Gears grinding

10-18-02, 5:35 p.m.

As expected, this week's mail didn't turn out to be Christmas cards, wedding invitations, and the L.L. Bean catalogue.

It's bye week and Bengaldom is in the full throes of insurrection. There is no Hobson's Choice this week because there is no choice. The overriding question from the masses is, "Why isn't Mike Brown doing anything to stop the 12-season cycle of losing?"

Answer:

He is.

He is trying, just like Dick LeBeau is seeking the right chemistry of psychology and discipline and coordinators Bob Bratkowski and Mark Duffner are trying to find the right mix of Xs and Os.

A day doesn't go by (weekends included) at Paul Brown Stadium that Brown isn't at his desk scribbling on the ever-present yellow legal pad. Numbers. Names. Ideas.

A clue that he is toying with fundamentally changing the way his team has conducted football operations since Paul Brown founded the franchise in 1967 came last week in an interview with Brown before the Steelers' debacle on the subject of player personnel.

"Everyone who wants a say gets one," Brown said. "If there's a player at his position, we definitely include that position coach. Maybe that's a problem. We have so many people saying things and eventually you're going to get somebody who says, 'No,' and so you don't go forward.

"If you talk to enough people, you give them all veto power, you're going to get one. I wonder about some things because it hasn't gone well," Brown said.

That goes right to the heart of Paul Brown's philosophy that has always run the club, which is a coaching-driven personnel system.

With 10 games left, Brown is cautious about making any comments about off-season plans. He still thinks LeBeau can salvage this

season, which is obvious because Brown had the time and the ammunition to punt him back on Monday, 13 days before the next game.

But Brown clearly isn't happy. Last year, he went a few hundred thousand over the NFL's $71 million salary cap. This year, he's close to it again and all he's got to show for it is a 6-16 record and a nation full of Bengals' jokes.

If he's thinking about limiting the voices in the draft room, that would mean a separation of coaches and the personnel department. That would mean letting the coaches just coach, and not burden them with scouting duties. That would limit personnel decisions to an expanded personnel department and the head coach. That would probably mean more scouts and less input by assistant coaches.

As it is now, the Bengals send three full-time scouts on the road during the fall with player personnel chief Pete Brown back at the office watching 2,000 hours of tape during the college season. Then they send their position coaches on the road from January to April to scout their players in the Paul Brown style that the coaches who have to coach them should be able pick them.

But Mike Brown knows something isn't working. He also knows he gets flayed for being an arbitrary decision maker. An Oz behind the curtain. Next to the notion that the Reds would be better off without Ken Griffey Jr., that's the most misguided perception in Cincinnati sports.

Brown knows he hasn't made some good calls. When he shaves, don't you think he wonders what would have happened if he had been more aggressive with Drew Bledsoe this offseason?

But he also doesn't go into a room by himself and throw darts at the draft board. He doesn't sign Joe Germaine without checking with the coaches. If he drafts Justin Smith, he wants the head coach and defensive coordinator on board. If Brown had been left in a room by himself in that 2001 draft, he would have walked out with Drew Brees at No. 4.

"We don't do anything in personnel without talking to our coaches," Brown said. "I can't think of anything this year that wasn't done without their input and without their approval."

Obviously there have been times Brown has overrode his coaches, but Brown insists he sides with them more often than not.

But he'll tell you it starts with him and him alone. He isn't looking to pass the buck. But he is looking for a way to get his team back to the days they passed for the big bucks..

And if it means making changes, well, the discussions are on fast forward and the yellow legal pad is on the desk and not in the drawer.

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