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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Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

NEW YORK -- John Wall had 29 points and 13 assists, scoring Washington's final four points in the last 32 seconds as the surging Wizards beat the New York Knicks 113-110 on Thursday night.

Otto Porter Jr. made six 3-pointers for the second straight night and added 23 points, but the Wizards needed big plays from Wall down the stretch to win their fourth in a row.

He made two free throws to put Washington back on top after New York had rallied to take a 110-109 lead, then rebounded Carmelo Anthony's miss and left all the Knicks in his dust as he raced down the floor for a dunk with 13.7 seconds to play.

Anthony finished with 34 points but Wall stole the ball from Brandon Jennings to prevent the Knicks from attempting a 3-pointer that could have tied it (see full recap).

Leonard scores 34 to lead Spurs over Nuggets
SAN ANTONIO -- Kawhi Leonard scored 34 points, rookie Dejounte Murray added a season-high 24 and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a pregame injury to Pau Gasol in beating the Denver Nuggets 118-104 on Thursday night.

Denver's three-game winning streak was snapped despite a career-high 35 points from Nikola Jokic.

Leonard had his fifth straight 30-point performance, right after learning he will start for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game for the second consecutive season.

The Spurs were unexpectedly without Gasol, Tony Parker and then coach Gregg Popovich. Gasol and Parker were both late scratches due to injury, and Popovich was ejected for the first time this season.

Gasol broke the ring finger on his left (non-shooting) hand by jamming it against Kyle Anderson's shoulder during pregame warmups while attempting a running hook. The 16-year veteran center immediately clutched his hand and left the court.

X-rays revealed the break, and the Spurs said there is no timeline for Gasol's return.

Irving, James lead Cavs over Suns
CLEVELAND -- Kyrie Irving scored 26 points, All-Star teammate LeBron James had 21 points and 15 assists, and the Cleveland Cavaliers looked more like themselves at home in a 118-103 win over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.

The Cavs were back in Quicken Loans Arena following a six-game road trip (their longest of the season) that concluded with an embarrassing 35-point loss at Golden State. But on their home floor, they had better offensive balance and ball movement while improving to 30-11 -- the same record Cleveland had at the halfway point of its 2016 NBA championship season.

Channing Frye scored 18, Iman Shumpert 17 and James Jones 14 while filling in for star forward Kevin Love, still bothered by back spasms.

Tyson Chandler had 22 points and 16 rebounds, but the Suns lost for the fourth time in five games (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had a goal and an assist to lead the Washington Capitals to a 7-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Jay beagle, Brett Connolly, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams also scored, and Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik each had two assists to help Washington earn at least a point in its 12th straight game (10-0-2) for an NHL-best 66 points.

Braden Holtby bounced back from his roughest outing of the season with 22 saves. Holtby was pulled after giving up a season-high five goals on 26 shots in an 8-7 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. He improved to 22-8-4 and 5-0 lifetime against St. Louis (see full recap).

Grabner scores 2 goals, Rangers top Leafs
TORONTO -- Michael Grabner scored two goals against his former team, helping the New York Rangers snap a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and J.T. Miller added goals for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves following a series of rough outings.

Tyler Bozak and Zach Hyman scored for Toronto, which had a three-game winning streak stopped. The Maple Leafs had earned 21 of a possible 26 points in their previous 13 games (10-2-1). Frederik Andersen gave up four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

Tavares leads Islanders to shutout of Stars
NEW YORK -- Getting a new coach this week didn't change things much for the Islanders -- and oddly enough, that's a good thing for New York.

John Tavares narrowly missed out on his second hat trick in a week, Thomas Greiss got his second straight shutout and the Islanders beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Thursday night in their first game since firing longtime coach Jack Capuano.

New York canned Capuano in the middle of his seventh season Tuesday, replacing him on an interim basis with Doug Weight (see full recap).

Niederreiter, Wild dodge letdown, edge Coyotes
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nino Niederreiter had two power-play goals and an assist, including the go-ahead score for the Minnesota Wild with 7:06 remaining in a 4-3 victory over Arizona on Thursday night after the Coyotes came back from a two-goal deficit.

With Shane Doan in the penalty box for hooking, Niederreiter knocked in a nifty redirect of Mikael Granlund's slap shot for the winner. Devan Dubnyk stopped 20 shots for the Wild, who are 18-2-2 in their last 22 games.

Louis Domingue made 21 saves for the Coyotes, who lost their fourth in a row and fell to 2-12-1 in their last 15 games starting with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota in Arizona on Dec. 17 (see full recap).