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Broken mirror

10-13-02, 7:30 a.m.

A few musings before Bengals-Steelers:

For those who don't think team president Mike Brown is constantly looking at why the Bengals have been so miserable for so long, think again.

Especially when they play the Steelers, a small river city market where the team is family owned. They should be mirror images, but while Pittsburgh has been to four AFC title games in the past 11 seasons with Bill Cowher as coach, Cincinnati is 65 games under .500.

"They're the opposite image of us," Brown said. "But I don't know how much we do things differently. I wonder about these things because it has not gone well."

The Steelers have virtually twice the size of the Bengals' personnel department, but Brown insists his team's problems aren't because of a lack of input because the entire coaching staff is in on the draft proceedings. In fact, the large amount of people involved in personnel decisions has Brown wondering if there is too much input.

"Everyone who wants a say gets one," Brown said. "If there's a player at his position, we definitely include that position coach. Maybe that's a problem. We have so many people saying things and eventually you're going to get somebody who says, 'No,' and so you don't go forward.

"If you talk to enough people, you give them all veto power, you're going to get one. I wonder about some things because it hasn't gone well," Brown said.

Another thing Brown wonders about is the perception that he hands down all football decisions like a military governor flying in the face of the coaches. He thinks Dick LeBeau has pretty much the same big stick as Cowher.

Cowher won a power struggle with former personnel chief Tom Donahoe a few years ago and has the final say on the Steelers' football moves.

"We don't do anything in personnel without talking to our coaches," Brown said. "I can't think of anything this year that wasn't done without their input and without their approval. I would not be able to tell you what Cowher's exact duties are, but I would guess it's pretty similar."

Both Brown and Steelers owner Dan Rooney control the financial decisions and both have doled out more money than they ever have once they got into their new stadiums.

Rooney has spent about $70 million in bonuses the last two offseasons to keep his AFC runnerups intact. Brown has spent somewhere in the $40 million range in the same period and figures he probably would have done what Rooney did if he had as successful a team.

Still, since Paul Brown Stadium opened in 2000, Brown hasn't lost a starter to free agency and has locked up three franchise players in running back Corey Dillon, right tackle Willie Anderson, and middle linebacker Brian Simmons with bonuses that combine for close to $25 million.

Of course, Rooney is taking some heat for extending players who have mustered a 1-3 record. Brown has been under heavier fire much longer for keeping the same coaches and nucleus of players that have gone 17-52 since 1998.

But Brown is struck by the similarities rather than the differences.

The Steelers built their struggling but highly-regarded starting defense with four unrestricted free agents, two first-round picks, one second, two thirds, one fourth, and a fifth. The Bengals' defense, which was supposed to be on the verge of stardom, also has four unrestricted free-agent starters, plus three first-rounders, one second-rounder, one third-rounder, one sixth-rounder and another sixth rounder playing in place of an injured third.

On offense, the Steelers got their 11 starters via four first-rounders, a second-rounder, one third, a trade, one college free agent, one street free agent, and two unrestricted free agents.

The Bengals go on offense with three first-rounders, two second-rounders, two third-rounders, one on waivers, and three unrestricted free agents.

"I couldn't see a whole lot different between their team and ours how they got players," Brown said. "As far as UFAs, we both have about the same numbers. Are theirs more productive? Some are doing well and a couple aren't doing much. I don't know that it's too dissimilar here. It struck me more that there were similarities rather than differences."

How that affects what Brown will do in the offseason remains to be seen. Bringing in a Donahoe-type football guy is far from likely. But he does have a head coach in the last year of his contract, a fan base up in arms, and he knows if the slide continues for the next 11 games he will be bombarded with questions about bringing in a football guy, beefing up the personnel wing, and paying out the nose for a big-name head coach who will bring in his own staff.

"One thing is pretty clear here," Brown said. "What we have done is not a good bottom line. We don't win enough."

As for the upcoming NFL Draft fraught with quarterbacks, everybody assumes the Bengals are going to delve into the first round for one for the third time in 11 years. But Brown couldn't resist taking a look at two quarterbacks who probably won't be available until the 2004 or 2005 drafts.

Last week, Brown took in Miami of Ohio's win at the University of Cincinnati so he could watch the two best underclassman quarterbacks in the county in UC's Gino Guidugli and Miami's Ben Roethlisberger.

It may be a soft spot for Brown since his father, Paul Brown, played quarterback at Miami, and one of his favorite Bengals of all-time is UC quarterback Greg Cook. But it's more than that. Brown thinks they have good futures ahead in the NFL.

"You can almost see Roethlisberger thinking out there," Brown said. "He's an intelligent player with excellent instincts and good size. Gino's got a good arm and good release. It was a fun day watching them both."

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