Former Eagles defensive line coach Jim Washburn is remembered as a villain for his infamous two-year stint with the club, though he doesn't sound entirely sure why.
Washburn is calling it a career after 40 years coaching college and NFL football, though he knows better than to expect a retirement party from the Eagles. His brief stint as an assistant in 2011 and '12 was marred by controversy. He reportedly acted unprofessionally toward players and colleagues – specifically then-defensive coordinator Juan Castillo – and his wide-nine scheme was generally a poor fit for the personnel in place.
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With four games remaining in 2012 and the Eagles headed for a 4-12 finish, Washburn got the axe – fall guy for the defense's poor performance on the field, as well as the disruption internally.
Despite how everything went down, Washburn says he doesn't regret his time with the Eagles one bit. Of course, the organization was also "throwing a lot of money around" in his words, which certainly couldn't have hurt. We also never really heard his version of what went wrong, either. The defensive line looked strong in 2011, but as things fell apart, Washburn felt he became a scapegoat in the media.
"The first year, we were eighth in total defense, led the league in sacks," Washburn said Thursday during a wide-ranging interview with The Midday 180. "After the second year … the whole thing started bad. (former Eagles head coach) Andy Reid's son, god bless him, OD'd in camp and died. It was tragic. It was awful. Great kid. Then after that, it was just a mess.
"I know the press didn't care for me. To one writer in particular, I was the anti-Christ in Philadelphia. So anyway, I got fired with four games to go, and that was sort of a bitter pill for me to swallow.
"I enjoyed my time up there. We almost beat Reggie White and Jerome Brown's sack record. We missed it by a sack-and-a-half first year, then I don't know. It was just a strange situation."
Looking back on the 2012 season, it was impossible to expect anything normal to come out of that situation after Reid's son, Garrett, was found dead at training camp. At the same time, it seems a tad disingenuous to pin all of the Eagles' strife on that tragedy, especially when the problems were between Washburn and Castillo, or Washburn and his players.
Instead, we may find some perspective in what Washburn had to say about present-day Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. Washburn worked under Schwartz for eight seasons with the Tennessee Titans and has all the respect in the world for him now.
That wasn't always the case.
"Schwartz and I, for one year, I wouldn't talk to him for about a month." Washburn said. "He finally came in and said, ‘What's the problem?'
"I love Jim Schwartz. First of all, he should be a head coach again. I said, ‘I've got really good players. Let us just rush four, let us be creative. I've got a lot of different things I want to do. Let me go. You be a genius with the back seven, and let's see how we do."
Part of the problem Washburn ran into with the Eagles was the perception he was essentially running the defense. He was hired before Castillo, and was completely inflexible about using any technique besides the wide nine. Clearly, this wasn't the first time that was a conflict, either.
In Schwartz's case, he wound up adopting some of the same guiding philosophies as Washburn. When it was no longer getting results for the Eagles, and Castillo and presumably Reid wanted to change things up, that's when there were issues.
Washburn was also able to provide some insight into another favorite whipping boy of the time period: former Eagles defensive end Jason Babin. One season after racking up 18.0 sacks, Babin was also unceremoniously dumped mid-season in between the Castillo and Washburn firings.
Naturally, Washburn loved Babin because, "He's a psycho." Reid obviously felt different.
"Reid told me, he said ‘I hate him.'
"Because he would just run his mouth and stuff. I don't know, I loved him. He's a likable guy."
Washburn mostly manages to come off as sympathetic in this interview, and you can almost wonder how one person could be the source of so many misunderstandings. The reality is said nothing to change the perception that he was single-minded in his approach – that defensive linemen sacking the quarterback was the only thing that mattered to him. And in being so inflexible, Washburn was essentially a law unto himself, which was never going to fly with the Eagles.
Washburn also talked about some former players of his, including All-Pro defensive end Jevon Kearse, who jumped from the Titans to the Eagles for a record free-agent contract in 2014.
After going to three Pro Bowls and racking up 47.5 sacks in his first five seasons with the Titans, Kearse was largely a disappointment with the Eagles. While Washburn acknowledged injuries and scheme changes were factors in the downfall of "The Freak," he also thinks a contract worth $65 million may have had something to do with the regression as well.
"Wasted his career," Washburn said. "I thought he should've been in the Hall of Fame. He went to Philly, they changed him and it made me sick. I'd feel vomit in my mouth every time I saw him on film.
"He just got rich."