1-3-02, 5:35 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Bengals President Mike Brown met with former Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin Friday in a meeting both no doubt attempted to break through their public personas they feel are unfair:
Brown as the iron-fisted Wizard of Oz behind a curtain directing his powerless coaches. Coughlin as the red-faced tyrant; a hard-driving control freak who wore out his welcome in Jacksonville despite two runs to the AFC title game in the first five years of the franchise.
It could be a match because those close to both insist neither are as depicted.
For Brown, considering Coughlin for the top job sends a message to those that don't believe him when he says he gives his head coach as much say as any in the league. It appears he is at least willing to consider sharing power with a coach used to having the title of general manager and getting his own way.
And, after eight years of salary-cap headaches compounded with coaching duties, Coughlin may welcome the break of not being as immersed in the business side of the game.
But all of this is being discussed Friday and it looked like a long discussion, if that means something. Coughlin arrived in Cincinnati in mid-morning and politely told a camera crew he didn't have any specifics but that he looked forward to meeting Brown and his family.
He was to leave mid-afternoon, but all indications are he pushed back his flight and stayed for dinner.
Brown has high regard for Coughlin's track record as builder, organizer and winner. and he knows his Type A personality would give the
languid Bengals a shot during an offseason in which Brown has already admitted his team needs "a shakeup."
The past three Bengals' head coaching regimes (Dave Shula, Bruce Coslet, Dick LeBeau) have subscribed to the "let-pros-be-pros," theory that many players feel has been taken advantage of. Coughlin would be a drastic change from the Paul Brown Stadium Spa days. He is well known for his list of accomplishments (averaging nine wins per year, four playoff runs, high-ranking offenses) as well as the criticism that he has too many rules and not enough bend.
But Brown likes the idea of a harder hand and he has always been partial to offense. Before injuries decimated the team in 2000 and the salary cap did the rest in 2001 and 2002, Coughlin's offenses led the NFL in passing in 1996 and rushing in 1999.
Several Jaguars took their shots at Coughlin when they were released last spring because of salary-cap duress, but the most well-known is a guy who blasted him even before he became a free agent.
"I'm speaking for myself and maybe a few other people, but coming to work at this organization and things that Tom has done as far as rules and fines, it's very hard to come to work happy," said kicker Mike Hollis before the last game of 2001. "It's hard to come here and enjoy your job when you're getting fined for wearing your overcoat too long or foolish things. That's just me. That's the way I look at it. "We have a strict dress code in hotels, which is fine," Hollis said. "But you need to be more specific when you're talking about an overcoat being too long, that kind of foolishness. He lays down rules, but he's not specific enough with the rules and then guys are getting fined for silly, petty things. I feel like I can say this now that I'm probably not going to be around."
Hollis said he had never been fined. But that changed when Coughlin saw the interview and fined him $5,000.
Brown indicated earlier this week that he is ready for that kind of thinking when he responded to a question with, "I'm not so interested in pleasing the players as I am having the players please me and the fans. And the coach we get, I hope subscribes to that philosophy. They better please him."
Coughlin took heat in Jacksonville with the perception that he alienated the fans with strong-arm ways. But Jags linebackers coach Steve Szabo, who first worked with Coughlin in the late '70s when they were assistants at Syracuse, doesn't see it that way.
He told "The Jacksonville Times-Union," the day Coughlin was fired that it's unfortunate that his public image isn't accurate.
"He's just a hard-working man. I respect him for what he was," Szabo said. "If he didn't go out in the community and make everybody happy, don't judge him that way. Judge him that he chose to coach as hard as he could all the time."
Coughlin and Brown have plenty to talk about. Back in 1987, Paul Brown ordered Bengals head coach Sam Wyche not to sleep in his office any more, and in the early '90s, Mike Brown made an assistant coach take a bed out of his office. Coughlin has been known to spend game-planning days overnight.
Several Bengals said last Monday that in order for players be disciplined, they have to fear the head coach and know that he, and not Brown, is making the ultimate call on their jobs. Brown says the coach already does, but with the arrival of a former head coach with Coughlin's past, there would be no doubt.