Era Ends: A Conversation
In his first extensive interview since he resigned Monday morning, former Bengals coach Bruce Coslet spoke Tuesday with Geoff Hobson of bengals,com
HOBSON: You look refreshed.
COSLET: I hate to say it, but it was for selfish reasons. 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.
It had nothing to do with what has been reported with financial aspects. I've been quoted as saying, and rightly so, that I would never, ever quit. Well, there is no never. . .One of the things that I'm proudest of is when they did make me the head coach after the 7-2 record (in 1996) with virtually the same people who had won just one game. That's not only a reflection of the character of a lot of players, but the quality of the coaching staff on both sides of the ball.
HOBSON: You've been criticized for hiring your friends as coaches.
COSLET: I make no apologies for hiring and wanting to work with my friends. I think that's important. That's one of the big premises I took from Paul Brown. We spend so much time together as coaches that if you don't get along as people and there's friction, it will never work. You hire and work with your friends. You can't do that completely. You have to hire people you don't know and they have to fit in. I knew (defensive line coach) Tim Krumrie and (secondary coach) Ray Horton and I think I made a great addition in (linebackers coach Mark) Duffner. He's a hell of a football coach and a hell of a guy as he's proven over the last several days. Offensively, (running backs coach) Jim Anderson is a friend, (offensive coordinator) Ken Anderson is a real close friend. You have to have that staff cohesiveness. You don't have time as a staff to bicker. Those friends have to be qualified, but they are. They're good coaches. It's amazing how much better coaches they are with better players.
HOBSON: You know the other criticism. After the 7-2 finish after Shula, you let up on these guys the next year, took your foot off them and babied them.
COSLET: That's not true. The perception people have is that I'm a players' coach and I'm too easy on these guys isn't right. Sit in my meeting room or listen to me when I call a player into my office. I fined a lot of guys a lot of money. I wanted to suspend (receiver) Carl Pickens for what he did to the team (when he ripped Coslet and Bengals President Mike Brown late last season).
HOBSON: Mike made him sign an apology. Does that show where a lack of autonomy hurt you with the players? Did you lose face after that?
COSLET: No. Mike did not not support me. Pickens was the guy who lost face in my mind. . .The perception is that Mike calls all the shots and that's not true. 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. 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.
HOBSON: Do you think you lost the players?
COSLET: I don't know. I don't think the record with the way it was that anybody could keep all the players. Of the 48 or 50 people that phoned me, a whole bunch of players phoned me, a bunch of former players. I don't want to mention mames, but it made me feel good to get a simple phone call.
HOBSON: What's the major thing wrong with this team?
COSLET: It has nothing to do with attitude, character, the schemes. They're going to have a difficult time until they have a big-time offensive line and a difference maker on the defensive line. I have the highest admiration for people that are playing now. They're doing the best they can with the skills they have. But we don't have (offensive tackles like) Tony Boselli or Jonathan Ogden or Anthony Munoz to center our scheme around. We don't have a Jevon Kearse or a Reggie White to center the defensive scheme around.
HOBSON: Isn't (right tackle) Willie Anderson the guy on offense?
COSLET: He's a fine player, but I don't think he's an upper, upper echelon guy and that's not a knock on Willie Anderson. I love Willie Anderson. I think the world of him and he's an excellent player. Is he Anthony Munoz? No. Not many are.
HOBSON: Any regrets?
COSLET: No, but I go back and try to analyze the mistakes that I was a part of and Mike was a part of and everybody was a part of. We had some unfortunate things happen to some very high draft picks. In 1995, not a team in the league would have passed on (running back) Ki-Jana Carter. He was special. But he got hurt and he was never the same. In 1994, no team in the league would have passed on (defensive tackle) Dan Wilkinson.
But he had what Jim Anderson calls, "Fat-osis." This guy did things in college that were unbelievable. He never developed into the type of pro player he should have become and still hasn't.
To criticize myself, I should have been more resistent to letting (quarterback) Boomer (Esiason) leave. 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.
I think as an owner Mike has every right to be involved in every facet of the game. I knew coming back here (in 1994) and when they gave me the head coach job (in 1996), I would never have total autonomy and I was willing to accept the job under those circumstances. That's not the way a lot of people would have accepted the job, but I had come to terms with that.
