Jim Washburn Hire Was Andy Reids Greatest Mistake

Jim Washburn Hire Was Andy Reids Greatest Mistake

A few weeks back, we pondered where it all went wrong for
the Eagles. It feels like eons ago, but even heading into October this looked
like a playoff squad. Now they’ve lost eight straight, and have a shot at the
number one pick in April’s draft. How in the world did we get from Point A to
Point Z so quickly?

In reality, there probably isn’t any one transaction to
blame for the team’s decline. Great players got old, and were replaced through
a combination of ineffective drafting and a recent over-reliance on free
agents. Nearer to the top of the food chain, the quarterback situation went
from stable to complete mess in a single offseason’s time (2010), and a legendary
defensive coach passed away. It’s all been building up, conspiring to the end
of the Andy Reid era for awhile.

But like a Jenga tower, there is always that one misplaced
block that finally brings the entire weakened structure to the ground. In
Philadelphia, it’s beginning to look like Jim Washburn was what made the damn
thing collapse, at least that’s what we are led to believe based on the last
couple of weeks.

When Jason Babin was released out of the blue last Tuesday, the
defensive end Pro Football Weekly’s Ed Edholm describes as “the wide-9-iest of
the wide-9-ers,”
you knew right away something was up. This wasn’t a cash-cutting move, or
even purely to clear a roster spot for second-rounder Vinny Curry – the Eagles
went with 52 players last week rather than the traditional 53. They could have
stashed Babin on the bench or deactivated him for the rest of the year, but
obviously that would have caused problems.

Sure enough, reports surfaced Washburn was not happy his favorite
student got the axe. We don’t know what happened next, but we do know the
defensive line coach was pushed out the door just six days later.

With their exits, we are starting to develop a picture of just
how divisive Washburn was. He reportedly frustrated Trent Cole to the point where the veteran
walked out of a meeting, yet coddled Babin during a sack drought that lasted
over a month. He disrespected his colleagues, whether they were in public, like
the time he and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg got into a shouting
match on the sidelines
during a game; or behind closed doors, where he apparently
referred to Juan Castillo – supposedly his boss – as “Juanita” in front of
their players.

By all accounts, Washburn seems like pretty much of a colossal prick. However, that’s not the sole reason
why he was the worst thing that ever happened to Reid, nor is it because he brought with him the now universally-despised Wide-9.

In theory, the Wide-9 wasn’t a bad thing. It was extremely
successful in Tennessee, where Washburn was employed by head coach Jeff Fisher
for 12 years. The Titans routinely finished in the top-5-or-10 in sacks, and
the system constantly churned out Pro Bowlers, sometimes reviving careers like
Babin’s. If the Eagles could pressure opposing quarterbacks primarily using
just their front four rather than rely on the frequent blitzing that had become
stale after Sean McDermott stepped in for Jim Johnson, and players like Brian
Dawkins and Jeremiah Trotter had left the organization or retired, it could
open up new doors schematically.

And it worked for awhile, to a degree. The Eagles tied for
the league-lead in sacks last season with 50, a whopping 46 of those coming
from the line alone. Babin finished with 18, briefly making a run at the
all-time record, and earning himself a trip to the Pro Bowl in the process.
Never mind the rest of the personnel didn’t fit – they had one of the worst,
most inexperienced linebacker groups is recent memory, and the back end was a
mess. What they were doing up front was working. Why it suddenly sputtered out
this year actually remains a bit of a mystery.

Even installing a wide-9 front under a leaky roof wasn’t
Reid’s worst call though. Hiring a defensive line coach before hiring a new
defensive coordinator after McDermott was not retained will go down as the most
misguided decision of Reid’s career.

It seemed to everyone like an unusual thing to do at the
time back in 2010, and the perception is that was why the Eagles couldn’t land
a legitimate defensive coordinator. That’s how Castillo eventually wound up
with the job in February as the list of candidates dried up, most without ever
bothering to interview in Philadelphia.

Promoting Castillo from offensive line coach to defensive
coordinator might have been a mistake either way. The fact is, we may never
know. But not only did Reid saddle himself with a first-year coordinator who
had been coaching offense since the 80’s, he created an unhealthy, unmanageable
situation for himself. Washburn clearly ran roughshod over Castillo, clearly
discredited him not only in front of his own unit, but to the defense as a
whole. How was Castillo supposed to do his job with a rogue position coach
running amok in the locker room?

Washburn wanted to be a defensive coordinator, only without
the accountability. For that, Castillo took the fall rather unnecessarily in
October, while Washburn was allowed to stick around and keep playing house
despite the fact that he was never picking up after himself. Meanwhile, that
lack of accountability seems to have trickled down to practically every member
of that defense, as evidenced by their performance since Week 6.

In retrospect, the decision to set up the staff in this
manner looks more foolhardy than ever. It was Reid’s greatest miscalculation,
the move that pushed this perennially steady franchise over the cliff. There is plenty of blame to go around for the fiasco that is
the Eagles’ 3-9 season, but nothing could be more bungled than this.

