2-3-03, 7:15 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Bill Tobin, the Bengals' newest hire via the front office bloodletting in Detroit, has a goal.
They play the 2006 Super Bowl in the Lions' Ford Field and Tobin would love to help the Bengals get there.
"Maybe my two draft classes would be lined up against us. Wouldn't that be nice?" Tobin asked with a smile Monday. "I can see the last two drafts being a big part of the Lions' future."
The Bengals continued to re-shape their future with their busiest offseason in history Monday with another uncharacteristic move when they named Tobin, a long-time NFL executive who helped build the Bears and Colts into playoff teams, as a scouting consultant in their quest to relieve the assistant coaches of some of their scouting burdens.
The move comes after new head coach Marvin Lewis swept out the coaching staff with 10 new hires, counting himself, in the biggest staff turnover in team history.
Tobin's hire also marks the first time the Bengals have ever gone outside the organization to bring in a NFL front-office veteran for its player personnel department. Along with a Super Bowl ring from the 1985 Bears, Tobin brings 29 years of NFL scouting experience that ranges from Hall-of-Famers Mike Singletary and Dan Hampton in Chicago, future Hall-of-Famer Marvin Harrison in Indianapolis, and a franchise quarterback in Detroit's Joey Harrington
But Tobin, who turns 62 next week, emphasized he is only playing a supporting role after spending his last 15 years in the league at the top of the decision-making process.
"I'm going to be beating the bushes and evaluating tape. That's the way I started and that's not all bad," Tobin said Monday. "I've been sitting close to the furnace for a long time. You are who you are. I never had a big, grand image of myself. Tell me the job, give me a description of the job, and it will get done. I've been hired by ownership to help the Bengals get better."
Tobin's job description from Bengals President Mike Brown and
senior vice president of player personnel Pete Brown is to simply help give the Bengals more information on college players. Tobin, the father of Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin, may end up in the fall being based near his Florida home covering the southeastern part of the country when the college season starts.
But he'll spend the weeks before the April 26-27 NFL Draft attending workouts of the top-rated prospects as well as watching potential draft picks and college free agents on tape.
"No question it's a coup for the Bengals," said Rod Graves, Arizona's vice president and director of football operations who began his career with Tobin in Chicago. "Bill is an astute evaluator of talent who is very thorough. His drafts speak for themselves. He's going to be quite an asset."
The plan is for Tobin to join other Bengals' scouts on the road during the fall in vice president of player personnel Paul Brown, director of football operations Jim Lippincott, and Duke Tobin. Former Ohio State head coach John Cooper, hired as a consultant last year, also does some work on the road.
The Bengals have been criticized for having the smallest personnel department in the league, but Tobin's hire is keeping with the desire of the Browns and Lewis to expand the scouting staff in order to relieve the coaches of some of their off-season travel.
Giving the coaches fewer travel assignments is a radical departure from the club's philosophy that has been a touchstone for much of the criticism leveled at the Bengals the past decade. The team has felt coaches should be heavily involved in scouting because they will be coaching the players on the field once they get to Cincinnati.
But the Tobin move and maybe another one before the draft suggests they are trying to ease the role of the assistants in scouting.
"This gives us an experienced person at a critical point in our scouting," Lewis said. "It helps allow us to properly evaluate player talent."
Tobin spent the past two seasons as Lions president Matt Millen's executive director of player personnel, but wouldn't elaborate on his ouster a month ago that was part of Millen's housecleaning in Detroit. Tobin would only say it was over "philosophical differences," with Millen in a tenure that now stands at 5-27 in two years.
Tobin did control the draft and did convince Detroit ownership to select Harrington with the third pick in the last draft. Ten of his picks the past two seasons have started.
"I've been in the league long enough to know the value of a gifted, talented leader and quarterback and Harrington is all of that," Tobin said. "Some other people in the room didn't understand that, and I was able to convince the ownership when they were in the room and they wanted to go with the quarterback."
Tobin won't have nearly that pull in the Bengals' draft room, but he'll be well informed. He's already up-to-date on this year's draft because of his work in Detroit, but he doesn't know yet if USC quarterback Carson Palmer is worthy of the Bengals' top pick in the draft because the Lions weren't scouting quarterbacks.
But Bengals defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier knows Tobin will be well schooled on Palmer soon.
"That's a great hire," said Frazier, a free-agent out of Alcorn State who became a cornerback on the Bears' legendary '85 defense that won the Super Bowl. "There would be times he'd draft a guy and some people would question it (like a 227-pound defensive end named Richard Dent in the eighth round out of Tennessee State) but more often than not, it turned out positive for our organization."
Tobin spent 1975-93 with the Bears, and in his last eight seasons he was Vice-President of Player Personnel. Seven of the last nine Bears teams he helped shape qualified for the playoffs, and 11 of his 22 first-round draft picks were named to at least one Pro Bowl. Besides running back Walter Payton, players drafted by the Bears during Tobin's tenure were Singletary, Hampton, quarterback Jim McMahon, defensive tackle William "The Refrigerator" Perry, and defensive end Trace Armstrong.
From 1994-97, Tobin was Vice-President and Director of Football Operations at Indianapolis, and he quickly built the Colts into a playoff team. Indianapolis was 4-12 in 1993, but improved to 8-8 in Tobin's first season and went to the AFC championship game the year after that. With Tobin, the Colts made back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in 20 years while drafting a slew of future Pro Bowl players in Harrison, running back Marshall Faulk, tackle Tarik Glenn, defensive tackle Ellis Johnson, and tight end Ken Dilger.
"When we drafted William Perry," said Graves of the No. 1 pick in 1985, "there were a lot of questions about his weight. It was seen as a high-risk pick, but Bill was convinced he could be a solid contributor and he was."
Tobin's mentor was Bears general manager Jim Finks, the man he pretty much replaced when Finks departed the club in 1982. Finks was also a close friend of Bengals founder Paul Brown.
"You think you know players as a player and a coach," said Tobin, who was a running back for the Houston Oilers and offensive coordinator at Central Connecticut State before joining the Packers as a scout in 1971. "But Jim Finks emphasized it again. They have to have the whole package. The intangibles have to be there along with the measurables."
Take the signing of Frazier. The way he remembers it, Tobin was a big factor in making him a Bear and showed the thoroughness Graves remembers. After missing much of his senior season at Alcorn with a torn hamstring, Frazier couldn't finish any 40-yard dashes in the spring of 1981 and didn't get drafted.
The Bears flew him up to Chicago after the draft in June and Tobin and head coach Neil Armstrong met him at the airport. He worked out, but told them he couldn't run the 40.
"Usually that's a death knell. Especially for a free agent," Frazier said. "And a lot of people thought I needed a year to develop. But those guys, particularly Bill, thought I was ready."
After four drafts in Green Bay, 19 in Chicago, four in Indianapolis, and two in Detroit, Tobin thinks he can make contributions like that in his 30th draft.
"I'm in the twilight of my career," Tobin said. "But I've still got a lot to offer, a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of knowledge, a lot of success. I'm looking to help us in any way I can."