MOBILE, Ala. _ Jim Haslett, everyone's coach of the year from the NFL to the Fan Poll of bengals.com, had a simple formula in turning his Saints from 3-13 in '99 to 10-6 this season.
"It's changing a mindset, and not just those of the players," said Haslett Wednesday here at the Senior Bowl. "It's people in the building. The city. The media. It's everybody. It takes time. When things go wrong, when people get hurt, you have to keep going and not worry about it. That's what has to be instilled in the players."
The Bengals are dying for such a turnaround this year after three seasons of 11-37. Haslett says they have the right man in head coach Dick LeBeau, his boss in Pittsburgh when LeBeau was the defensive coordinator and Haslett was the linebackers coach.
"Players love him because of the way he is. Straight up. No bull," Haslett said. "He probably should have had the opportunity long before this, but sometimes late in life people make the best of it. I know he's going to run the football, he's a sound coach, the players will play for him and they'll win some games."
The animated, vocal Haslett didn't pick up any of his personality traits from LeBeau ("Dick's a laid-back type of guy,"), but he did pick his Xs and Os. If there's any doubt LeBeau, or Bill Cowher or Dom Capers is the true architect of the zone blitz, Haslett ended all the suspense.
"It's Dick's all the way," Haslett said. "When I came to Pittsburgh, I brought some things, but the blitzes were pretty much all Dick's. The guy's a technician and great with scheme."
When told told he won the bengals.com poll by more than two-to-one, Haslett asked, "Who was second? Andy (Reid of the Eagles)? There were a lot of guys who could have won it this year. Jon Gruden. Jim Fassell. A lot of guys."
Haslett is in the middle of the third and final phase of his rebuilding program.
"We started saying it right from minicamp," Haslett said. "The first phase is learning how to win. The second is handling adversity. And we're in the third part now, which is learning how to handle success."
He doesn't have a long wait to find out. As Haslett faces his first major dilemma as a head coach. Former Bengals quarterback Jeff Blake got the Saints to the brink of playoffs with a seven-game winning streak before breaking his ankle. Backup Aaron Brooks finished it off and won a playoff game. . .so?
"Who's the No. 1 quarterback?" Haslett asked. "It's up in the air depending how Jeff comes back from his injury and how they both perform in training camp.
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The screws are out and the pins are out of his ankle. I think (Blake) will be fine."
Blake clearly flourished in Haslett's scheme, hitting 60 percent of his passes for the first time in his career and finishing sixth in NFC passing.
"We probably did a little more than Cincinnti did as far as rolling him out of the pocket to take advantage of his athletic ability and counter his lack of height," Haslett said. "After he got in rhythm and the players felt comfortable with him, he did a great job running our offense."