5-13-04, 6:30 p.m.
**Chuck Bresnahan, the newest Bengals assistant defensive coach, took a break from trying to find a house and his office phone extension this week to sit down with Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com to talk about his career, his four-year run as defensive cordinatior of the Raiders, and his unexpected but popular addition to Marvin Lewis' staff.
GH: You just made an interesting comment during our conversation on how you're sick when it comes to coaching. How sick are you?**
CB: I'm terminal. You have to be in this profession. Sick to me is, man, when I get up in the morning, I can't wait to get in the car and get in here. And when I leave at night, it's where you wait to turn off that light until you make sure you've got everything done. The day I lose that feeling, that commitment, is the day I'm going to do something else. Because this profession, as demanding as it is, you have to go down there and look those players in the eyes and you have to know you're totally prepared yourself.
GH: Your role hasn't been truly defined here. There is talk about working in third down and the nickel package.
CB: Right now, I'm here to contribute any way I can. One of the things that is impressive and captured my attention here is that they're willing to grow as the year goes, and try to make this work so Marvin maximizes what he can get out of me and I give what ever I can give to this ball club to win football games.
I certainly don't want to just sit in a room and have my hands folded and not say a word the whole year. I want to contribute, but at the same time, I don't want to come in here and act like, "Here comes Chuck. He has all the answers on whatever it is. Third down. Red zone." There is a great mix on this staff. This staff is outstanding.
GH:Is the staff why you decided on here instead of Denver?
CB: Yeah. There were extenuating circumstances in Denver that really made the decision early because it was not going to happen quickly because they were dealing with something else that was outside of me.
But just the way I felt talking to Marvin on the phone, knowing Leslie (Frazier), knowing the two Hayes brothers, knowing Ricky Hunley. Having known Kevin (Coyle). That had a tremendous influence. Then you talk to everyone that has worked in this organization. The (former defensive coordinator) Ron Lynns. The (former head coach) Bruce Coslets.
Ron was my secondary coach in Oakland. We talked about this all the time. This was it. This just seemed to be the right fit. I joked with those guys out there that Denver was tempting because I've got a lot of respect for Mike Shanahan as well because you're competing with him twice a year for the last six years, but I would have had the opportunity to play the Raiders twice a year. That was enticing to me; to get a chance to go back and play in Network (Associates) Coliseum. I think they changed the name. But this was right. I looked at my wife and said, "We have to do this." I wanted to force the issue. I wanted to put pressure on Marvin to make it happen. But I didn't have to do it. He was pushing it.
GH: And here there were some thinking they were talking to the Raiders about trading for Corey Dillon, and it turned out they were trying to get you.
CB: Believe me, believe me, I'm an afterthought. Just the whole scenario with the Raiders, going through the grievance process and all that took time. And so the communication between Katie (Blackburn) and myself, Katie and the league, Katie and the Raiders, when she had to call the Raiders. It took time. It took two or three weeks longer than it should have.
GH: We know you and Al Davis had a disagreement at the end in Oakland that ended up getting settled when he wanted to switch you from coaching to personnel, but you like him and speak fondly of your time out there. What was the best thing about your six seasons with the Raiders?
CB: It was a great run. I liked everyone there. The staff that Jon Gruden put together in 1998 pretty much stayed the same. He was the only one that left. The opportunity Al gave me to come in and coach the secondary gave me the opportunity to coach a guy like Charles Woodson, the first guy that was drafted when I was there. And to coach guys like Eric Allen, Albert Lewis, those guys are just incredible athletes. And then to be able to coach Rod Woodson at the end, and Bill Romanowski. Those are some big-name players. And to be able to be a coordinator at age 39 was unbelievable, and to win three straight division titles, it was a great experience in Oakland with very few negatives.
GH: Your first job in the NFL was under Patriots coach Bill Belichick in Cleveland in 1994 as the linebackers coach, but he is just one of the guys who had an influence on you.
CB: Bill Belichick had an impact on the scheme because I coached with him. The work ethic, and the variety, sure, but he had other coaches there that were also an influence. Nick Saban was our defensive coordinator and Rick Venturi had been a head coach. My Dad (a NFL offensive line coach) didn't affect the scheme, but that was where I got the passion for coaching and fundamentals.
George Welch, my college coach, had a great impact because of just playing for a guy that commanded so much respect. At Georgia Tech, coaching with Bobby Ross, he had a tremendous influence just because he was a tremendous human being. He's totally forward in everything he does, and he's so fair.
GH: You have a relationship already with Leslie through Eagles defensive coordantor Jim Johnson. They like to pressure the quarterback.
CB: Right. Jim was the defensive coordinator with the Colts and I was his linebacker coach (from 1996-97). On learning football, you have to write down Willie Shaw. He was the coordintor when I first went to Oakland. He's the guy that taught me about secondary play in the league. It was my first experience coaching defensive backs in the league.
