1-24-03, 4:15 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Only in the NFL.
Barely two years ago, Mark Duffner was head coach of the Bengals for about 49 minutes. Even up until the start of this season he was seen as the heir apparent to Dick LeBeau.
But Thursday night in his Paul Brown Stadium office, one of the most highly-regarded assistant coaches the Bengals have ever had packed up his belongings for the trip to the Packers and his next stop as Green Bay linebackers coach.
Back on Sept. 25, 2000, in the stunning moments after head coach Bruce Coslet's resignation, it has been reported that Duffner was Bengals President Mike Brown's choice to run the club. But Duffner deferred the job to LeBeau, then the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator.
With LeBeau now gone, Marvin Lewis the head coach, and Duffner no longer a coordinator, Duffner was asked if wondered what might have been.
"I'm not a look back kind of guy," Duffner said Thursday. "At the time, I thought it was the best thing
for the team and for Coach LeBeau and I still think the same way. It didn't work out. You move on and I'm excited about the chance in Green Bay."
Duffner, 49, scouted and coached the strongest linebacker corps in Bengals' history, and earned an interview for the head job earlier this month. There was talk that he might remain with Lewis and coach the linebackers, but as he told Brown in his own interview, it was paramount that the next head coach bring in who ever he wanted to coach and he felt it was best to move on.
But Duffner leaves a strong legacy. During the six seasons he was the linebackers coach, the Bengals drafted Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons in the first round and Steve Foley in the third-round while Duffner scouted and recruited college free agents Adrian Ross and Armegis Spearman.
"I liked the ability I had here to scout and to work with the guys that I did scout," Duffner said. "We raised the standard last year and we didn't get where we wanted to go this year, but we tried like heck to get there. It just didn't happen for us."
The Bengals gave up 456 points this season, the second most in their history. But 65 came when the defense wasn't on the field and because of poor kickoffs, punts, and turnovers, the foes often started drives in the vicinity of their own 40.
In Duffner's two seasons as coordinator, the club finished ninth and 17th respectively in the NFL. That ended a six-year run in which the defense's highest ranking was 22nd, and marked their best back-to-back showing since a No. 15 and No. 7 ranking in 1988 and 1989, respectively.
"This is a tough place to leave," Duffner said. "I've got a lot of great memories here with some great players and I've got to thank Mike Brown, Bruce Coslet and Coach LeBeau for giving me the opportunity."
Duffner is reunited in Green Bay with head coach Mike Sherman, one of his offensive coordinators when he was the head coach at Holy Cross. He replaces Bo Pelini, who resigned to become defensive coordinator at the University of Nebraska. Sherman, who tried to lure him to Green Bay before the 2001 season, is well aware of Duffner's contagious enthusiasm and long office hours.
"He has a tireless work ethic, a passion for the game and an internal desire to coach here in Green Bay," Sherman said. "I have complete confidence he will impact not only our linebackers but our defense and team as well."
The addition of Duffner gives the Packers' staff eight coaches with experience as an NFL offensive or defensive coordinator in Sherman, Larry Beightol, Sylvester Croom, Ed Donatell, Tom Rossley, Ray Sherman and Bob Slowik.
SLANTS AND SCREENS:** Bengals quarterback Akili Smith returned to his high school in San Diego Thursday as Lincoln High was the scene of one of the festivities of Super Bowl week. Along with San Diego Chargers cornerback Alex Molden, Smith was a guest coach for the first NFL College Flag Football Super Bowl exhibition. Flag football teams from the University of Arizona and Southern Mississippi played in a game to be aired during this Saturday's segment of "NFL Under the Helmet" on FOX-TV. . . In a survey released by the NFL Players Association Thursday, Paul Brown Stadium had the 23rd best field in the league. In another ranking, the players voted it third worst, behind now defunct Veterans Stadium and Giants Stadium. More than half of the Bengals who responded ranked their field as poor. . .
BROTHER ACT:** The Bengals have what is believed to be their first brother coaching combination. Head coach Marvin Lewis hired his 15th assistant Thursday in Oklahoma tight ends coach/special teams coordinator Jonathan Hayes to serve as tight ends coach. He is the brother of new defensive line coach Jay Hayes. They were boyhood friends growing up with Lewis on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, but Jonathan admitted Thursday he needed more convincing than that. And Lewis did as he revealed a plan of commitment and accountability.
"I'll admit I was skeptical at the beginning," said Hayes as he took a break from cleaning out his office at Oklahoma. "But it reminds me when
we took over here. The cupboard wasn't bare and Marvin has a direction. He knows where he wants to go and he's not going to veer from it. Everyone is going to be committed and he's going to weed them out and find players who will be. We're going to hold them accountable and each other accountable, so I feel very confident about coming."
Hayes, 40, caught 153 balls and 13 touchdowns as a tight end for the Chiefs and Steelers in a 12-year career that took him to three AFC title games and a Super Bowl before spending four years at Oklahoma.
"I think that brings me some credibility," said Hayes of his playing career. "One thing I won't do is listen to them moan about how hard it is."
He inherits a position that continues to be under scrutiny. They did get a good rookie season out of third-round pick Matt Schobel catching the ball, but it is an extremely young group that is behind the blocking curve. Hayes, whose biggest season in the NFL was 26 catches, knows how to block. But his tight ends in Oklahoma have combined to catch more than 100 balls the past two seasons.
"I know about the passing game," Hayes said. ""To me, the whole thing is fundamentals. Blocking is 90 percent want-to. And they're going to want-to. You hear people say, 'Don't work them that hard in practice, save them.' That's baloney. There's only one way you can get better and that's to practice and keep doing it over and over. I'm going to get them out on the field as soon as I'm allowed."
Hayes was a second-round draft pick of Kansas City out of Iowa in 1985, and played nine seasons for the Chiefs before joining his hometown Steelers from 1994-96, and played in Super Bowl XXX for Pittsburgh.