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Where Are They Now

Where Are They Now: Tony Casillas

Catch Up with the Former Defensive Lineman

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When an inexperienced head coach such as Pete Carroll in 1994, his first and only year guiding the Jets, has the opportunity to sign an experienced free agent defensive tackle such as Tony Casillas, an eight-year veteran and two-time Super Bowl Champion, he does so.

Following five seasons with Atlanta and three with Dallas, where he helped the Cowboys win Super Bowls XXVII AND XXVIII, Casillas signed with Kansas City earlier that year. However, he and the Chiefs parted company a day before their Training Camp opened.

"When I look back and now that it's out there, I think my whole deal is that I suffered from a lot of anxiety. And when I signed with Kansas City, I think it was my own fear of anxiety," Casillas said.

"But they didn't diagnose things like (anxiety problems) back in the '90s. It was just more or less, 'Well, just get through it. Keep your head down. You can't be vulnerable or anything.' And so I just kind of fought against that. I obviously didn't feel good. I wasn't sure if it was something cardiovascular. So it was just kind of an influx time.

"God bless (Chiefs Head Coach) Marty Schottenheimer, rest in peace, and (Chiefs GM) Carl Peterson, they gave me an opportunity to sign as a free agent. I just didn't feel comfortable with it. And (speculation was that) I wanted to go back and play in Dallas, which was farthest from the truth."

After being released by the Chiefs, Casillas and New York agreed to a contract three games into the season.

"I think, really, what attracted me at the time was Pete Carroll. Dick Steinberg was the general manager. Greg Robinson was the defensive coordinator," Casillas said. "And they were running a type of defense that really kind of fit the way I played. I wasn't a big guy, but I had a lot of quickness getting up field.

"I had to just play that first year and just continue playing, so to speak. I was good with that. And I think, also, New York was a place that, and you hear the song, 'If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.' It probably wasn't the best decision, but at the time it was. I felt like Pete Carroll and Greg Robinson, they really wanted me."

Besides getting a seasoned veteran who had been there and done that, the Jets were also getting someone who was a leader on the field and in the locker room.

"Anytime that you come from a franchise that had success, they kind of want that type of leadership," Casillas said. "I was fresh off that. And I think they really wanted the fact that I could bring some of that spark and kind of rub it off on them.

"And also at the time, Jeff Lageman was there, and Erik Howard came over (from the Giants) the next year. So it was just kind of an interesting, mixed bag of players. And I think, more or less, it was just being able to bring some of that winning attitude, and hopefully it would be a little bit contagious. Obviously, it didn't work out because Pete got fired that year."

After going 6-10, Carroll was replaced by Rich Kotite in 1995, and the Jets lost eight of their first 10 games, and finished the season at 3-13.

"Nothing against Rich, but I just felt like there was so much disconnect with the message he was trying to send to the players," Casillas said. "I think you needed a much stronger coach and obviously the organization to back what he was doing. And the players, they didn't really respond to that.

"I just remember, it felt like he'd rather smoke cigars up in his office than do things on the field that really needed to be paid attention to. And again, I'm not trying to slight him or anything, but you could kind of sense that."

With New York for two seasons, Casillas enjoyed the opportunity to experience the city with his wife, Heather. He also enjoyed the opportunity to experience and appreciate Jet fans.

"They would flip a switch with you real quick, and that's why I loved New York's fans. They're brutally honest. We beat somebody and I remember going out in the parking lot, and the fans were like, 'Hey Tony, let's have some brauts. Have a cold beer.' The next week we got beat and they wouldn't even talk to me. It was like, 'Nah, you're not getting any of my beer. You're not getting any of my brauts,'" Casillas laughed.

"I just liked the people. I think that's the thing about playing in New York, if you have success, they're loyal to you. They're the best fans. It's kind of that culture. But I think more importantly, while my experience there as a player wasn't the best, I really liked the guys that I played with. I was able to forge some relationships with guys I still talk to."

In the NFL for 12 seasons with Atlanta, Dallas, the Jets, and Dallas again, what makes Casillas most proud of his career?

"When I look back, as I mentioned, I was going through a lot of anxiety and just trying to deal with that," he said. "And really, my whole thing is the relationships, the guys I was able to meet, the coaches. But I think the asterisk would be my experience in Dallas. How hard it is to be able to do something.    

"These teams that have won multiple Super Bowls, it's a lot harder than you think. There's just so much behind the curtain stuff that goes on that people don't know. But wherever you're at, I think it's what you get out of it. You have a connection with these guys, and it is a small fraternity of people that you're involved with. Those are the memories you have and everlasting."

Making their home in Dallas, the Casillas' have three adult children: Chase, Jett, and Sophia. He hosts a weekly video podcast, The Tony Casillas Show, which can be seen on Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook.

"I've done some broadcasting, college football, and a podcast, Blogging the Boys," Casillas said. "I like to talk about real things because I think as a player, you kind of get buried in the identity. And there's nothing wrong with that. I love that. Because to this day, it's crazy where I live, people still recognize you and there's still opportunities.

"But I just wanted to have more of a show where when I talk to guests, I talk about their career, but I really want to know what advice they'd give. The advice they'd give to their 18-year-old self. What really inspired them to be where they're at?  

"The X's and O's, you can do that all day long. But I like popular culture. I like things that are trending. And I think what kind of sparked it was when we were in COVID and were subjected to binge watching. We started talking, let's do something, have some fun, interview people and find out things that we may or may not know about them."