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In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

The crowd erupted as Joel Embiid stepped to the free throw line. They chanted a phrase Embiid has been repeating for the past two years, a fitting welcome to his NBA debut.

“That was great,” Embiid said after the Sixers' 103-97 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday in the season opener (see Instant Replay). “That’s my motto, 'Trust the process.'”

After two years of rehabbing foot injuries, Embiid has his first regular-season game behind him. Embiid scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from long range and 7 for 8 from the line. He also recorded seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls in over 22 minutes. 

“The beginning I was nervous, but once you make that first shot, it just goes away,” he said. “The fans were so into the game that it was fun. I love having fun.”

Sixers head coach Brett Brown enjoyed watching Embiid on the court as much as the big man liked being on it. Brown has seen the 7-foot-2 center grow and develop during his rehab. Finally, he was able to utilize his versatile skills in a real game setting.

“I can't say this loud enough,” Brown said. “For the city to be rewarded with a player that we all understand has unique gifts, special gifts, for him to go through all the things he has been through and play like he did on opening night, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

Now that Embiid has been cleared to play, he would like to do so for longer periods of time. He began the preseason at 12 minutes and was increased to 20 in segmented spurts for opening night. Even though he exceeded that limit by over two minutes, Embiid is itching to be cleared to play more extensively. 

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I feel like I could have played more but you know you’ve got to trust the process, got to trust those guys. If I have my minute restriction at 20 minutes, I guess I’m going to go with that. But obviously I want to play more and more and I think it can help the team better. But they have a plan for me and I’ve got to follow it.”

Embiid has maintained he wants to be a clutch player. Brown looked to him toward the end of the game as the Thunder pulled ahead late in the final quarter. He drained a fadeaway jumper to tie the game at 97 apiece with 50.7 to go. 

Later trailing by four with 10 seconds left, the Sixers went to Embiid. While he was whistled for an offensive foul, Brown was glad to have a go-to unlike in years past. 

“You have a target,” Brown said. “We tried to get the ball to him a lot. … By and large, to have somebody like Joel, where the mystery is solved like, 'What do you do?' You get him the ball as much as you can.”

The more the Sixers found Embiid, the more the Thunder had to try to defend him. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan knew what his team was going up against. He watched Embiid as a high schooler and coached against him during his tenure at Florida. 

“He’s gifted and skilled,” Donovan said. “It was probably our guys' first time seeing him … I knew the talent, the gifts. The one thing with him is, he’s got great footwork. He’s hard to guard because he’s herky-jerky. He moves. He’s got a lot of [Hakeem] Olajuwon to him.”

Opening night had been two years in the making. Even though the Sixers didn't win, the significance of the evening didn't disappoint. 

"I thought this moment was going to be special," Embiid said, "and it was just great."

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

NEW ORLEANS -- Jusuf Nurkic scored 23 points, Will Barton added 22, and the Denver Nuggets survived a dominant performance by Anthony Davis to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-102 in both teams' regular season opener Wednesday night.

Davis had 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks. His production helped New Orleans trim a deficit as large as 14 late in the second quarter down to two points in the waning minutes. He simply didn't have enough help.

The rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21 of 58. Tim Frazier scored 15 for the Pelicans. E'Twaun Moore added 10 points, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with 24 seconds left.

Danilo Gallinari scored 15 for Denver and Wilson Chandler added 12 points (see full recap).

Celtics top Nets in Horford's home debut
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas had 25 points and nine assists, Jae Crowder added 21 points and Al Horford pitched in 11 in his Boston debut on Wednesday night as the Celtics survived a late scare to beat the Brooklyn Nets 122-117 in their season opener.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 for Brooklyn, including a 3-pointer to make it 120-117 with 47 seconds left after the Nets erased most of a 23-point deficit against the Boston bench. But he missed one with a chance to tie it after Joe Harris intercepted Thomas' cross-court pass, and the Celtics were able to hold on.

Justin Hamilton came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds for the Nets in coach Kenny Atkinson's debut (see full recap).

Turner's opening act leads Pacers past Mavs in OT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Turner scored 30 points, tied his career high with 16 rebounds and made a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in overtime to start an 8-0 run that allowed the Indiana Pacers to close out a 130-121 victory Wednesday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

Three-time All-Star Paul George added 25 points, including another 3 with 55 seconds left to seal Indiana's fifth season-opening win in six years.

Deron Williams scored 25 points, while J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki each added 22 as the Mavs lost their fifth straight in the series. They still haven't won in Indianapolis since February 2014.

Dallas didn't tie the score or take a lead until the fourth quarter, yet still forced overtime when Harrison Barnes' open 3-pointer made it 115-all with 2.3 seconds left.

Turner could have won it with a long buzzer-beating 3, but it bounced off the back of the rim (see full recap).