Bengals pressed for time

1-6-03, 8:35 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Steelers' no-huddle offense on Sunday had the Bengals adjusting on the fly Monday in their coaching search.

Pittsburgh's 22-point fourth quarter against the Browns in the AFC Wild Card game showed why the Bengals value Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey. But now they can no longer talk to him as long as the Steelers are in the playoffs, forcing them to deal with the timetable issue.

The Bengals are planning to follow up with the other two leading candidates in Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis and former Jacksonville head coach Tom Coughlin. But the earliest they can touch base with Mularkey is Saturday night if the Steelers lose in Tennessee. But do the Bengals want to wait that long, or even beyond Saturday if the Steelers win?

The Bengals appear to be wrestling with the time factor. The sooner they hire a head coach, the bigger pool they have from which to pull assistant coaches. The pool is already shrunk because there are only two other staff openings, Dallas and Jacksonville, and new Cowboys coach Bill Parcells has already made some hires.

Plus, the Bengals have their own coaches who are seeing jobs

filled while they are waiting in limbo to see if the new head coach will choose them.

One of them, offensive line coach Paul Alexander, is believed to be under consideration for the line job in Buffalo, according to league sources. Alexander, a prep product of nearby Rochester, N.Y., is one of the assistants thought to have at least another year on his contract and couldn't be interviewed unless the Bengals gave permission.

Monday marked a week since the firing of head coach Dick LeBeau and probably the slowest day in the Bengals' coaching search. It's believed the Bengals' job has never been open longer than the 11 days it took them to find Forrest Gregg to replace Homer Rice in 1980. Do the Bengals tip their hand if they don't hire Lewis or Coughlin this week? Or is it just a sign they are merely going through more talks with them?

Gary O'Hagan, Coughlin's agent, said Monday night his client has yet to hear back from the club after his visit to Cincinnati Friday.

"It was a good preliminary discussion and there is hope that there will be more," O'Hagan said.

Lewis couldn't be reached for comment Monday, but a source close to him said he is still interested.

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