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Conversation with Mike Brown

With his team at 1-10-1, Bengals president Mike Brown chose to break his 364-day-a-year silence (he talks at the luncheon kicking off training camp) in a Monday conversation with Geoff Hobson of and Mark Curnutte of *The Cincinnati Enquirer in his Paul Brown Stadium office. Some excerpts:*

Q: Obviously this year hasn't gone like you planned? MB:
It's been a massive disappointment from the very beginning. We feel it. We're unhappy down here. We understand why the fans are unhappy. They should be. But we're into the morass and we just have to work through it.

Q: Is Marvin going to be back? MB:
I am not going to talk about coaches. I'm not going to give one of those endorsements. I'm not going to say anything other than they are the same people that have been here for years now and they've been good years and years that weren't so good. But they're the same. They coach the same. They're teachers. They do their jobs as teachers, the same as they did before this year. I don't criticize them for how they teach.

Q: Where do you think it has gone wrong? MB:
It is hard to have success in this league when you lose your key players. We're playing with literally less than half of the players we thought would be starters for us when we began the season. That's mainly due to injuries, but some other factors as well. And we've lost Carson Palmer, who is our linchpin player.

I would tell you we lost our best defensive player before the season started. We were counting on (Odell) Thurman as a starter and he fell by the wayside. Our linebacker corps we expected to play with were Thurman, (Keith) Rivers and (David) Pollack.

They're all gone. Two of them (Pollack and Thurman) are gone for good. I can go over the whole roster position by position.

When you have that kind of erosion to your football team, it's difficult to be successful. We have not managed to overcome it.

**Q: Can you talk about the force and conviction Marvin used to say after Sunday's game that players and fans won't have to go through a season like this next year?

I read that and I thought that was a good statement. No one down here is pleased with what has happened and we all want to correct it badly. That was an indication he plans on correcting it.

Q: What do you think he has to do to correct it? MB:
I think we have to get healthy enough players out on the field. Get our best players back. We'll add a few more players to the mix through the draft and otherwise.

Q: Will Marvin have the chance to correct it? MB:
You can't answer that question and not undercut somebody. If somebody sitting in my chair says a coach has my endorsement, that's taken to be the kiss of death the minute you say it and I'm not going to go down that path.

Q: How do you think he's doing? MB:
In many ways he's done an incredibly good job. Our players still try hard and that's hard to come by when you go through all the losing this team has gone through. But he has them out there trying to the best of their abilities. At least in my eye. And on this point my eye counts.

Q: Considering where you built this team (2005 AFC North champs and one of only a handful of teams to not have a losing record from 2003-06), to fall to this place where you've been before, is it even more disappointing now? MB:
I dont want to compare disappointments. We've had our share over the years. I'll say this one is felt keenly.

Q: Much has been said on how Chad is a negative impact on the team and the failure to trade him when you had a chance. Some say that was a misstep and what happened in Pittsburgh (his deactivation for insubordination) was confirmation of that. MB:
Chad has had a memorable season in that a lot of things have happened to him. They began happening last offseason (during his trade rants) and when he finally re-upped, he had to get back into physical shape and in getting back into physical shape he had a serious injury.

He's played with it all year, which is to his credit. Two other players we had here didn't. They opted out. Chad stayed out on the field with it. Plays every game with it. Same injury. (Dislocated) shoulder. And yet it has impacted him.

The injury has impacted him, the late start has impacted him. Let's face it, the loss of Carson has impacted him. So it hasn't gone anywhere near his previous standard. People all see that. Make that of it what you will. If Chad gets his full health back, it's very likely he'll be the player we saw before this year and I hope that's what we see next year.

Q: He didn't sound very enthusiastic last week with "I don't have a choice." MB:
He's got a contract here and we expect him to fulfill it.

Q: Do you plan to try and bring T.J. Houshmandzadeh back? MB:
He's a tremendous competitor. He's the one player that has played to his previous level this year. We've talked with his people but haven't been able to reach ground that both of us accepted. It's going to be a question of money and we'll find out in the offseason if it's a deal we can make or not.

Q: Would you consider franchising him? MB:
I don't want to get into what we're going to do there yet. That's something we don't have to decide on for a couple of months. In all honesty we haven't focused on it or made a decision on it.

Q: Have there been some things despite the record that you have liked? MB:
I am pleased with the effort. In all honesty, I'm pleased with our coaches' efforts. They work as hard as ever and they teach as well as they ever did, and they get the guys to try and I'm pleased about it.

We have some young guys who have shone well and that gives us hopes for the future. (Pat) Sims has done well, for example. Rivers was doing well before he got busted up.

Q: Willie Anderson said publicly a few times last week that he felt you were given some bad information about his ability to play. Do you have any regrets? Do you wish you had hung on to him? MB:
We thought Stacy Andrews would replace him adequately at the time we made that call. Our coaches ranked Stacy ahead of him. But I want to add quickly that Willie Anderson was the best right tackle this team ever had. He ranks right up there with Anthony (Munoz) as the two best offensive linemen we ever had here.

Late in his career here he had trouble with his foot. It impacted the amount of time he could practice. It reduced the amount of time he could play and a year ago he could only practice, at most, a part of one day a week and play effectively, at most, half of a game every other week.

This year he has apparently overcome that because other than the week before our game, he's played on a regular basis for the Ravens.

Q: Were you surprised? MB:
I was surprised that he could play nearly as much as he has.

