There's no doubt; when the Eagles named Juan Castillo as their new defensive coordinator, it sent shock waves through Eagles nation and even the NFL coaching community. However, players and coaches who have worked directly with Juan quickly understood the move by Andy Reid. You see, Juan is a very special unique breed of coach. He is as tough as they come both mentally and physically, he’s a teacher and could be the hardest working coach in the NFL. People who know him know that he’s always been a defensive guy at heart.
When I first transferred to Texas A&I University in the spring of 1982, I realized that I was in for a type of football I wasn't quite use to at Millersville University in Pennsylvania. My new teammates were bigger, stronger, faster and really rough around the edges. They were bred to play football and most of them were just downright nasty, especially the defensive guys.
I first met Juan in the weight room, which back then looked more like a scene out of a Rocky movie then a college weight room. He told me he was training to play in the NFL even though he went undrafted the previous year. He also just became a grad assistant who was coaching the linebackers. After a brief conversation he politely and enthusiastically asked me if I wanted to fight him in the weight room. I said: “No! I don’t want to fight you.” His professorial type reply was, (as he was getting the boxing gloves) “it’ll make you tough, its good training, and we used to do it here in the weight room all the time.” When I turned him down he then hung out at the doorway looking for any takers to go a few rounds with him.
I did eventually get in a scuffle with Juan a few weeks later during spring ball after one of his linebackers blindsided me while I was going across the middle for a pass. I bounced up and went after the LB when Juan stepped in to take me on, we went at it, me in full gear and him wearing a whistle; we eventually got separated and it was business as usual. As I went back to the huddle I remember Juan yelling at the offense “the field belongs to the defense and you are going to get hit and pay the price if you come over here”. That’s the Juan I know; a defensive guy at heart who loves to fight, hit, train and intimidate. That's who he really is and always will be. He belongs on defense.
Hard working and determined
Juan's years at A&I were spent doing 3 things; going to school, coaching and training. When the USFL went into full swing in 1985 Juan was determined to play. We would hear him running bleachers at midnight by himself from our dorm next to the stadium. He had the key to the weight room and would be in there at 5am punishing himself. On top of graduate school and training he still found time to drill his linebackers for hours on end as well. I don't think the guy ever slept.
In his early days with the Eagles, he used to make sure that he was always the first coach to the office and the last to leave. It practically became a contest between him and Jon Gruden. They both eventually would end up sleeping at the Vet.
Regardless of whatever position Juan coached, he has and still does emphasize fundamentals. I have represented 4 players who Juan coached in college (including Jermane Mayberry and Jorge Diaz) and they said they never been drilled in fundamentals the way Juan drilled them. The good news for Eagles' defense is that they will most likely end up being the most disciplined unit in the league after Juan gets through with them. He will instruct his position coaches to get back to sound tackling and basic drills which has always been the core of his coaching philosophy.
You probably didn't know
Even though Juan coached the Offensive line for 13 seasons, he was also a fixture in the defensive meetings of Jimmy Johnson, Leslie Frazier and Ron Rivera. He once told me that if he understood how the best defensive minds planned and strategized, he could better prepare his offense. Those same great defenses coaches would then pick Juan's brain about how he would scheme and block their defense.
Teacher and teammate
One of the biggest disconnects in pro coaching is the ability for NFL coaches to teach and communicate. Unfortunately, many coaches lack this ever so important trait. While many NFL coaches don't put in the time to teach fundamentals anymore, nor be patient with young players and are quick to give up on a guy after one bad game, Juan is the opposite of all these. He's a patient teacher who possesses the ability to communicate with the 1st round star and the undrafted free agent and even treat both as equals.
The fact Juan is well liked and respected by the players will give him the ability to get the most out of them and get them playing to their full potential. Former Eagles center Hank Fraley once told me that; “he owes his whole NFL career to Juan because he made me better than I ever knew I could be”.
Relax bird fans
Our family had season tickets to the Eagles for 20 years and we grew up bleeding green. So I’m sure the bird faithful are skeptical about this move by Andy. But trust me, there is no need to panic. Juan truly represents the fighting Philly spirit that is the DNA of their fans. He's a self-made, hard-working blue collar guy who will find a way to win. The D is in good hands if it reflects the work ethic and fight of their new coordinator.
One additional note. The Eagles landed two of the best trenchmen in the business, DL coach Jim Washburn and OL coach Howard Mudd. Also keep in mind that John Harbaugh went from special teams coach to defensive backs coach with much success. So give Juan a chance and I am certain you will see the Eagles made a great move.
Follow me on Twitter: @jackbechta