12-14-02, 9:50 a.m.
The not so trivial pursuit of Bengals' observers for the next two weeks consists solely of trying to read Mike Brown's mind. It's a daunting, impossible task. What is truly going to happen to this team on Dec. 30 is pure guesswork, from ESPN to club insiders.
There are indications that the option to make significant changes is still on the table and to say that head coach Dick LeBeau is going to be back next season with most of his coaches appears to be, like all the other options, premature.
He could be back. And his assistants could not be. Or, he could not be back and they could be. Or everybody could be gone or nobody could be gone.
With apologies to Russia, the Bengals, at the moment, are an enigma wrapped in a riddle and sautéed in secrecy.
Something seems to be going on, but maybe it's just the imagination of this wrong-way season of nine touchdown returns and one win.
All you've got is clues.
It was about this late in the season with Bruce Coslet in 1999 and LeBeau in 2000 that Brown
announced they would be back the next year instead of waiting until the end of the season. But Brown is adamant there will be no public discussions about 2003 until the next-to-last day of 2002, the day after the season finale in Buffalo.
All you can do is look for clues.
The Bengals' front office, maybe the most accessible in all of pro sports, is officially off limits on questions about the future and that has never happened before.
If the clues suggest change, does the new head coach come from the current staff? If that was going to happen and defensive coordinator Mark Duffner and running backs coach Jim Anderson are legit options that probably would have already been executed after the 0-6 bye week. And now the defensive numbers _ een with the returns _are chilling.
So if there is a change and it is outside the staff, is it a college guy or a pro guy?
All you've got is clues.
Brown has always been more comfortable with NFL guys. The one Bengals' head coach who came directly from the college ranks, Indiana's Sam Wyche, was a former Bengals quarterback and 49ers offensive assistant.
Maybe an offensive assistant off a hot team. Lebeau is the only defensive head coach in franchise history.
Or, maybe not.
The Bengals haven't put together that late run that has staved off changes in the past and the crowds are getting smaller.
Brown is re-defining the term, "keeping his own counsel." Remember, this is the guy who pulled off a trade for the first pick the day before the 1995 NFL Draft and then left the house the next morning without telling wife Nancy what was going to happen a few hours later.
There is really only one thing for sure. In Brown and LeBeau, you are dealing with the kind of two elder statesmen who are part of a vanishing breed in the NFL.
Brown is 67 and LeBeau is 65 and they belong to the NFL's age of chivalry when things were hammered out in diplomatic, closed-door fashion. It was another time before cable news sound bites and studio scoops and coaching changes that seem to last longer than an epic poem and are about as complex.
With all the Monday Night Football tributes celebrating the life of Roone Arledge, it is worth noting that LeBeau has been around long enough to have a starring role in MNF's inaugural season. In the third Monday Night game ever in 1970, LeBeau sealed the Lions' 28-14 win over the Bears when he made a leaping interception off a slant pattern.
Brown has been around long enough that he gave that guy he drafted in 1995 _ Ki-Jana Carter – a signing bonus greater than the price tag of the franchise he helped create with his father.
They are elder statesmen, so whatever happens is most likely going to be done quickly, with little fanfare, and not get dragged out in a series of press conference passion plays. Whether LeBeau is back or not.
That's about the only thing for sure.
Other than that, all you've got is clues.