Q: So do you wonder about the information you're getting? MB:
We all saw what was going on. It wasn't somebody telling me something and it just wasn't me. The coaches saw what I saw and that was a decision made by the coaching staff and I was involved in it.

Q: One of the quotes that is attributed to your dad is that pain and injury is part of the contract. You've had 20 players go on injured reserve. MB:
Twenty-one. We put (Marvin) White on injured reserve. He tore his ACL (Sunday). That was a remarkable thing. He tore his ACL and played with it through over half the game. I've never seen a player do that in all the time I've witnessed football. I take my hat off to him for being brave enough to do that. It showed he wanted to be out there playing. Which is to his credit and to the credit of the coaches, too, that a player would want to do that.

Q: Baltimore has just as many guys (on IR). New Orleans has 16. Is there a problem somewhere? Is there a bigger-picture problem with the number of guys that have gone down? MB:
I wish we had an explanation for it. It is a problem. We are looking for a solution.

**Q: (ESPN's) Chris Mortensen's read on the Chad deactivation was that the decision wasn't so much about Chad but it was Marvin showing (you) he was going to discipline these guys. Does Marvin have the call to discipline guys? Do you have the final say?

Marvin disciplines them. Believe me. He sent Chad home without talking to me and when he did I backed up his decision. I think he did the right thing. It has been his call and it his call. And he has done it.

Q: You made pretty major changes after the (2-14) 2002 season. Do you see the situation you're in now requiring less dramatic alterations? MB:
This thing would take a quantum leap forward if we just had Carson Palmer back on the field playing the way he can play. We built our team with the assumption that he would be out there as our quarterback.

Q: Some would point to '07 and even before Carson got hurt this year and argue that the offense had taken a step back. MB:
We were not hitting on all cylinders early in the year. I think we could have worked through it and got back up and been OK.

We played four games with Carson. Two of which he played when he was hurt. The first one was a terrible game for us in Baltimore. We just couldn't pick up their blitzes. It was a real shock to us that we couldn't handle that because we had always been able to do it for a numbers of years in the past.

Then we played Tennessee in the windstorm. Nobody could throw the ball. They're the best running team in football. They could do what they could do. We couldnt do what we could do. And then the third week against the Giants he hurt his arm, and yet in that game we went into overtime with the Giants who are the best team in the National Football League as we speak.

Then the next game he played we played Dallas close to even up and he was playing with the injured arm. He couldn't throw the ball downfield. I thought he was quite remarkable that game playing with those limitations.

Do I think he's a good quarterback? I do. Do I think if he comes back here healthy he'll make a difference? I do. I think we'll rebound when he comes back.

Q: What is your take on Carson's situation? MB:
He's rehabbing. It's got to be a gradual process. We'll see how he goes through it. I'm not going to prejudge it. I don't think anybody can. But the signs are good that he can recover from this without an operation. Which is what we all hope.

Q: If he does have surgery, would he be back in time for training camp? MB:
I've heard different estimates on how long. I do know he worked very hard when he hurt his knee and he came back quicker than people thought he could, but I hope we don't have to go through another operation with Carson.

Q: Is there anything you want to say to your loyal customers? MB:
It's an interesting thing in Cincinnati. The fans and the Bengals have a love-hate relationship. When we're doing well, we ride high. And when we're not doing well, then we get kicked around some. I think what that reflects is an emotional connection they have with us.

And they're disappointed and when they're disappointed they flare out and we understand what's going on. That's what happens here. We want to please them. Believe me. That's what we want most. We're not doing that right now and it means a lot of sleepless nights down here.

**Q: Have you seen the Please Hire a General Manager billboards?

I've heard about the billboards. I don't rush out to pillory myself and look at them.

**Q: This comes up when the team is losing. People want you to fire yourself and hire a GM.

It's a part of the job. The good side of that coin is I think it shows the emotional connection (people) have with this football team. That part pleases me. It doesn't mean I like being knocked around more than somebody else would.

Q: Do you have any plans to add to the personnel department? MB:
That's a little bit misunderstood. We have more people there than they seem to be able to count. Paul and Pete (Brown). Bill and Duke Tobin. For some reason they never count Bill. He covers the whole Southeast for us, and that's one of the most important areas we have. And we have Jim Lippincott and Greg Seamon.

It really is about the same number that a number of teams have. We get adequate information for college players.

I read last year one of the statistics that reflected the number of (drafted) players in the NFL by teams and we were in the top handful of teams. (Players that) had come through here. What that indicates is we're finding them.

Q: Sounds like you're staying as GM. MB:
I remember in the NFL when there were no general managers. Today a lot of teams don't have general managers. Who is the GM of the Dallas Cowboys? Everyone is in love with them. GMs all do different things with different teams. No two are the same. The answer to the general manager problem is the same answer that we have to have for all these criticisms. We have to win. When we manage to do that, we won't hear so much about this kind of talk.

Q: Marvin stated publicly he didn't want Chris (Henry) back here. Do you regret that? Do you think that caused a problem with you and Marvin? MB:
Marvin and I've had a good relationship. We've had an ability to stay on the same message. Except for that one case ... in my mind it's behind us now. If you've got further concerns on that kind of thing you'll have to call the New York Giants who have an 11-1 record and their guy, who has taken the role over of NFL bad guy.

Q: Do you think that harmed the relationship with you and Marvin? MB:
Both of us know how it played. Both internally and externally. And we've discussed it and we put it behind us and I don't think much about it any more.

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