In 1999, the Eagles took a big risk by hiring Andy Reid, the Green Bay quarterbacks coach who had never been a coordinator in the NFL. Now, the longest-tenured coach in the NFL is also the winningest coach in Eagles history.
The move paid off.
On Wednesday, the Eagles made another bold decision to make Juan Castillo, entrenched for the past 13 seasons as the team's offensive line coach, the new defensive coordinator.
Time will tell if the Eagles made the right move, but there is some precedent. The Associated Press' NFL Coach of the Year for 2010 was the Patriots' Bill Belichick who spent two seasons as an offensive assistant working with tight ends and wide receivers before making the permanent move to defense in 1978.
In a move more similar to Castillo's, Dolphins defensive coordinator Mike Nolan was in that same role with three other teams from 1993-2000 before taking a job as Baltimore's wide receivers coach in 2001. One year later, Nolan transitioned back to defensive coordinator right there in Baltimore when Marvin Lewis left to take the defensive coordinator job in Washington.
Someone else who spent a lot of time on one side of the ball before moving to the other was Castillo's defensive mentor in the late Jim Johnson.
Johnson was a quarterback at the University of Missouri before playing in the NFL for two seasons as a tight end with the Buffalo Bills. But as a coach, Johnson has always either been a head coach or on the defensive side of the ball. Castillo spent a lot of time with Johnson talking X's and O's.
"Jim was a guy who was innovative, meaning that he designed blitzes. What he found out is that I'm a defensive coach. I understand protections but it's different when you present it to a defensive guy because they don't really understand when you talk to them the way you talk to your offensive guys. It's a little different, you present it a little different. It was fun," Castillo said. "It was exciting that we became close friends."
Castillo was a linebacker at Texas A&I and in the USFL with the San Antonio Gunslingers, but after coaching as a graduate assistant and also at the high school level the only job that was open on the staff of his alma mater was the offensive line.
Fully aware that there will be skeptics who believe the Eagles should have tabbed someone with NFL experience as a defensive coach, Castillo said all he can do now is prove people wrong. Even at one time, the legendary Jim Johnson was an unproven commodity.
"All the great coaches had a first year, had a first game that they had to call. I think everybody went through that. The thing I can do is just prepare," Castillo said. "I was here when Jon Gruden first became the offensive coordinator. The study, the way he went about studying. That's basically what I can do. Every great coach, Jim Johnson, had to call his first game."
Reid knows the risk the Eagles took on him. He's now paying it forward by hoping that an outstanding coach in Castillo can do just that, but in a different area.
"It's important, I think, for any of us when doors open in life and sometimes you have that opportunity that now you take advantage of that opportunity. I have full confidence, absolutely full confidence, that Juan will do that," Reid said. "You guys are fortunate enough to have seen him operate the way he has operated as a football coach. You know the toughness, you know the desire, you know the work ethic and the thing I would add to that is I know the concepts that Juan knows and that's important when you make transitions. There are certain guys that give you the confidence that they can coach anything; they can do it. That's how I feel about Juan Castillo."
-- Posted by Chris McPherson, 11:00 p.m., February 2