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Updated: January 12th, 2012 9:31pm
Pelissero: If 'Spags' joins Eagles, Vikings could pursue Juan Castillo

Pelissero: If 'Spags' joins Eagles, Vikings could pursue Juan Castillo

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by Tom Pelissero

Raheem Morris landed in Washington. Mel Tucker decided to stay in Jacksonville. Steve Spagnuolo widely is expected to end up in Philadelphia.

If the Minnesota Vikings come up empty again, on the third and final known outside candidate to replace the defensive coordinator who remains in the building, it wouldn't be a surprise if they pursue the man Spagnuolo replaces.

Juan Castillo has been close with Vikings coach Leslie Frazier since their days together on the Eagles' staff from 1999 to 2002. According to NFL sources, there was mutual interest in a reunion shortly after Frazier was promoted from interim coach last January, to the point Castillo told people close to him he expected to end up in Minnesota.

That was before Eagles coach Andy Reid's surprise decision to name Castillo to defensive coordinator after 16 seasons as an offensive assistant. But Frazier made clear his feelings about his friend in an interview shortly after Castillo's promotion.

"I have a strong affinity for Juan going back to our days spent together in Philadelphia," Frazier said in February. "I can remember Jim Johnson (the Eagles' longtime coordinator who passed away in July 2009) and our defensive staff putting our game plans together, and we'd always get together with Juan just to make sure they were sound in terms of pressures and blitzes.

"Sometimes, I felt like he was on our defensive staff. And to this day, he and I talk every week during the season to talk about other offenses in the league. That's how much respect I have for him as a coach and how well he is able to understand the defensive schemes."

Castillo, 52, hadn't coached defense since he wrapped up a four-year stint as linebackers coach and defensive coordinator at Kingsville (Texas) High School in 1989. But the Eagles' defense improved over the course of the season, finishing No. 8 in yardage and No. 10 in scoring.

The Vikings also have done their due diligence on Spagnuolo, 52, who was fired by the St. Louis Rams last week after a 2-14 season. He previously spent time on Reid's staff with Castillo, Frazier and former Vikings coach Brad Childress as well.

It's not a given the Eagles would allow Castillo to make what would be considered a lateral move even if they demoted him, although his 17 years' service to that organization suggest it's unlikely Reid would hold him against his will.

It's also still not a given the Vikings will go outside the building to replace Fred Pagac, who continues to report to work at Winter Park even as Morris and Tucker have interviewed for his job.

Qualified candidates might be reluctant to enter a lame-duck situation, too, with Frazier entering the second year of a three-year deal coming off a 3-13 season and Rick Spielman recently promoted to general manager.

The only other known candidate is Vikings assistant head coach/linebackers coach Mike Singletary, 53, another close friend of Frazier's from their playing days together in Chicago. But Singletary has no experience calling defensive signals at any level, and numerous NFL sources over the past month have said Singletary's lone season with the team raised serious red flags at nearly every level of the organization.

Among other things, Singletary has been known to leave assistant Jeff Imamura in charge of some position meetings, skipped all of the Vikings' meetings the night before last month's game at Detroit to attend a wedding and occupied so much of his time with side projects that staff members were assigned to monitor what he was doing.

Hiring Castillo could allow Frazier the opportunity to keep his hand in the defense and also provide a softer letdown to Singletary, who may already be under the impression the job will be his.

Pagac, 58, was a part of Childress' first staff with the Vikings in 2006 and was promoted to Frazier's old role after Childress' firing in November 2010. But his attacking style never seemed a good fit under a coach firmly rooted in the Tampa-2 zone defense.

The Vikings finished 21st in total defense amidst a series of clashes behind the scenes, with a group of players protesting Pagac's play calls within the first month of the season and Frazier taking away play-calling duties for a stretch in November.

Though Pagac and other defensive assistants have begun packing their offices -- something Pagac also did when Childress passed over him for the coordinator job and hired Frazier after Mike Tomlin's departure in 2007 -- the only one dismissed so far is line coach Karl Dunbar, who knew weeks ago he wouldn't be back. Assistant Diron Reynolds is the favorite to replace him, although the Vikings interviewed Jaguars line coach Joe Cullen the same day as Tucker.

Morris told the Tampa Tribune he didn't receive an offer from the Vikings. Multiple reports on Thursday said Tucker did, but he decided to return to the Jaguars anyway, as did Cullen.

Frazier's approach isn't surprising, given that he also kept offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and special-teams coordinator Brian Murphy on staff while interviewing their potential replacements a year ago, saying they were free to pursue other opportunities. There are indications Pagac and defensive backs coach Joe Woods have been told the same.

Complicating the current situation is that the Vikings are preparing to coach the Senior Bowl, for which practice begins on Jan. 23. That leaves Frazier roughly 10 days to solidify his staff or else head to Mobile, Ala., with coaches who probably won't even be around by the time the NFL Draft rolls around in April.

The fate of Spagnuolo, who reportedly has been on vacation the past week, is the lynchpin for whether Castillo even becomes an option. And the timing of that decision could decide the outcome of an awkward situation inside Winter Park that would grow only stranger if Pagac makes the trip later this month with his fate still up in the air.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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In this story: Brad Childress, Leslie Frazier