HOBSON: Can a coach win in this structure?
COSLET: I don't know. That's not for me to say. I couldn't. But for me to say I couldn't win because of (the organization's structure) would be a copout. That wasn't the reason for my downfall.
And hindsight is 20-20, but we probably should have made that trade with New Orleans (in the '99 Draft for the No. 3 choice in exchange for nine draft picks) and I should have been pushier or more decisive.
HOBSON: And gotten (Cade) McNown instead of Akili (Smith)?
COSLET: And I think Akili will be a marvelous player. 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. I eventually bought into Mike's argument that you don't win if you don't have the big-time quarterback. And he's got a good argument there, no question. 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. . .' " And I'm not saying this as criticism of Mike. I'm looking at me. It's something I believe we really should have attempted.
HOBSON: The only major difference you seemed to have with Mike, and it was pretty public, was over experience. You don't like playing with rookies and Mike is very wary of guys who are getting age on them. You always talk about experience when I say you guys always seem to play so much slower than the other team.
COSLET: It looks that way because they're unsure of themselves because they're inexperienced. It's the same old story. We're always one of the youngest teams in the league. On Sunday Baltimore handed us our head and they had 85 more years of NFL experience than we had. That's eight-and-a-half 10-year veterans we don't have. 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.
The offense this year, with two rookie receivers, is like the defense last year, when we were starting a rookie free-agent cornerback (Rodney Heath and a rookie safety Cory Hall). This year, you've got virtually a rookie quarterback and two rookie receivers, you're going to score infrequently. (Middle linebacker) Brian Simmons got hurt and we had a rookie free agent (Armegis Spearman) go in there and God love him, he's played terrific, but he doesn't have the three years Brian Simmons has.
I think the rookie kicker (Neil Rackers) is going to be good, he's just flustered right now. And the punter (Daniel Pope) is great. But between them, they've got one year in the league. Baltimore's kickers had 15 years, so that's 14 years right there. Are you telling me that doesn't make a difference when the pressure is on and there's mud and and wind and rain? Every year we've constantly started rookies or they've played a lot and we haven't been able to get continuity. One team that always amazes me with the way they recycle veterans is Buffalo. You need those eight, nine, 10 year guys and you need a lot of them. Mike still won't agree with me, but that's OK. I'm just like Joe Fan now with an opinion.
HOBSON: Are you going to buy a COA?
COSLET: I can't afford it now.
HOBSON: You were stung by criticism of people who didn't think you cared.
COSLET: I don't think anybody can say I didn't give it my all. I gave it my best effort and dedication. Hey, it's my life. The hours are no big deal. That's part of the job. My first year coaching with the 49ers I stayed three nights a week in a Howard Johnson's. I gave it my best and I'm a bottom-line guy and my best shot wasn't good enough. I tried to turn this thing around and my track record speaks for itself. I wasn't getting it done and there are 10,000 reasons why.
HOBSON: There are things like never having the same quarterback. If Akili can't play this week (with a concussion), Scott Mitchell is the fifth starter since Boomer left.
COSLET: The only time I had the same guy two years in a row (as a head coach) was my first two years with the Jets (Ken O'Brien in '90-91) and we went to the playoffs the second year. The experts will have all the answers but do they have all the facts? (They say) Why can't you do this? Well, if you do that, you're over the salary cap and you can't draft a guy, or whatever. There's always ramifications. But in the same breath, I can see if someone was watching from the outside. I'd say the same thing. It looks bad.
HOBSON: How many phone calls the last 24 hours?
COSLET: I've probably had 48 to 50 from players, former players, former coaches. Boomer sent me six dozen roses. It looks like a damn funeral. When you think about it, you spend more time with these players than your own family. I bet I've spent more time with (former Bengals receivers) Cris Collinsworth, Eddie Brown, Tim McGee, Michael Martin, Ira Hillary, than I have with my own son. That's saying something.
HOBSON: It sounds like you want to get back into coaching next year.
