Frustration boils

10-14-02, 3:15 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Artrell Hawkins got into a shouting match with a fan. Lorenzo Neal said what everybody knows about this team being a laughingstock. Takeo Spikes asked his team to come together and Brian Simmons said the next step is to "figure out what the hell's going on around here."

It was Steelers coach Bill Cowher who got his 1-3 team angry Saturday night during a team meeting he showed a clip from the movie "Network," in which the key line is, "if you're mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, go out to the window and yell."

But it was the Bengals who were mad and yelling as they head into their bye week as the NFL's only winless team and their frustration boiled Sunday after they got blown out for the fifth time in six games against the backdrop of the speculation swirling around head coach Dick LeBeau's job security.

Bengals President Mike Brown couldn't be reached for comment Sunday night, but he doesn't exactly have a lot of options on his staff during this bye week to replace LeBeau, whose record falls to 10-25 for a winning percentage of .286, better than than Dave Shula's .268, but worse than Homer Rice's .296 on the Bengals' all-time list.

Defensive coordinator Mark Duffner, one of the winningest Division I college head coaches ever, has a unit that is struggling after giving up 408 yards Sunday. Another possibility is running backs coach Jim Anderson, a 19-year veteran of the Bengals staff. Rumors of former Ohio State coach John Cooper, now a Bengals personnel consultant, appear to be just that.

"I'm not a general manager or anything, so I can't make those calls. When I own the team, I'll comment. But I don't own the team, so I can't do anything," Neal said. "You can't look at it as just the coaches ... a lot of guys say 'Oh, it's the coaches,' but the coaches call the plays (and) we make the plays, man ... the coaches call the plays but we gotta make the plays. The coaches call the plays, but hold the players accountable, too. We have to be more accountable.

"I know one thing — for six years, Corey Dillon, Takeo Spikes and those guys who have been here and witnessed that stuff ... I tip my hat to those guys — warriors," Neal said. "For Corey Dillon to do what he's done in this situation where it's been tough for the four last years for this guy, it's tough. I don't know how he does it."

For his part, Dillon deferred comment because, "I wouldn't have anything nice to say." Neal, who is in the last year of his deal, said, "I can't come back to this," and Spikes

wouldn't comment on if he wants to come back when his contract expires after the season or if the team needs to make drastic changes.

"It doesn't matter what I say — not at this point, anyway," Spikes said. "I'm not trying to be political (because) it doesn't even matter what I say; truthfully, I don't think it matters what I think anyway, so I'm not going to bother on even commenting on that."

If the players were hesitant to talk about LeBeau's situation, they were also uncertain what a change would accomplish.

"What's that going to do?" Simmons asked. "What problems is that going to solve?"

Neal knows something has to be solved.

"It's unacceptable," Neal said. "Mr. Brown, the family, all the coaches, the players, everyone look in the mirror and say, 'God, there's something going on. There's something definitely wrong.' Get rid of me, get rid of whoever if I'm not doing my job."

Right tackle Willie Anderson, one of the offensive captains: "I feel bad for (LeBeau). He's the kind of guy, he doesn't want you to feel bad for him. He wants to come to work and figure things out."

LeBeau said he's sticking with quarterback Jon Kitna despite four turnovers and Kitna is sticking with LeBeau.

"I'm a big coach LeBeau supporter. He was one of the reasons I came here. It's hard on him. This hasn't been easy on anyone," Kitna said.

Kitna turned his post-game news conference into a therapy session for himself in which he took blame for the loss and put it all on the table.

"Last year I thought we were heading in the right direction. And for the first time in a long time, this organization had a chance midway through the season to keep itself in the playoff run and we didn't get it done," Kitna said. "But we took some steps last year. To start this season, we took giant strides backwards — giant strides backwards — and I never saw it coming at all. You guys were around during training camp. You heard the things that I said. And it wasn't just blowing smoke. I really thought we were heading in the right direction, and it just seems like during the first six games, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. I expect to be able to make a difference in this organization. I expect more out of myself than what I did today and that's what bothers me."

Hawkins, Spikes and Simmons, the class of '98, now have a record 17-53 and the strain is showing.

"You work every week looking for success and there is no gold at the end of the rainbow," Hawkins said. "It's difficult. It takes strength. It takes courage. It's not easy to go out and be openly ridiculed and to have to face (people)."

Hawkins faced a fan as he walked off the field after the game, and he yelled back after the fan called the Bengals, "a bunch of jackasses." Hawkins said he told the fan he didn't appreciate him "being so tough," surrounded by security.

"I was wrong in that situation," Hawkins said. "I have to keep walking in that situation no matter what. But it shows you the level of frustration."

Cornerback Jeff Burris broke his two-week media silence to say pretty much only that he can't take the constant explaining of what is going wrong in his secondary, on the defense, and on the team.

"I just want to win," said Burris after his first Bengals' interception set up the Bengals' only score.

Anderson can only explain it with, "We're not playing well," but he can't explain how hard it is to go out in public as one of the more high-profile Bengals.

"I remember telling people over the summer time that we had a core of players that can take us over the hump," Anderson said. "And for us not to do that, that's hard. . ..It's bad man. Bad. Bad.

"There's only (three) things left to do," Anderson said. "Go in the tank. . .try to make the playoffs, or make it a reasonable season."

"It's hard to accept because we have all the pieces," Hawkins said. "We usually play the Steelers really well, it's usually a competitive game and today was neither."

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