BY GEOFF HOBSON
New Bengals defensive coordinator Mark Duffner made his first move Thursday when he split the coaching duties in Cincinnati's secondary.
The Bengals signed Fresno State defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle to be secondary coach in charge of cornerbacks. Current secondary coach Ray Horton is in charge of safeties.
Coyle, 44, a Duffner disciple dating back to the days they were at the University of Cincinnati 22 years ago, joins his old boss after four years at Fresno.
Duffner and head coach Dick LeBeau insisted Thursday the move is no reflection on Horton, whose group was hampered by a pass rush that generated the second fewest sacks in the league with 26.
Although the Bengals have drafted cornerbacks in the second round of the past three drafts, the position has been plagued by injury, a contract holdout, and inconsistency. When rookie Mark Roman started the last two games of this past season after holding out for three weeks, he became the club's ninth different starting cornerback in the last two years.
"I think Ray has done a good job," said Duffner, who remains coaching the linebackers. "I could have had Kevin come in and coach another position, but I just felt I'd put him in a spot where he can contribute and that's his background. He's the best coach I know whose work ethic, passion and energy fits into what we want."
Duffner has made his mark as the most vocal and intense Bengals' assistant on the practice field. Coyle says the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
"We're very similar to begin with," Coyle said. "People influence you and he's certainly had a big impact on my life. Not only in football, but how to deal with people and motivate people and get the most out of guys.
"You'll hear me," Coyle said. "It's the only way to coach this game. Enthusiasm. Energy. You hope it's contagious on the practice field and in the meeting room."
Coyle coached future NFL cornerbacks Chad Scott (Pittsburgh) and Lewis Sanders (Cleveland) at Maryland and coached Jacksonville safety Donovin Darius one year at Syracuse.
He also had backup Bengals strong safety Cory Hall at Fresno in a system Hall has said is similar to what the Bengals have run under LeBeau.
After finishing his career as a safety at the University of Massachusetts, Coyle became a graduate assistant coach at UC in 1978. That's where he helped coach the defensive line when Duffner was the youngest defensive coordinator in the country.
After one-year stints as a defensive assistant under Lou Holtz at Arkansas and defensive coordinator at the Merchant Marine Academy in 1980 and 1981,
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Coyle re-joined Duffner's staff at Holy Cross as his defensive end/outside linebackers coach.
When Duffner was promoted to head coach from defensive coordinator in 1986, Coyle became his defensive coordinator during a run Holy Cross finished in the top ten in scoring defense four times with five All-Americans.
Coyle went to Syracuse in 1991 for three years as the defensive coordinator in a stretch the Orange went to two bowl games and led the nation in interceptions and set a school record in run defense in 1992.
Then he became Duffner's defensive coordinator again in 1994 at Maryland, where he took over the nation's worst defense and led the Terps to a No. 29 ranking in 1996.
Coyle went to Fresno State after Duffner got fired following the 1996 season.
Coyle is a student of the zone blitz and studied tape of LeBeau's Pittsburgh defenses during the mid-1990s. He also spent a few days at the first two Bengals' training camps LeBeau and Duffner worked.
"What we did at Fresno isn't a carbon copy, but there are similar things," Coyle said. "We were fortunate to get a lot of NFL tape and use it to help teach what we were trying to get done on the field."
Coyle's scheme at Fresno is similar to the Bengals in the sense that he used a four-man line that could reduce according to the offensive strength.
Duffner wanted to remain as the linebackers coach because of their steady improvement and because it will keep his "pulse," on the defense.