Bengals get permission to talk to Lewis

12-31-02, 3:40 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

On a day noted disciplinarian Tom Coughlin emerged as the internet's leading candidate to replace Dick LeBeau, Bengals players admitted Monday lack of discipline was a reason for the club's worst season ever.

"Dick tried to treat guys like adults and they took advantage of him," said cornerback Artrell Hawkins. "They took advantage of him respecting us as men. I thought his relationship with the team was fine, but the problem was that no one was professional enough to do their job on a consistent basis."

On Tuesday, "The Washington Post," reported that the Bengals have received permission to interview Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis. He joins Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey on the list of NFL assistants who have been contacted by the club. It's also believed the club is in the process of contacting Coughlin.

"Dick tried to treat guys like adults and they took advantage of him," said cornerback Artrell Hawkins. "They took advantage of him respecting us as men. I thought his relationship with the team was fine, but the problem was that no one was professional enough to do their job on a consistent basis."

CBS Sportsline.com reported that the Bengals called Jacksonville owner Wayne Weaver to confirm Coughlin's firing Monday. But Coughlin's agent had no comment and Mularkey said Monday night he had not been contacted by the Bengals.

Players were tougher on Bengals President Mike Brown than on LeBeau as they gathered to soak in the news of the termination and clean out their lockers. Brown believes he gives his head coach enough power to control the locker room, but the players aren't so sure.

"Guys need to know that the head coach controls your destiny," said quarterback Jon Kitna. "If they show the propensity to not do the right thing, there ought to be consistency. I don't think everybody in that locker room had that feeling that Dick had the ultimate controlling say on this football team.

"Someone has to come in who immediately has a resume that is going to command respect from the guys right away," Kitna said. "There has got to be consistency. I don't care

if you're Corey Dillon or the last person on your roster. We're all part of one team. Each person has to be treated the same. . .They have to revere and respect (the new coach)."

Right tackle Willie Anderson, who is going to go into his eighth season with his fourth head coach, is also looking for some tough love.

"We haven't really had that here," Anderson said. "We had it with Bruce Coslet, but only for a minute. I don't think we need a dictator, but we do need an authority figure. We have real good character guys. We don't have bad people on this team, we got rid of that stuff. But there's some stuff you can't let go by."

Fullback Lorenzo Neal said the club needs to go the route of a disciplinarian, but that it is tough to keep players in line if they know the coach doesn't have the power to cut them or start them.

"Maybe Mr. Brown has to give the coach more full range," Neal said. "Let the coaches coach and have the final say on stuff like that."

But Brown argues LeBeau had that power and players like Hawkins think LeBeau did have the final say. He was the first player LeBeau benched when he took over for Coslet two years ago.

"I know there are guys who don't think he has the final say," Hawkins said. "But I know he did with me. I lived it. And he made no bones about it. And it woke me up as a player."

Kitna said he lived a similar situation at the end of the 1998 season in Seattle.

"I think there were a lot of people on the team that took advantage of Dick. They weren't mature enough to handle the freedom Dick allowed you to have," Kitna said. "It reminds me of the situation with Dennis Erickson in Seattle. He's the kind of coach you always wanted to play for, but you end up taking advantage of that."

Still, Kitna said the coach's ability to exert control comes from the power Brown gives him: ``Is that coach going to have ultimate say on who's going to be here and who's not?' That coach is going to have to come in here and do something to change the attitude of this football team.''

Hawkins is just hoping his teammates understand some kind of authority.

"What this team needs is to make plays in the fourth quarter," Hawkins said. "To finish games. What this team really needs is to make plays down the stretch. You have to accept authority and move on, and learn to follow authority."

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