The questions pour in quickly in the wake of news like this. We're not used to the Philadelphia Eagles making big, knee-jerk changes in the middle of the season, and so when it happens, there are a lot of things to ponder.
But the announcement Tuesday morning that Eagles head coach Andy Reid has fired defensive coordinator Juan Castillo isn't about whether Castillo was to blame for the Eagles' 11-11 record since the start of 2011. It's not about whether Todd Bowles will do a better job. It's not about whether it was a good idea in the first place to promote Castillo from offensive line coach to defensive coordinator or whether he ever could have been a good one.
This decision is about desperation, and it is the clearest sign yet that Reid understands he's coaching under serious job-security pressure for the first time in the 14 years he's spent in Philadelphia.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie loves Reid, loves what he's accomplished in Philadelphia and surely does not want to fire him. But there are times when teams must make changes for the sake of change, and prior to this season Lurie made it clear that another .500 record would not be good enough for Reid to keep his job. This didn't sound like earth-rattling stuff at the time, since Reid had finished over .500 in all but four of his years as Eagles coach. But after Sunday's ugly, sloppy, too-reminiscent-of-2011 loss to the Lions dropped the Eagles to 3-3, the real possibility of failing to meet Lurie's stated standard smacked Reid right in the face.
The Eagles have not played well this season. In September, they showed some toughness -- an ability to overcome a staggering number of turnovers and win games in the fourth quarter. They built a 3-1 record in spite of not having played their best, and when you're 3-1 you can excuse a lot of things and dream big about how much fun you'll all be having together once the sloppiness goes away.
But then they lost two straight, including Sunday's inexcusable meltdown. And with the bye week upon him and an apparent mandate to win at least six of his remaining 10 games, if not more, Reid had to do something. He said Monday he would "tear everything up" in an effort to make fixes, and the first tear is the firing of his longtime friend and loyal lieutenant, Castillo, whose ultimate success as a defensive coordinator might have been real validation for Reid.
Reid surely wanted Castillo to become great at the job, since that would have been best for everyone and been a real feather in Reid's head-coach cap. But he couldn't wait any longer. To sit around and do nothing while your most important season threatens to slide off a post-bye cliff is not the act of a coach who knows the owner is watching closely. And the fact that it was Castillo who got fired proves that this was a symbolic gesture as much as anything, designed to appease the frustrated masses who wanted blood.
The Eagles are, after all, 12th in total defense this year. Not brilliant, but not awful. And certainly not as embarrassingly bad as the fact that the offense ranks 31st in a 32-team league in points per game. The defense played quite well in the first five games, and even in the first 55 minutes of the sixth. I mean, if you were going to fire a coordinator based on 2012 performance, you'd think it'd be offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, not Castillo.
But obviously, that's not what this is about. This is about Reid saying to his team and his owner and to Eagles fans that he's not sitting on his hands -- that making this season a success remains as desperately important to him as it is to them. Bowles is a ready and capable replacement, something they likely don't have on the offensive side, so firing Castillo is easier midseason than it would be to fire Mornhinweg. Castillo's an easy scapegoat, too, since no one but Reid and (maybe) Castillo believed he was right for the job in the first place. Maybe this wakes up the offensive line, many of whom were taught how to play by Castillo. Maybe it snaps turnover-prone quarterback Michael Vick to attention, knowing he could be gone after this season very easily if he doesn't get his game together. The Eagles had a ready-made fall guy, and the wake of a 10-point collapse in the final five minutes at home was an opportunity to use him to let everybody know that no one is safe.
That includes Reid, of course, and this news today is the latest sign yet that he knows it. He has an excellent post-bye record and retains a strong chance to turn this season around. But if you were wondering whether Reid himself believed he was coaching for his job, you now have your answer. This is the act of a desperate man who knows he can't afford any more mistakes. If things don't change over the remaining 10 games in Philadelphia, Reid won't be in charge of deciding who gets fired next.