BY GEOFF HOBSON
His daughter is trying to talk him into going to this Sunday's game against the Dolphins. And Bruce Coslet, a day after he resigned as head coach of the Bengals, is thinking about it. Maybe he'd go buy a disguise or paint his face half orange and half black, he joked.
But there was no joking about this Tuesday. A total of 24 years as a Bengal can't be filed away with Monday's resignation letter.
"I love it when people preface what they're going to say with, 'I've been a season ticket-holder for 30 years,' " Coslet told bengals.com Tuesday. "Well, I've been a season ticket-holder for (24 years). Right on the sideline. So let me say as a long-time season ticket-holder, I hope this change and bringing in Dick LeBeau makes a difference. It's been 24 years of the Bengal life. The good, the bad, the ugly. God, I wish them nothing but the best."
In his first extensive interview since he resigned Monday, Coslet revealed he stepped down because of the little things he began to notice about how he treated people. Everyone. People like his daughter and those closest to him as the Bengals got outscored, 74-7, in their first three games.
He said he wouldn't rule out coaching again. Even as a special teams coach, the position for which Bengals founder Paul Brown hired Coslet back in 1981. He also said if he could re-live two key moments from his regime, it would have been pushing harder to keep quarterback Boomer Esiason after the 1997 season and swinging the 1999 Draft Day trade with New Orleans for nine draft choices.
And Coslet disputes the notion that he went soft on his players after taking over for Dave Shula in 1996 and posting a 7-2 record for the best finish by a coach assuming duties in midseason since the 1970 merger.
"I hate to say it, but it was for selfish reasons," Coslet said of his resignation. "It has to do with my health, with how I was treating people. Not only those closest to me, but associations with people in the building. My coaches, my players. People I respect immensely. When it started to affect those relationships, I had to take a real hard look at it."
When Coslet read a Letter to the Editor a few weeks ago ripping him for his negative demeanor, it hurt.
"The guy," Coslet said, "was dead on."
"It wasn't for the obvious reasons," he said. "It wasn't for financial reasons or that I didn't see any light at the end of the tunnel. It's just I've been around people who have a little bit of power who acted like I was starting to act and I didn't feel good about it."
After Sunday's 37-0 loss in Baltimore, he joked darkly about having a heart attack. But he wasn't laughing about his health. He was worried. For the first time in weeks Tuesday, Coslet, 54, is coming off solid back-to-back nights of sleep.
He looked refreshed wearing a golfing vest sweater from Turnberry and sipping ice tea from the glass. He took full responsibility for his four-year run that finished 21-39, with 28 of those losses coming in the last 35 games and said Bengals President Mike Brown allowed him a wide berth in decision-making.
"The perception is that Mike calls all the shots and that's not true," Coslet said. "He's involved in calling the shots and as an owner I can understand that, but he gave me tremendous support. I have no ill will or ill feelings toward Mike. I owe Mike Brown and his family my career. Have you ever worked in one place for 24 years? Mike is a fine man. You won't find me badmouthing Mike Brown.
"That would not only be unfair, but it's wrong," Coslet said. "I was as responsible as anyobdy. So was he. So were the players. So were the assistant coaches. People want to point to one thing and say that's the reason that it's as bad as it is. But it's never one thing, it's a combination."
Coslet didn't hide the fact that he and Brown disagreed from time to time ("Everyone does in business,"), with the biggest difference revolving around Coslet's preference for older players while Brown leaned to youth. But he also didn't blame the structure of the organization. While Brown has the final say on all football matters, he gives his head coach nearly carte blanche on personnel calls.
"For me to say I couldn't win because of (the organization's structure) is a copout," Coslet said. "That wasn't the reason for my downfall."
One of those big reasons, Coslet says, was Esiason's move to the Monday Night TV booth after the 14-year veteran led the Bengals to a 4-1 finish in 1997. Since Esiason left, the Bengals are 7-28 and have started four different quarterbacks. Brown thought it was the chance of a lifetime for Esiason. Coslet now wonders.
Continued from Homepage
"I should have been more resistent to letting Boomer leave," Coslet said. "That was at a point in my head-coaching career and for the sake of the team we didn't need to put Boomer's best interest at heart. We needed him to play. That was a miscalculation on my part. I told Mike I wanted to keep Boomer, but I don't think I was forceful enough. That was my fault. That was my responsibility. We let him slip away and that hurt our team. That was a turning point and it was nobody's fault but mine.
"But because Mike did listen to me in a lot of areas, I have no problems with our relationship," Coslet said.
Coslet also wishes he had pushed his argument longer and harder for trading the No. 3 pick in the '99 draft for a batch of picks and a shot at getting UCLA quarterback Cade McNown at No. 12. Instead, the Bengals took Akili Smith at No. 3.
"And I think Akili will be a marvelous player," Coslet said. "I felt he was the best quarterback prospect in a great quarterback draft. He's got it all. Size. Speed. Arm. I just hope he doesn't get so down and discouraged and it affects him later in his career.
"In the same breath, we needed defensive guys badly and I still thought we might have had an outside shot at Cade McNown," Coslet said. "I eventually bought into Mike's argument that you don't win if you don't have the big-time quarterback. But I should have argued more for attempting the trade because it would have put us on a course to fill so many holes. One guy wasn't going to fix that hole. It was too big. But once the decision is made, you support it. Mike always did that with me when he did something I wanted. And he would never come back two years later and say, 'We should have done. . .' "
The two never hid their disagreement over veterans and rookies. Coslet said it was tough every year with a roster that was always in the NFL's bottom five of experience. He pointed at Sunday's 37-0 loss to Baltimore in which he says the Ravens had a roster with 85 more years of NFL experience than the Bengals.
"That's eight-and-a-half 10-year veterans we don't have," Coslet said. "That's huge and they're not an old team. I'm not saying you have to be old like the Redskins. But there's got to be a mix of young and old. Mike never agreed with me on that and I'm not talking out of school on that because I've told him the same thing."
Coslet is thrilled that LeBeau, his good friend and golfing buddy, is finally getting a shot to be a head coach at age 63. They usually have a golfing date every Friday with a barber. Coslet and the barber will be there this Friday. They don't know about LeBeau, regarded as one of the NFL's top golfers.
"Let's see how fast his backswing is this Friday as a head coach," said Coslet with a laugh. "That's the one thing I'm really going to miss. Being around the players. Being around the coaches. Do I miss it? I don't know. It's only been a day."
Coslet stands by his beliefs that he was hard on his players and that he had one of the better conditioned teams in the league. He's also still a Bengals fan.
"Wouldn't it be great," Coslet asked, "if they won Sunday?"