the Super Bowl, Crennel’s second ring in New England and fourth as an NFL assistant.
Crennel’s wait should come to an end Monday, when the Browns are expected to hire him.
"Words can’t describe what he means to us," Patriots defensive end Richard Seymour said. "You can just look at him and have a sense of calmness when everything seems to be a wreck. . . . It’s going to be a major loss for this football team."
Johnson, who spent eight seasons as an assistant with the Cardinals as both a defensive line and defensive backs coach, has gotten little serious consideration for a head coaching job, and at age 63, he likely will never get a chance again.
"Sure I was interested in the Cardinals last year and the year before that the 49ers were a possibility, but some things just don’t turn out," Johnson said. "I have always said this: I am happy and I work for a great person in Andy Reid and every day I don’t think about it because when I go to work I am a very happy person."
He has good reasons to stick around. The Eagles raised his salary to $1 million a season after San Francisco started talking to him in 2002.
"I’m not even sure (head coaching) is something he wants," linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said.