Bengals search for offensive coordinator

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Bengals President Mike Brown, calling the performance of his team's passing game "embarrassing and painful," oversaw Tuesday's demotion of offensive coordinator Ken Anderson to quarterbacks coach in consultation with head coach Dick LeBeau.

Along with linebackers coach Mark Duffner's promotion to defensive coordinator, it was the only major move on a day LeBeau retained a coaching staff that went 4-12 for the second straight season.

Facing criticism about standing pat with the bulk of a staff that has gone 18-46 since assembled by Bruce Coslet for the 1997 season, LeBeau and Brown called it a significant change because it heralds the arrival of a new offensive scheme.

That happens when the club hires an offensive coordinator, and there is no timetable.

The Anderson move, which came after LeBeau's press conference, was also telling because it shows the Bengals are clearly not putting all their eggs in the basket of franchise quarterback Akili Smith.

The union of Smith and Anderson comes less than a week after Smith went public and pushed for the hiring of Jeff Tedford, his college offensive coordinator still at the University of Oregon.

And while Brown still has hopes for Smith, he said Tuesday that the club seeks a quarterback to compete with Smith and didn't rule out drafting one.

Anderson had no comment and Smith couldn't be reached for comment.

But Brown said despite rumblings of a strain in their relationship, he thought Anderson's new role would help Smith.

"Akili has said publicly he would be satisfied with a quarterbacks coach and that he gets along with Kenny," Brown said. "But he felt Kenny's (coordinator) responsibilities took him away from his assignment with Akili because he had more to do than just Akili on a game-to-game, day-to-day basis.

"Now Kenny will have a more narrow focus," Brown said. "He can work with Akili (on his) mechanics and try to improve how he does the detail of what he has to do. The overall direction is to be the handiwork of someone who has yet to be designated. We are looking for someone who can come in and re-shape what we do."

Ray Smith, Akili's father, echoed what his son told bengals.com last week and hopes the Bengals' new scheme emphasizes his son's athleticism.

"We hope they play to Akili's strengths," Ray Smith said. "His mobility, his arm strength. His ability to move out of the pocket and run. He's not really a pure drop-back guy."

The Bengals have lived off variations of "The West Coast offense" since the mid-1970s, but Tuesday the only scheme LeBeau ruled out was the run-and-shoot.

Also on the table is if the Bengals will match what they do on the defensive side of the ball and hire an offensive assistant.

Receivers coach Steve Mooshagian is excited about the expanding staff.

"I'll have more individual time with my guys and that should help," said Mooshagian, popular with starting rookie wideouts Peter Warrick and Danny Farmer. "It gives you the chance to be a more bona fide position coach and work on the passing game. I feel like it's a fresh start. We're already talking about how things are going to be different. There'll be fresh, new ideas."

The Bengals said they plan to look in the NFL and college ranks for a coordinator, but given that all the position coaches are returning would indicate they need a pro coach.

But it's tougher to lure assistant coaches from other NFL teams now because the head coaches wanted to stop their staffs from being raided. During the last offseason, they did away with the "supervisory tag," system.

The Bengals are probably in the market for a NFL quarterbacks coach looking to make the move up to coordinator, but he would have to be either unemployed, at the end of his contract, or making a move for a head coaching job.

Tedford, in San Diego at Oregon's trip to the Holiday Bowl , couldn't be reached for comment. Former Redskins head coach Norv Turner and former Bengals and Buccaneers head coach Sam Wyche said Tuesday they haven't been contacted by Cinicnnati.

Brown and LeBeau said they think they can lure a coordinator even though all the position spots are filled.

"We think we can afford (the new coordinator) the ability to influence, to run his offense, and to (select) assistants," LeBeau said. "Will he wholesale select every assistant on the offense? No, not at this time. But will he have the ability to have input in that final complement? Yes, he will. I don't look at that necessarily as a handicap, but we are going to be looking for a man who's looking at us for an opportunity to succeed and get this franchise where we need to be."

The Bengals can look at what playoff-bound Tennessee and Tampa Bay did this past season.

The Titans hired Broncos receivers coach Mike Heimerdinger as offensive coordinator and plugged him into a staff already intact. That's what the Bucs did with Les Steckel when he left the Titans.

Brown said coordinators don't so much bring assistants as they "determine the style of play."

There are those who think Anderson took the fall for the decision to start the season with a quarterback (Smith) who had four NFL starts and five rookie or second-year receivers who started the year with a combined 15 catches. But some thought Anderson's game plans were too burdensome.

