12-30-02, 7:15 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Bengals President Mike Brown bristled Monday when it was suggested he didn't make enough changes to pull his team out of a 12-year drought. For the fourth time since 1991, the Bengals are undergoing a coaching change without bringing in a general manager or expanding their scouting staff.
But that could change as Brown goes through his first outside search for a head coach since he became the team president 11 years ago. He left open the possibility that depending on the hiring process, the league's smallest personnel department could potentially be expanded with current assistant coaches not retained by the man to replace Dick LeBeau.
And for a man who says his head coach has as much clout as any in the NFL, Brown feels changing coaches is drastic enough.
"It's turning the direction of this team over to someone new," Brown said. "There is really no one as involved how we go about our business more than our head coach. The head coach picks the system. The head coach picks the players. For the most part, it doesn't leave a whole heck of a lot that he doesn't do.
"We have to see what unfolds and address when we go through this process;" said Brown when asked if assistants could become scouts.
In his first extensive interview in nearly a month, Brown revealed what looks to be a big change. A coach from the outside is going to have veto power over the assistant coaches currently on staff, whether their contacts are up or not.
"Who ever comes in as the new coach will determine who the staff is," said Brown, who said he has never vetoed a head coach's wish in 11 years. "That's the way it has been here. I know it has been, on occasions, construed otherwise."
Brown left no doubt about the kind of guy he wants after watching the Bengals stumble to their worst season ever, and it doesn't sound like a players' coach. He is looking for a guy "to shake things," up a little.
Brown said the new staff would probably be a mix of old and new coaches, and when asked if he was worried about the stir that would cause in a locker room where many players are looking for sweeping changes, he said, "I'm not so interested in pleasing the players as I am having the players please me and the fans. And the coach we get, I hope subscribes to that philosophy. They better please him."
The first guy that jumps to mind is former Jacksonville head coach Tom Coughlin, the only coach the Jaguars ever had until Monday. Coughlin, 56, has been linked to the Bengals in various broadcast reports. He's tough enough to rub plenty of players the wrong way and he wore out the welcome with three straight losing seasons.
But he also had a 72-64 record with an expansion team and almost
always got his team out of the gate quickly with a 17-13 record in September, when the Bengals are 9-32 since 1992.
Coughlin's agent said Monday he had no comment as the coach spent the day with his family. He has two years left at what is believed to be a contract paying him about $2.4 million per year, so the Bengals could conceivably get a break because the Jags have to make up the difference depending on how the contract is written.
But Brown isn't getting into specifics, although he did say the club has interest in assistant coaches whose teams are in the playoffs. One playoff name already linked to the club through published reports is Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey. Because of new league rules, the Bengals no longer have to wait until after the playoffs to make contact. They are allowed one visit during the playoffs as long as it doesn't interfere with his schedule and the candidate doesn't have to travel for the interview and the team comes to him.
Another name linked to the Bengals publicly is Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis.
Despite the NFL's longest playoff drought of 12 seasons, Brown defended the way the club does business and indicated he would not stray from a coach-driven scouting department, although much depends on the style of the new coach.
He also reiterated he rarely gets in he way of his coaches and brought up the first round of the 1998 Draft when they had the 13th and 17th picks. Brown said head coach Bruce Coslet wanted linebackers Takeo Spikes at 13 and Brian Simmons at 17, while Brown and "the draft people," wanted wide receiver Randy Moss (21 to the Vikings) and defensive end Vonnie Holiday (19 to the Packers), and they went with Coslet.
"That's fair example of how it operates," said Brown, who also pointed out that LeBeau made the call to start quarterback Gus Frerotte this season in a career that lasted 10 quarters. "Our draft is not done on a dictatorial basis."
One of the players' major gripes, along with the strength and conditioning program, is that the coaches do the bulk of the college scouting. Brown disputes the school of though that this harms the coaches because they are taken away from Xs and Os. Others say most coaches scout at least a little, but no staff spends as much time on the road as the Bengals.
"We aren't doing anything that is unique," Brown said. "We told our coordinators that they are free to get involved to the extent they feel they should. They did not have to go out and look at prospects. They chose to go out. Their first priority was the X and O part of it. We've got a lot of coaches these days. There is only so much Xing and Oing that is possible. To use coaches for scouting is a good use of their time and I do not think it interferes adversely with the planning they have to do in the offseason."
How much say does the new coach have? Asked if the dean of Bengals coaches, 28-year veteran Kim Wood (also the dean of NFL strength coaches), as well as his assistant Rodney Holman, will serve at the pleasure of the head coach, Brown said, "I think it does," so there could be a change there. As well as many places on the staff.
Brown argued that the club's final rakings on offense (18) and defense (19) reflect his team has enough players to lure a good coach.
"We have the basic spots of a solid team," Brown said. "When you look at the stats. . .That means we have capable people. We have our problems and they are apparent. We've got a turnover problem. To some degree, that is a run of the luck . It goes beyond that. . .We have problems on special teams. We have all kinds of things happen. That shouldn't happen there. Take all that into account and a coach would look here and see that this is a team that has talent."
He also admitted that people don't want to hear the stats, "They just want to win."
Brown has been LeBeau's boss for 18 of the last 23 years and Monday morning's meeting wasn't easy for either of them. He pointed out the problems LeBeau had in the quarterback derby and how 40 percent of the defense's front seven (linemen Vaughn Booker and Oliver Gibson) and left outside linebacker Steve Foley missed significant time because of injury.
"You can't make rabbit stew without rabbits," Brown said. Asked what LeBeau could have done more, Brown said, "I guess he could have fielded punts," alluding to games lost in the fourth quarter against Pittsburgh and Cleveland on fumbled punts.
"He did his job," Brown said. " I thought he honestly did it well. We were under pressure here. There wasn't a lot of good being said about us for a long time and that is wearing on players and coaches both, and yet he stood up to that.
"He got the players to play all the way," Brown said. "Every week we gave a good, hard effort. We pay them to do more than that, but I've been here when they didn't do that and that's 'a bad sign, and I never saw that under Dick LeBeau."