Cast out by NFL, Juan Castillo poised for memorable comeback
NEW ORLEANS -- For a guy who dressed in various shades of green during 17 plus seasons as a coach in the NFL, Juan Castillo looks quite spiffy in the black and purple tracksuit he is wearing here this week.
You remember Castillo. Assistant coach for the Eagles since 1995. Offensive line coach for 13 years. Moved to defensive coordinator in 2011. Fired unceremoniously by coach Andy Reid on Oct. 16 last year and perceived as the first scapegoat in a tumultuous 2012 season that eventually cost Reid his own job.
Well, he's back in the NFL. Ravens coach John Harbaugh recently hired Castillo as a consultant. For the last 10 days, he has been helping the Ravens prepare for Sunday night's Super Bowl game against the 49ers. Next year, Castillo will have a full-time job as the team's running game coordinator.
Just three and a half months after losing his job in Philadelphia, the affable Castillo is within arm's reach of the NFL's Holy Grail.
"I won the lottery, right?" he said, smiling big, during a media session this week.
In recent weeks, several head coaches approached Castillo with job offers, including Reid, who now is the head man in Kansas City. Reid offered Castillo a job as the Chiefs' assistant head coach and running game coordinator, but Castillo felt that because Reid dismissed him in Philadelphia, there would have been too many questions and distractions if he rejoined his old coach in Kansas City.
Don't misunderstand. Castillo holds no ill feelings toward Reid. In fact, it's just the opposite.
"Coach knows I love him," Castillo said. "I would take a bullet for him right now. Because of coach Reid, I became a free agent. How about that? What he did was give me those 13 years of opportunity to coach the [offensive] line so that I could develop a resume. So when he let me go ... I had quite a few opportunities and I found out my reputation and my resume as a coach is considered pretty good."
Under Castillo, four Eagles linemen earned their first Pro Bowl selections: Tra Thomas, Jermane Mayberry, Jon Runyan and Shawn Andrews. In 2010, the Eagles offense set team records for points, net yards and yards per rushing attempt. That season, the Eagles became the first team in NFL history to average at least 4.0 yards per rushing attempt in all 16 regular season games.
In 2011, Castillo's first year as defensive coordinator, the Eagles led the league in sacks, and ranked eighth in yards allowed and 10th in points allowed. When Castillo got fired in October, the defense ranked among the top 10 in several categories and actually was playing better than the offense.
Castillo, 53, realized how much he was respected as a defensive coach after the season when he talked to Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans as he debated within himself whether to get back into coaching on offense or defense. Recalling the conversation, Castillo said Ryans told him, "Coach, you're a teacher. The way you showed your scheme and executed your scheme every week, that was excellent. Your energy, the way you were always positive. It was awesome." Then Ryans said, "Coach, don't go back to offense. You're a defensive coach."
Many Eagles fans as well still revere Castillo, who first came to Philadelphia in 1995 as an offensive assistant under then head coach Ray Rhodes.
"That's very important to me," Castillo said. "I love the Philly fans. I love the way they always embraced me as a coach. And I thought I was part of Philadelphia. Work ethic, you know. That's the way Philadelphia people are; they want to work hard. And that's what I was all about."
Now Castillo has moved 100 miles down I-95 and has joined a team that is trying to get a bookend Lombardi Trophy to go with the one it has from winning Super Bowl XXXV. During his short time on the Ravens' staff, Castillo has been breaking down tape and making situational cut-ups for the coaches and players. "I look at the 49ers, they basically run some of the same [pass] coverages and run fits [the Eagles] did, so I understand what they're trying to take away."
He sits in on offensive team meetings but only offers his opinions when they are solicited because he realizes the Ravens did just fine without him. "They're the ones in the Super Bowl," he said.
Given that he had other coaching options to consider, Castillo was asked why he chose the Ravens. His longtime relationship with Harbaugh, who was the Eagles' special teams coordinator for nine years and their secondary coach for one season, was a major factor.
"What was important is I wanted to work for a head coach that I knew," Castillo said. "And then I wanted to work for a great organization. I've always respected Ozzie (Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome), the way he runs things, and I thought this would be a good opportunity."
In Philadelphia, Castillo sometimes would go into Harbaugh's special teams meetings. He'd watch Harbaugh and notice the charisma Harbaugh exuded. He had an inkling Harbaugh would wind up as a head coach someday.
"I know there's not the right way to say it because he's the head coach, but I'm proud of him," Castillo said. "I see the way his players respect him. They're not just respectful, but they care for him. That's important."
Talking about why he decided to hire Castillo, Harbaugh this week said, "Juan Castillo is a guy that I've known for a long time. Had a chance to work with him in Philadelphia for 10 years. Just a tremendous football coach, has a lot of experience on both sides of the ball."
Castillo's football foundation was on defense. A native of Port Isabel, Texas, he was a linebacker for three years (1978-80) at Texas A&I-Kingsville and joined the school's staff as a linebackers-defensive line coach from '82-85. He then coached at Kingsville High School as the defensive coordinator-defensive backs coach for four years before rejoining his alma mater as offensive line coach (1990-94).
Castillo also played linebacker for the San Antonio Gunslingers of the USFL. "That was good football," he said. "There were so many good football players in that league. Jim Kelly, Reggie White, Steve Young, Gary Zimmerman. It wasn't the NFL, but I played for good coaches. I had a defensive background. The hardest thing I had to do was learn how to coach the offensive line."
Even more difficult for Castillo was his time away from coaching this season. He would take his youngest son, Antonio, to school and then pick him up in the afternoon. He spent much of the time in between at NFL Films in Cherry Hills, N.J., where he would look at tape. He also had time to go watch his oldest son, Gregory, play cornerback for the University of Iowa.
But now he's back in the environment where he feels most comfortable.
"You know, I'm so excited just to be working," Castillo said. "When I wasn't working, I found out how special the NFL is. It's a privilege to work in the NFL."
He came close to the NFL's ultimate prize when he was in Philadelphia. The Eagles went to five NFC championship games and advanced once to the Super Bowl, after the 2004 season, where they lost, 24-21, to Tom Brady and the Patriots.
"We won a lot of games (in Philadelphia), we just didn't win the Super Bowl," he said. "The legacy is we're not going to be remembered (as a team that won the Super Bowl), and that's hard to swallow. When you go to the Super Bowl, you've got to win because if not, you're forgotten."
On Sunday, Juan Castillo, a man who was out of work less than two weeks ago, will get a second chance to win a Super Bowl ring. Yes, he hit the lottery.