Inside the Eagles: Is Bowles a safety net if Castillo fails?

Todd Bowles, the Eagles' secondary coach, could step up if defensive coordinator Juan Castillo struggles again.
Todd Bowles, the Eagles' secondary coach, could step up if defensive coordinator Juan Castillo struggles again. (AP)
Posted: September 10, 2012

Andy Reid tried to hire Todd Bowles a year before he actually added him to his coaching staff.

The then-Miami assistant wasn't high on the coach's list, but he was on it. Who knows how Bowles would have done in an interview had the Dolphins allowed him to talk with Reid, who was searching for a defensive coordinator in January 2011.

Perhaps Bowles would have wowed Reid. He did enough to land the job coaching defensive backs with the Eagles this past offseason. He is talented enough, according to Reid, to someday be a head coach in the NFL.

In all likelihood, though, Bowles wouldn't have gotten the job. Reid had his man in mind from the outset - a move so bold and shocking that he couldn't have seriously been considering any other candidate because each one would have been more qualified.

He promoted Juan Castillo from offensive line coach, of course, and to this day it remains a decision that challenges all reason. Reid could have fired his longtime aide after last season and no one would have even batted an eye.

But he did not. Instead, Reid sought a coach who would assist Castillo. He first made an overture to Steve Spagnuolo. But the former Eagles assistant and Rams head coach declined and eventually became the Saints' defensive coordinator.

Reid then went after Bowles, who ended last season as the Dolphins' interim coach but who was not going to have his contract renewed under new Miami coach Joe Philbin.

Bowles was not hired as a senior assistant, one with more authority than Castillo, as Spagnuolo would have been. He was signed to head the secondary and to add one more football mind to Reid's staff.

It's hard to look at the hiring of Bowles, on the day the Eagles finally open the 2012 season, as not having a dual purpose. If the Eagles defense gets off to yet another slow start, it won't take long before Reid is asked if Castillo is still his coordinator or is still calling plays.

He was asked recently if acquiring Bowles would have Castillo looking over his shoulder.

"I don't care," Reid said recently. "You have to have your own confidence in what you do, and who you are. . . . I don't think anybody should be afraid of talent around them. That's what you want - people that are good around you. That brings out the best in everybody."

Reid was then presented with the scenario of Jeffrey Lurie bringing Mike Holmgren in as team president next offseason and how he would respond to such an arrangement.

"The situation you gave me, I wouldn't worry about that," Reid said. "I just don't go there. I do what I do and do it to the best of my ability."

Castillo, for the record, said that he welcomed the addition. He compared having Bowles and defensive line coach Jim Washburn on his staff to the group former defensive coordinator Jim Johnson had under him.

"All those guys ended up going on and becoming head coaches," Castillo said. "There's nothing wrong with having a strong staff."

But Johnson's staff was traditional. He was the general, and his assistants, for the most part, were young lieutenants. Castillo's defense is run more like a democracy, with Reid the president, Castillo the speaker of the House, and Washburn and Bowles Senate leaders.

"This is a teamwork thing," Castillo said. "Everybody has a little piece of the pie."

It's Reid's vision, though. He wanted Washburn's wide-nine, pass-rush-first mentality on the line, and all he needed was someone to orchestrate the back seven. Reid didn't need a mad scientist blitzing half the time.

But he did need a coordinator who could prepare the troops, call the right zones, and design the right matchups. The five blown fourth-quarter leads in the first nine games weren't all Castillo's fault nor that of the defense. But he was in over his head.

There was notable improvement in the final four games. But it came with the caveat that all four quarterbacks the Eagles faced - Stephen McGee played most of the Dallas game - were below average.

Reid has great affection for Castillo. It would probably take a horrendous start or many games of failure for Reid to strip him of his play-calling responsibilities. No one would likely ever know it if it did happen - at least at first.

Reid has fired himself as offensive play-caller a few times.

"I've had situations where I've stepped back to let somebody else do things," Reid said. "That's just what you do. You work together to figure out what's the best thing for your football team. You don't take things personally."

Castillo has been a lightning rod for Eagles fans and local media. It's difficult to see how there could be more pressure than last season, but there is with Reid's future on the line, and it will grow if the defense gets off to a slow start.

Castillo said nothing could top the pressure he places on himself.

"Last year he was real vocal and running around. This year he's calm, knows what he's doing a little more - a lot more, actually," cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said. "He doesn't seem like he's rattled at all or nervous. That could be there inside, but on the outside you never see any of that."

Perhaps Bowles has done what he was brought in to do - help Castillo become a better coordinator.

Juan More Time

Andy Reid has often cited the final four games of last season as reason for bringing Juan Castillo back for another year as defensive coordinator. The defense did improve as the Eagles went 4-0 down the stretch. The games were essentially meaningless and the quarterbacks, for the most part, were talentless. But the defensive numbers improved across the board compared with the first 12 games.

   Games 1-12   Games 13-16

Points per game   23.5   11.5

First-down avg.    19    15.3

Third-down conversion pct.    38    29.5

Yards per play    5.7    4.1

Completion pct.    59.2    55.2

Turnover avg.    1.3    2

Sack avg.    2.75    4.25

Red-zone efficiency    70.6    30.8

- Jeff McLane

Contact Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745, or on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.

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