9-24-01, 11:00 P.M.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
When Bengals President Mike Brown walked into the news conference last Sept. 25 to hand his shell-shocked team to new head coach Dick LeBeau, the rumor was LeBeau wasn't even his first choice to dig the franchise out of its biggest hole ever.
But on this Sept. 25, there is no mistake that despite being 64 years old, LeBeau looks for the moment to be the man to take the Bengals into the near future. If LeBeau still has the Bengals purring like he does now at 2-0, Brown has no problem keeping him on past his 65th birthday that arrives next season on Opening Week on Sept. 9.
"My father was coaching at 67. Marv Levy was in his 70s. I'm still going at 66," Brown said. "Dick is a high-energy guy who is in great shape and brings a lot of intensity. I think he's done a remarkable job."
Brown said LeBeau has has given everything he could have expected back on the earlier Sept. 25.
"Dick has a very unique way of communicating not just with the players, but with everyone in our building," Brown said. "He handles the media well and has a fine manner about him. I'm pleased with how we've started this season."
LeBeau, 24 hours off the biggest win of his 15-game career in a 21-10 upset of the Super Bowl champion Ravens, didn't even know it was his year anniversary until reminded at Monday's news conference.
Asked later if he had given thought to life beyond what people assume is a two-
year contract, LeBeau gave the answer that has marked his administration.
"I have to do what I tell my players," LeBeau said. "I'm taking it a snap at a time."
The same players who convinced Brown to take the invisible interim tag off LeBeau late season continue to insist he's the reason the Bengals are 6-6 in their last 12 games. Plus, they have a 5-4 record at Paul Brown Stadium and a four-game home winning streak under LeBeau.
"Guys have bought into what Coach LeBeau is saying and doing and that shows on and off the field," said backup left tackle John Jackson. "The guys are closer off the field this year and if you can get along with a guy off the field, you can certainly play with him on the field."
The preparation for the Ravens' game was a microcosm of how LeBeau rebuilt the psyche of a team that was jello last Sept. 25 with positive reinforcement. Even though the Ravens outscored the Bengals, 64-7, in last season's two games, LeBeau reminded his team that in the 27-7 loss, it outscored Baltimore, 7-6, for three quarters.
"The big thing Coach LeBeau did (when he took over) was tell guys all the starting jobs weren't safe," said outside linebacker Steve Foley. "That makes guys work harder."
There's good reason why LeBeau is looking at the next snap instead of next year. Chargers quarterback Doug Flutie leads 2-0 San Diego against 2-0 Cincinnati Sunday on the West Coast.
LeBeau remembers 13 years ago, when Flutie, quarterbacking the New England Patriots, spoiled another undefeated start. That was back when Flutie broke contain on a 3rd-and-about-20 and scrambled for a first down that led to the Bengals' first loss in their seventh game of a 1988 season the Bengals went to the Super Bowl.
"You look at the points that football team has put on the board in the first two games and we have got a challenge in front of us," LeBeau said. "You can't let him control the game. You can't let him whirl around and do his magic. That's something that he's done for a long time. When a guy has done it that well that long, it's no accident. He's very gifted."