COSLET: That's always an option. I don't make snap decisions. I won't retire. I'll be doing something. It could be in business. I've got some real estate and I'm looking into starting a .com company. I could go back to coaching special teams. That's where I started. That's fun because it's both offensive and defensive guys. I could coach wide receivers and have just five guys or quarterbacks and just coach three. Or I could be a coordinator. I'd have to look at the situation. I still I think I have a good reputation around the league offensively.
HOBSON: Do you think the West Coast ball control offense can still work? Teams like the Bears and Rams are scoring points by spreading it and going down field.
COSLET: Sure, I believe it does. Look at what the Rams do and we run similar plays, a lot of the same stuff, a lot of the same protections. They've got tremendous skill people doing it and a great offensive line. There's no secret to this. If you've got talent, the single wing will work. The option will work if you've got talent. You try to fit the system to your players. Right now the Rams are hot. Ten years ago it was the Redskins with all those tight ends. There's different ways to skin a cat. That's why I've never said, "OK, this is our offense and this is what we always do,' because it evolves.
HOBSON: Kenny is now calling the plays, which is something you did. What can we expect?
COSLET: He'll do fantastic. Kenny's a very knowledgeable guy. He's probably forgotten more football than I know, especially from the quarterback spot. It wasn't like it was only me calling the plays. If Mitchell goes in the game, I'll say to Kenny, 'What's his favorite plays?' I'll ask (offensive line coach) Paul Alexander what his best run is. I'll tell Jim Anderson to ask Corey Dillon what's working. I made the decision when I became the head coach that the major reason I became the head coach was because I had offensive success, so I'm going to call the plays. Tom Coughlin calls his plays. Mike Holmgren calls his. Bill Walsh always called his.
HOBSON: Monday was a tough day for you, but I know you had to feel good Dick LeBeau is finally getting a shot.
COSLET: I have the utmost respect for Dick. I hated playing his defenses. I absolutely dreaded it. He doesn't need my advice, but I'd tell him not to change. To be himself. That's what Bill Walsh told me. Don't worry about style and he won't because he's been around the block too many times for that. Let Dick LeBeau be Dick LeBeau and that's pretty damn good.
HOBSON: Corey Dillon stormed off the field Sunday for a play. Did that have anything to do with you resigning?
COSLET: I wish everybody on the team has what that kid has inside. You've got to be mature enough to look at it. He was mad at the time and I wasn't a real happy camper and he knew I was mad and I knew he was mad and I understand what he did. He'd probably like to check his emotions and I wish he had and he's already said that. But it wasn't a personal affront to me. It wasn't like (Gary Reasons) tugging on Dave Shula's cap. It wasn't a disrespect thing like (former receiver Carl) Pickens showing me up.
HOBSON: You mean against Denver two years ago when he finally caught a pass?
COSLET: Yeah, Pickens waving his arms like, 'They finally threw it to me.' And he got fined for that. Then after that season, after his holdout, I recommended we sign him. Then he says that stuff about me last year when I take him from a 30-catch-a-year guy in the worst offense you've ever seen to 100 catches a year in my offense.
HOBSON: Did you lose face recommending Mike sign him?
COSLET: No, Carl was the guy who lost face in the end. I was embarrassed for him. You know why I recommended we sign him? Because it was the best thing for the team and I tell these guys that all the time. Don't screw with the team. The team comes first. You might not agree with it, but I think it's what is best for the team. And Carl always competed. At heart, Carl is a pretty good guy.
HOBSON: Do you really believe that?
COSLET: I know it's hard to believe me sitting here and saying that. He's an immature guy who's a little bit selfish, but his motivation is true. He just wants to win and I think the losing finally got to him and his lack of maturity got him.
HOBSON: You didn't shake (Ravens coach Brian) Billick's hand after the game. Did you think he was running up the score?
COSLET: No comment.
HOBSON: Have you been golfing yet?
COSLET: Tomorrow. Remember, it rained yesterday. How about that? The day I resign and it rains and I can't play golf. I even screwed that up. Write a letter to the editor.
HOBSON: It sounds like you're still a Bengal fan.
COSLET: I love it when people preface what they're going to say with, 'I've been a season ticket-holder for 30 years.' 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.