Updated: 2/3/11, 3:15 a.m.
In the heat of 10 of the most tumultuous seasons in Bengals history, offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski always responded with the class of a coach's son who grew up in the NFL and learned to respect the game and everyone in it.
And that's how he's leaving the Bengals despite an awkward last month that culminated in Monday's firing even after he coached the Senior Bowl. On Wednesday, he spoke of a poignant last meeting with Bengals president Mike Brown as well as texts and calls from players past and present.
"I'll always be grateful to Mike Brown and the family and to Marvin (Lewis) and all the coaches," Bratkowski said. "And to all the players I had a chance to coach. To develop relationships with people in the building over the years is something I'll always remember."
One of those people that reached out to Bratkowski was quarterback Carson Palmer and he assured Bratkowski that he wasn't a reason he asked Brown for a trade two weeks ago. Brown and David Dunn, Palmer's agent, told Bratkowski the same thing.
"So that's three pretty good sources. I don't know who else there could be," Bratkowski said. "It was very nice of Carson to pick up the phone and make that call. He's still got a great future in this league. He's frustrated right now."
Bratkowski said he was "disappointed" with the timing of his dismissal so late after the last game.
"There aren't many jobs left," he said. "But I can't say anything in the NFL surprises me anymore."
Bratkowski, a focal point of fan abuse since the Bengals failed to make the playoffs in 2006 with an offense that never regained its '05 form, admitted it's been a tough stretch for his family.
"People have the right to be angry," he said, "but they don't have the right to be cruel."
Bratkowski also heard from the best receiving duo in Bengals history that he pulled from his first draft in Cincinnati in 2001. Chad Ochocinco called and T.J Houshmandzadeh, now with the Ravens, texted their best. They were a volatile mix and offered challenges, but he enjoyed them.
"There were pushes and pulls at times, but the bottom line is Chad and T.J. have been great players down though the years," Bratkowski said. "They both said some very nice things to me and it's very much appreciated."
Bratkowski stood on the table for The Ocho back on Draft Day when not many were as he slid to the second round. Ochocinco had just one season of Division I ball at Oregon State and the rep for being more than a little quirky; a potential recipe for bust. But despite all the quirks - and there were times he infuriated the serious and professorial Bratkowski - Ochocinco became the all-time Bengals career receiving leader in just 104 games.
On NFL Network Wednesday, The Ocho said of Bratkowski, "He made me." Bratkowski says the last couple of years have been a bit different but that Ochocinco is still a unique receiver who can get back to elite status with work in some areas.
"There were things he did that I didn't agree with, but it was always good to see that smile; I think a lot of Chad," Bratkowski said. "I think in the last couple of years he's been transitioning to life after football and I don't think it was a distraction but the same focus might not always have been there. But the guy plays with such an energy, you still can't cover him one-on-one. He's a special talent."
Bratkowski disputes the notion that the teaming of The Ocho with Terrell Owens on the eve of training camp took the Bengals out of their run-first mentality that swept the 2009 AFC North.
"We went into the offseason knowing we had to improve the passing game," Bratkowski said. "With Antonio Bryant's (knee) injury, we got T.O. as a veteran, experienced guy. But for whatever reason, we fell behind in games, whether it was because of offense, defense or special teams. If you just look at the stats, it looks like we tried to throw it more, but you have to look at the games and how they went."
Bratkowski knows the score. After the Bengals won the '05 North, they jumped to an 8-5 start in '06, but missed the playoffs by a game when they lost the last three. The Bengals outgained Denver by 56 yards and had six more first downs, but lost on four turnovers and a blown extra point in the last minute. A missed 39-yard field goal at the gun the next week that would win the finale and secure the playoffs hurt deeply.
"That would have been the second straight year to the playoffs," he said. "And we lost them like we did. That seemed to take a lot of steam out of us."
One possible landing spot for Bratkowski? Reports says Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, his best friend in the game, is a candidate for the Titans head coaching job.