Bengals meet with Mularkey

1-2-03, 7:30 p.m. Updated:
1-4-03, 9:20 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals spent a good part of Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh meeting with Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, closing out interviews with what appears to be their three leading outside candidates for the head coaching job. The Bengals had no comment and Mularkey said earlier this week that he doesn't want to talk about the process while his team is preparing for playoff games. The Steelers host the Browns Sunday in a wild card game.

The Brown family had a quick turnaround Friday night after interviewing former Jaguars head coach Tom Coughlin and then heading to Pittsburgh because the NFL prefers coaching candidates still in the playoffs to interview in their home city. They are also quite interested in Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis after his interview this past Tuesday.

It appears the Bengals are preparing this week to pare down a field that also includes two coaches from their own staff, running backs coach Jim Anderson and defensive coordinator Mark Duffner. Lewis and Coughlin have indicated that more discussions are needed before there is a next move.

SCOUTING OUT SHRINE: The Bengals, who have not yet decided to draft a quarterback, don't expect to lose ground in the scouting process while they hunt for a head coach.

There is also the possibility that the personnel department will be expanded by the time the new head coach gathers his staff for next month's NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.

After firing head coach Dick LeBeau this past Monday, Bengals President Mike Brown left open the possibility that some coaches who aren't retained by the new coach could possibly stay as scouts. But he said that will depend on the selection process of the head coach, which looks more and more like it could end as soon as next week.

Until then, the club's personnel department is being dispatched next week to the East-West Shrine game in San Francisco when practices start Monday for the Jan. 11 game. Senior vice president Pete Brown and consultant John Cooper are to join the

club's full-time scouting trio of vice president Paul Brown, director of football operations Jim Lippincott, and director of player personnel Duke Tobin.

The front office isn't talking, apparently, until the new coach is named and had no comment.

The coaches aren't going to the Shrine Game, but the Bengals have cut back on their coaching contingent to that game steadily in the past few years.

The coaches, who, unlike most NFL teams, share the bulk of the scouting, don't usually get immersed in the scouting process until practices start for the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., Jan. 13.

That isn't a line-in-the-sand date, but it has to be one that each team with a head coaching vacancy targets because it's the best place to assemble a staff. Employed and unemployed coaches gather to trade tips as well as scout some of the nation's top college players.

Brown said a few times last season that one of his possible changes could be adding to the personnel department in an attempt to narrow the number of voices in the draft room, as well as to relieve the coaches of some of their burden.

It looks like one of the new coach's first decisions might be his most important. Draft USC quarterback Carson Palmer and work him in behind incumbent Jon Kitna?

Or stay with Kitna for the remaining two years of his contract and draft from a trio of Miami defensive tackle William Joseph, Penn State defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy, and Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman.

Brown is sending his current staff to the Senior Bowl, even if they are not on the new coach's staff by then. Assistant coaches are under contract until Feb. 1.

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HEIM FUNERAL MONDAY:** Former Bengals public relations director Al Heim, one of founder Paul Brown's first hires, died suddenly of a heart attack Wednesday at his Clermont County home at age 73.

"Al was a genuinely friendly, good person who had a real kindness," said Jack Brennan, who replaced Heim at the start of the 1994 season. "He cared about people and that's one of the most important things you have to have in this job."

Heim, hired Dec. 1 1967, joined the Bengals after working 12 years at "The Cincinnati Enquirer," including the last eight as executive sports

editor. His hometown was Springfield, Ohio, and he was a graduate of Ohio State University.

"Al was an integral part of our front office from our very start," said Bengals president Mike Brown. "We were good friends as well as co-workers. His death was unexpected, and came as very much of a shock to us. We have lost a good friend and colleague."

Heim is survived by his wife (Charlene), their three children (Allan Jr., Julie and Steve), his brother (Rev. John Heim) and his sister (Connie Reed). He had 11 grandchildren and one great grandchild.

Visitation will be held from 5-8 p.m. this Sunday at T.P. White & Sons Funeral Home, 2050 Beechmont Ave., in Cincinnati. A funeral mass will be said at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Veronica Catholic Church, 4473 Mt. Carmel-Tobasco Rd. in the Cincinnati suburb of Union Township (Clermont County). The family has requested that memorials be directed to the Wellness Community, 4918 Cooper Rd., Cincinnati, Ohio, 45242.

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