As noted in this space yesterday, Bengals running backs coach Jim Anderson has the second-longest tenure with the same team among all position coaches in the NFL. He is entering his 18th season with the Bengals, and only RBs coach Dick Hoak of Pittsburgh (30 years) has more continuous time with the same team.
Yesterday on bengals.com, Anderson reflected on and reviewed the factors that have led to his long career in Cincinnati. Today, he takes a look back at the runners he has coached, a group that includes most of the top backs in Bengals history.
Anderson's first major Bengals assignment has proven to be his most enduring, at least in terms of total yards gained. JAMES BROOKS came to the Bengals via trade with San Diego for Pete Johnson in 1984, Anderson's first Bengals season.
Brooks was not an immediate smash hit. He rushed for only 396 yards in '84. and griped a bit about his role. But Brooks went on from there to record five straight non-strike seasons of 900 yards or more. He played for Cincinnati through 1991 and still stands today as the franchise's all-time leading rusher with 6447 yards.
"James was not a big guy (5-10, 180)" Anderson said. But he was tough as you can be, pound-for-pound, and the thing that sticks out is his work ethic. Every day he did something to make himself a better football player. You never, ever had a question about James' motivation. He was always ready to play, always out to prove he was one of the best."
For one shining season - the Super Bowl year of 1988 - Brooks' running mate in the starting backfield was ELBERT "ICKEY" WOODS. Woods career was essentially ended by a knee injury in 1989, but as a rookie in '88, he led Bengals rushers with 1066 yards and set a team record with 15 rushing TDs.
"Ickey (6-2, 231) was a big guy, but his strength and power went beyond his size," Anderson said. "And what not as many people remember is that he had great field vision.
He really had the ability to make people miss."
An earlier Brooks running mate who had his share of success was 260-(plus?)-pound LARRY KINNEBREW. He played five seasons (1983-87), and for short-yardage power, he could outdo Woods or just about anyone. He often weighed too much and was not a great back in the complete sense, but he's tied with Brooks for second place all-time in Bengals rushing TDs (37), and he shares team records for most points (24) and TDs (4) in a game.
"I smile when I think about Brew and short yardage," Anderson says. "That was so much force coming at you, particularly in the middle of winter. People just didn't want any part of him in short yardage. You almost literally could not stop him over a short distance."
Though he never rushed for more than 396 yards in a season, STANLEY WILSON (6-1, 210) holds a special place in Anderson's memory. Wilson's career and life were wrecked by cocaine addiction, and the pain of that is greater for Anderson because he believes Wilson had the tools to be not only a good player, but a great one.
"On the football field, no matter what Stanley did, he literally wanted to be the best," Anderson said. "When he got tackled, he would get really upset, and I'm talking practices as well as games. He had the ability to be a complete player, too. Anything you asked him to do - run, block, catch, fake - he would do his best, and he was darned good at everything."
HAROLD GREEN (6-2, 222) joined the Bengals in 1990, and took over as the team's feature back in 1992. He had a Pro Bowl season that year with 1170 rushing yards, and ranks fourth all-time in Bengals career yards (3727).
"Harold was a taller back who could really run," Anderson said, "and he had great feet. He could really make you miss him in the open field. It was almost like he'd hurdle people. It's actually not legal to hurdle a tackler, but if the guy would drop his head, Harold would somehow be over and past him."
In 1995, looking to replace Green, the Bengals traded up to select KI-JANA CARTER (5-10, 222) with the top pick in the draft. But Carter's career never got off the ground due to injuries.
"The word that comes to mind when I think about Ki-Jana is 'heartache,' " Anderson said. "He had so much ability. I think he still has tons of ability. But he simply has not been physically able to play."
As Anderson goes through the process of recalling his pupils, he doesn't want to leave anybody out. He speaks of Garrison Hearst's impressive 1996 season, and of how solid players like Eric Ball, Stanford Jennings and Eric Bieniemy have become successful after their playing days. Anderson is also proud of John Holifield, who played only briefly in 1989 but who has gone on to become active in Cincinnati civic affairs. "I project him as a civic leader," Anderson says.
But now it's time to compare the best of the players listed above with COREY DILLON (6-1, 225), the current king of Bengals runners. Last season, Dillon smashed the Bengals season rushing record with 1435 yards and en route, he became a national celebrity by rushing for an NFL-record 278 yards in one game. He has 4894 rushing yards in just four seasons, and having just signed a five-year contract, it seems likely he'll pass Pete Johnson (5421 yards) and Brooks (6447) to eventually become the club's all-time rushing leader.
And after just a bit of prodding, Anderson is ready to say that he does indeed consider Dillon to be the best back the Bengals have ever had.
"His physical stature, the combination of things he's able to do, it just sets him apart," Anderson said. "If you combine his toughness, his ability to run away from people, his quick feet ... he just has a little bit more of everything than any of the other guys had."
Anderson has had his share of unusual challenges in dealing with his players. There was Wilson's addiction, Carter's injury woes, and a bitter fallout between Green and the team over contract matters. More recently, there was Dillon's uneasy entry to pro stardom, caused by his resentment that some teenage brushes with the law had led to his being unfairly branded as a character problem.
His bottom line in dealing with all of them, Anderson says, has been to go well beyond the x's and o's, to explore the human dimension.
"I have a compassion for the guys I coach," he says. "It's not just like we work here, like I'm the coach and they're the players. I care for them as people. When you strive for that kind of relationship, you'll get the maximum out of them, and they'll get the maximum out of you."