BY JOE PAONE IGGLES CORRESPONDENT Just another uneventful bye week here in Birdland. Y’know, lots of evaluatin’, tryin’ to put players in better position, doin’ a better job… and this year, the added bonus of some shameless, desperate scapegoatin’.When we look back on Andy Reid’s tenure, we’ll know exactly when Camelot turned into Camden. It’ll be one of two moments: the day Big Red promoted his young ward Juan Castillo to defensive coordinator, or the day he kicked poor, loyal, hapless Juan to the curb. Come to think of it, it’ll probably be both.
Juan had capably coached the offensive line for over a decade and had been with the organization since 1995, the first year of Ray Rhodes’ tenure as head coach. (How long ago was that? This exhilarating bit of ancient history happened.) When Reid was lured from the Packers to become Eagles head coach in 1999, Castillo drove all the way to Green Bay to successfully sell himself to the new boss. His offensive lines were usually very good, and he made stars of players like Tra Thomas, Jon Runyan and Todd Herremans.
Meanwhile, for the first 10 seasons of his tenure, Reid’s defense was of little concern. The late Jim Johnson took great care of it, so Andy was free to endlessly tinker with his offense. After Johnson’s death, the defense declined sharply under Sean McDermott in 2009 and 2010. The DC position became a great concern for the fans and the team itself.
Reid has been consolidating power with the Eagles for several years now. Rivals to his football operations supremacy, as well as to his coaching supremacy, have been frozen out of the organization. Today, he pretty much owns absolute power over the entire football operation.
But, as we all know, absolute power tends to corrupt.
Accordingly, there was no one with any backbone to tell him that his ballsiest move – letting a guy with zero NFL defensive coaching experience try to rescue a less-than-awesome defense – was probably a terrible one. The move was classic “I’m smarter than all of you” stuff from a master of the form, and most of the skeptical fan base was left to sit there and give Andy (and Juan) the benefit of the doubt. In the process, the “all-in” 2011 season burned to the ground, and the first six games of the 2012 season turned into a dreary nightmare. Even Andy’s pride and joy – his vaunted offense – seemed to lose its way as it lost confidence in the defense. The fans were loudly calling for Juan’s head.
What better way to quiet the masses than to fire Juan? Well, how about not looking so cruel and opportunistic while doing it? Many Eagles fans who despised Juan as defensive coordinator felt sympathy for the broken man after his unceremonious dumping. Scapegoat Juan gave tearful interviews to local media and sounded like a battered wife at her breaking point, saying sad things like he’d still “take a bullet” for Reid.
But by allowing Juan to talk him into giving him the DC position in 2011, Andy failed to put his loyal longtime assistant in “a position to succeed.” Quite the contrary; he gave him a lockout-shortened offseason to try to win over and lead a largely revamped defense. As a result, Juan could never get his swagger on as DC. The defensive players clearly didn’t respect him, a fatal condition that carried over to this season.
Given all of that, Castillo’s firing comes off as the rough equivalent of putting your dog down because you let it wander around the neighborhood to shit on everyone’s lawns.
If the Eagles miss the playoffs (and given the NFC’s glut of mediocre teams, that’s far from a certainty), Andy now officially will have no one to blame but himself.
And ultimately, Jeff Lurie would have only one person to blame.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joe Paone has attended nearly every Eagles game with his dad since 1978 and he has the lasting psychological scars to prove it. He also runs a PR firm, plays rock music, and hunts New Yorkers for sport. BeeElevated@gmail.com