He's not really a Jim Johnson. He liked to give you a variety of looks. He was a simplistic guy. He really believed you won with fundamentals and you won playing as a unit. He was very good with adjustments and just the fundamentals of the game. If I can defeat a block better than you can block me, I'm going to beat you. He was truly instrumental in a lot of my fundamentals coaching the secondary.
GH: Belichick is also about winning like that.
CB: Oh yeah, it's all about the team.
GH: Is his thing just the matchups?
CB: The thing about Bill is he's blue collar, which I really love about Bill. Look at what Bill did last year with that team, and how many high profile, big name players did they have? They weren't about the individual. They were about a 53-man roster. Playing as a group. Playing as 11 on defense. That's hard to beat. That's why they've won so many close games the last three years.
GH: What Xs and Os did you take from Bill?
CB: Bill will get complicated a little bit, but he makes adjustments. He finds a way to take the opponent's strength and make teams beat him with what is not their strength. Each week's game plan may be quite a bit different than the previous week's game plan. And I think he does an outstanding job getting his players to buy into the fact they may not be the guy that week, but that they may be a role player that week and somebody else is going to be the man, and he gets guys to buy into that.
GH: Marvin has said your philosophy is similar to what is already here with him and Leslie.
CB: You have to be simplistic. You've got to stop the run. It's funny to say that, and then you look we were dead last in stopping the run last year after being third best in the league the year before. There are a lot of reasons why that happened. I still believe you have to stop a team from running and force them to be one dimensional. Mixing pressure with base defense and be aggressive on third down. **
GH: Your father, Tom, coached the offensive line when you were playing linebacker at Navy. He also coached for a few NFL teams for 17 years. Did the Navy tie also bring you together with Belichick?**
CB: I've known the Belichick family since 1973. His dad, Steve, was an assistant at Navy with my dad. Then when Dad went to the Giants, he and Bill worked together when I was still playing in college.
GH: Bill has talked about the Navy discipline and how it impacted his organization. Did it have the same affect on you?
CB: It didn't have an effect on me until I went to the Naval Academy. There were a lot of things I picked up that I still carry to this day. Everybody busts my chops how neatly I print. Well, it was one messup at the Academy and I had to copy 1,200 pages in a log book because I had just scratched out something.
GH: How long did that take you?
CB: A month. (My printing) isn't because of that, it's a result of that. I'm just naturally neat now. I think my organizational skills benefit from that time in the Academy, and so many other things in life. Treating people with respect. Especially when I came into the pros as a fairly young coach (33). When I went into the Navy, I was a 24-year-old officer and you've got 45-year-old chiefs that have been in the Navy 20 years working directly for you and you're in charge of them.
You have to learn how to handle situations. You have to treat people the right way. That kind of puts you in a situation that the NFL presents you with to a degree in dealing with multi-million dollar players. You have to be able to handle that. Each person is different, each situation is different, and you have to be able to adjust. I think my years in the Navy helped me do that.
GH: Have you got an example of one of those incidents?
CB: There was a situation where I'm a 24-year-old ensign, and I went to my duty station in Alaska. It was a military base, but it had civilian contractors, and I was in charge. That's the way they started doing it then, making officers over see it.
And we had a civilian contractor who was running one of the systems who wasn't doing it right. He was taking money from the government. I went looking through the books and all that stuff, you've got a little moral decision there. That's going to get ugly, and he challenged me and I did what was right, and I think it's the same thing in life. You've got to do what you believe is right and stay the course. **
GH: How many years were you in? What was your rank?**
CB: Four years. I got discharged a year early because of my knee when I was lieutenant junior grade. I blew out my knee November of my senior year. I wanted to fly, but I couldn't pass my flight physical because of the staples and screws in my knee.
GH: That had to be tough. Can't you fly with a repaired knee?
CB: At that point in time, it was so close, the knee just rolled up against William and Mary, I believe, and the service selection was in January. So I was in a cast when I got the selection and I ended up in the supply corps and that was probably the best thing for me. If I could fly, I'd probably still be doing it and would love it.
But I knew I wanted to coach the game, I knew I wanted to coach in college or the pros, so it worked out.
GH: You've had a couple of critical junctures in your career when it could have gone elsewhere. I guess every coach has that.
CB: When we left Georgia Tech in 1991 and (head coach) Bobby Ross was going to the Chargers, a couple of us thought we'd become NFL coaches at an early age, but (Chargers GM) Bobby Beathard put on some limits and we didn't have enough experience. I went with Kirk Ferentz to be his defensive coordinator at Maine, and when he left the next year for the Browns, I went up for the head job at Maine.
GH: You didn't get it, and the guy who did get it, Jack Cosgrove, is still there having a nice run himself, and you went with Belichick to Cleveland in '94.
CB: Yeah, I stayed with Cossy for a year, and I know we both think it worked out for the best. He's loving what he's doing, and I think in the long run I wouldn't have been the right guy for Maine. I've been very fortunate to be in the playoffs with every team I've been with.