Whatever, Brown is sticking behind Anderson. In eight seasons as a coach, Anderson, the club's all-time leading passer, hasn't had much success transferring his MVP skills to franchise quarterbacks David Klingler and Smith.

Before losing his job to veteran backup Scott Mitchell after 10 starts this season, Smith finished as the league's lowest-rated passer with just three touchdown passes along with six interceptions in 267 attempts. The inexperienced passing game groped down field much of the season, completing just 16 passes of 20 yards or more to wide receivers.

In scoring a franchise-low 185 points, the Bengals were shut out three times, failed to score a touchdown five times, and endured 13 games in which the offense failed to score more than a touchdown.

"When you lose as we have and disappoint people like we have, there are lots of strains," Brown said. "People begin to question and doubt, but I do believe Kenny has the background and knowledge to teach a young quarterback what he needs to learn. Akili is still growing into his responsibilites. They were more demanding than even he imagined they would be. Kenny can help him and whoever plays that position."

And Brown had some interesting thoughts on that. He's not ruling out taking a quarterback in the draft, or pursuing one in free agency even if they can re-sign

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Mitchell. And, he backed off saying he had given up on Smith.

"We'll try to add one, viable, good, competitive guy, put our chips on him, and hope we bet on the right horse. Next year, we'll have a competition and Akili's in that (mix)," Brown said.

Actually, after watching Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb beat the Bengals, 16-7, last Sunday, Brown felt better about Smith. McNabb went No. 2 in the '99 draft before the Bengals took Smith at No. 3.

"They have a quarterback who is playing extremely well and they are very pleased with him," said Brown of the playoff-bound Eagles. "I saw a good player who looked no more accurate than Akili has been for us, if as accurate. (McNabb) is very athletic, maybe a little more athletic. But Akili is very athletic.

"So when you see people that have success, you have to ask yourself maybe if we do the right things with Akili, we could have success with him here. I don't discount that. It's a very (viable) option, but it's only one alternative."

LeBeau said schemes on both sides of the ball are fair game and vowed, "We are going to do things differently."

As for a coaching staff that has a record of 18-46, LeBeau recalled the dark days he took over the team this past Sept. 25 when Coslet resigned as head coach after Cincinnati had been outscored, 74-7, in the first three games.

"I think they worked hard and supported me," LeBeau said. "And that's an important thing to me."

But, "everything is open to discussion if it'll make us better," said LeBeau, the former defensive coordinator and architect of the zone blitz. "I'm not married to any scheme and Mark will have a strong input on that also.

"We are looking for productivity. I'm not going to shut the door on anybody's philosophy, anybody's concept," LeBeau said. "I'm going to look at what they've done."

The entire defensive staff returns, as does special teams coach Al Roberts.

With new coordinators, Brown said the club will be doing things differently than what has transpired in the last three seasons in which the Bengals are 11-37.

"Different people are charged with running the offense and defense, so in my mind those are very big changes," said Brown of criticism keeping pretty much the same staff.

"Clearly we won't be doing the same things. A lot of this is not Kenny's fault," Brown said. "All this lack of success is unfairly put on his shoulders. There were a lot of things that went wrong. Our job now is to find a way to make it work. We are going to do things differently on offense."

Offensive line coach Paul Alexander, running backs coach Jim Anderson, and tight ends coach Frank Verducci were key figures in the Bengals finishing third in the league in rushing and are returning along with Mooshagian.

"Our coaches are solid NFL coaches who have experience and that's important," Brown said. "We have players here who are fine players and we'll upgrade through the draft, free agency or maybe a trade. All that is in the future and a lot of this will be taken care of with the maturation of the players we already have."

LeBeau said, "We're going to look for the absolute best offensive coach that we can obtain that can get us primarily, scoring, throwing the ball, and I think the third-down conversion is a big thing."

Brown alluded to the youth that Anderson faced. Complicating matters for the pass offense was wide receiver Darnay Scott's season-ending broken leg on Aug. 1. The presence of Scott was a major reason the Bengals felt they could release disgruntled wide receiver Carl Pickens 10 days before the injury.

"Things can change quicky," Brown said. "Peter Warrick had a satisfactory first year. He'll get better. Danny Farmer showed he could be productive. He'll get better. If Scott comes back healthy, that's a plus. And if we can get another (receiver) in free agency or the draft, suddenly we go from having one (of the worst) to one of the best."

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