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Potential Hang-ups in Spags to Birds

Jan 15, 2012, 12:21 PM EDT

Now that speculation over last week's report suggesting Steve Spagnuolo was set to join the Philadelphia Eagles as their new defensive coordinator has quieted down some, let's look at why you might consider tapping the breaks on that theory.

Now that speculation over last week’s report suggesting Steve Spagnuolo was set to join the Philadelphia Eagles as their new defensive coordinator (which is not really what the report said) has quieted down some, let’s look at why you might want to consider tapping the breaks on that theory. Yes, there is evidence these two are not exactly a match made in heaven.

Bare in mind, we’re not saying Spags won’t ultimately land with the Birds. After all, the former Jim Johnson disciple will listen to what Andy Reid has to say, and vice versa, if for no other reason than due diligence. However, the recently-terminated head coach will have plenty of options on the table, and there are reasons to believe Juan Castillo’s demotion or dismissal is not a given.

Performance
We know what kind of coach Spagnuolo can be. His Giants defense led the charge for New York’s 07-08 Super Bowl run, ranking seventh in the NFL, then holding one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history to 14 points in the championship game. NY also ranked fifth the following season.

That hasn’t translated into recent success though. As a head coach, his Rams ranked 22nd overall this season, and second-to-last against the run. They were never better than 19th overall during his three-year tenure.

Meanwhile, in his first season coaching defense in decades, Juan Castillo’s unit ranked eighth. It seems odd you would replace a coach who has a top 10 defense with somebody who hasn’t coached a good defense since he was employed by another team — which is exactly the kind of thinking that could justify returning Juan next season.

Fit with Washburn
Only a year ago, the Eagles made the unusual decision to hire a defensive line coach before settling on a defensive coordinator. That seems to be the biggest reason behind why the club couldn’t find somebody more experienced than Castillo to take the job, but it made one thing perfectly clear: Andy Reid was a fan of Jim Washburn’s wide-nine front.

But as Sheil Kapadia demonstrated the other day on Moving the Chains, Washburn’s philosphies probably don’t mesh with Spagnuolo’s. This season, the Eagles rarely dropped their linemen into coverage, which was in stark contrast to the Rams, who did so with great frequency. By extension, Castillo blitzed very rarely, yet the Birds tied for the league-lead in sacks.

It’s no secret that Spags, as his mentor did, loves to blitz. But by choosing Washburn, Reid indicated a desire to get away from that approach. If the two philosophies can’t co-exist — and it appears they couldn’t — the Eagles would have to scrap a scheme they previously were desperate to employ in favor of one they wanted to shift away from.

Stability
One of the underlying themes in 2011 is how all the changes made in the offseason may have impacted the Eagles’ performance, particularly in the early goings. Much has been made about the way this defense gelled as the year progressed, and how that momentum could carry over into next season.

Replacing Juan Castillo would erase all of that. The players would be working in their third defensive system in as many years, which makes it challenging to build any cohesion from one season to the next. Plus, some of them might not fit in the new schemes — notably Jason Babin, who seems to be tailor-made for the wide-nine, or likely starting cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who have three career sacks between them.

Granted, some of that talk about change having a role in their struggles was in part based around having a shortened offseason due to the lockout. That being said, there is something to be said for not making major overhauls in back-to-back offseasons.

Loyalty
A noted observation about how he conducts his business, Reid will rarely throw one of his guys under the bus. Even if he keeps Castillo on staff as a position coach, Reid would be doing the man a tremendous disservice by replacing him at defensive coordinator.

If he’s fired or even demoted, Castillo could gain a negative reputation around the league. Who is going to give him another try at coordinator in the future if he was “so terrible” at his job, he couldn’t even be entrusted with a second chance? Even if they find him a coordinator job on another team, he would almost definitely be on a shorter leash than most coaches.

The truth is, Castillo hasn’t been given the rightful opportunity to prove himself yet, and Andy knows that. Worse things could happen than being shuffled to linebackers coach or some other, lesser role. Reid has great admiration for Castillo though, and if he’s truly interested in helping him succeed, he’s not going to chop the man’s legs out from under him.

A Better Job Out There?
There sure are a lot of hoops for Spagnuolo to jump through here, no? To become defensive coordinator, it seems likely he’ll have to keep Castillo on his staff, not to mention the issue with Washburn running a conflicting scheme. Spags might be willing to keep an open mind, but most guys want to bring in their own staff.

Previously, we examined the possibility he could return as the defensive backs coach instead. As unlikely as it sounds, he may do it for one year to help Castillo, or if he feels he could be part of something special here.

But it seems as if, either way, there will be a better job available for a coach of Spagnuolo’s caliber. Here, it doesn’t appear he would have complete control, and that’s if the top job is even available. Elsewhere, larger shake-ups are in order, and he would be able to build his own program.

We’ll see. We know a lot of folks are convinced it’s happening, but Steve Spagnuolo’s path back to the Birds is not as clear cut as people are making it out to be.