Hobson's Choice: Food for thought

Q: With the Bengals offense really clicking and coaching vacancies across the country ramping up, particularly at the "U," I think it is time to think about Bob Bratkowski's future with the Bengals.

I really doubt his chances of landing a head coaching position in the NFL. But lately, a lot of big-time college programs have been successfully luring NFL coordinators back, e.g. Pete Carroll at USC and Charlie Weis at Notre Dame. With his ties to past 'Canes championships and great success in the league, what are his chances of heading up Miami next year? How about elsewhere? Who do you think the Bengals could replace him with?
**--GB, Columbus, OH

GB:** Haven't heard his name in the mix at Miami but you're right, he's a viable guy as is any guy on this staff for a head college job because of their extensive pro resumes, be it as a player, coach, or both. Or, take guys like assistant offensive line coach Bob Surace, who has been a head guy at Western Connecticut, and assistant special teams coach Paul Guenther, the head man at Ursinus.

One compelling local story is the vacancy at the University of Cincinnati, which has the perfect opportunity to hitch its wagon to the glow of Bengaldom and hire a Marvin Lewis assistant.

According to the job specs sketched out in the media, the Bearcats are looking for an offensive coach who can fill the seats with an entertaining brand of ball and can also recruit.

Given that he is the one offensive coach who has been in the college game most recently and has recruited two Heisman Trophy quarterbacks, receivers coach Hue Jackson would make quite the interesting candidate, as has been kicked around on talk radio.

Here's a guy who has been an offensive coordinator for two Division I programs (Cal and USC), recruited Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart to USC and Jake Plummer to Arizona State, has worked closely with highly-regarded offensive coaches like Bratkowski and Steve Spurrier (he's the only guy to call a game under Spurrier), and has the charisma and energy to deal with what may be the NFL's toughest position group.

The most intriguing aspect is the potential sudden relationship between the Bengals and UC. No one is more popular in town than Lewis and his team, so there would no doubt be some overflow and the Bearcats program would suddenly be plugged into the Marvin Network across the nation.

Plus, UC has a great opportunity to have the honor of hiring the first minority head coach in the Big East.

Is this really 2006?

Colleges seem to ignore NFL staffs and it's beyond me. The league is a breeding ground for program-turners, starting with your boys Carroll and Weis, and what about Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State, Rich Brooks at Kentucky, Kirk Ferentz at Iowa?

And the lack of college minority head coaches is just a disgrace, particularly when you look at a staff like the Bengals and an automatic pool of candidates.

Linebackers coach Ricky Hunley is a former NFL player with tremendous people skills who already interviewed at his alma mater Arizona a few years ago. Defensive line coach Jay Hayes and brother Jon Hayes, the tight ends coach, are engaging former pro players who have coached at pressure-cooker schools like Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. Running backs coach Jim Anderson's reputation for having players that produce at the highest level is impeccable.

Just as an example of how schools just don't bother to be exhaustive, I look at it from a selfish standpoint when it comes to the dreadful decline of football at Syracuse that has now deteriorated to rugby club status. How about three guys sitting right here with ties to the area who never got a sniff?

Anderson, dean of Bengals assistants, hails from the schoolboy hotbed of Harrisburg, Pa., and the Western Pennsylvania belt the 'Cuse absolutely has to have. Assistant head coach/offensive line coach Paul Alexander is an Upstate New York native from nearby Rochester, N.Y. Secondary coach Kevin Coyle was the Orange's defensive coordinator in the glory days of the early '90s. (Yes, SU led the nation in interceptions in '92, 13 seasons before his secondary led the NFL).

Like Bratkowski, they haven't been at the college level lately. But football is football and the NFL is the highest level. Given Brat played at Washington State and coached for years in Seattle, maybe he's more of a draw on the West Coast.

Just like defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan, another attractive candidate as a Naval Academy grad, is probably better known back East.

And then you've got a guy like assistant secondary coach Louie Cioffi, a Long Island kid who is 33 and has been coaching in the NFL already for 13 years. He would have to make an attractive coordinator candidate for some school looking for pro and East Coast ties.

The point?

The pros have a lot of guys who can give colleges a variety of traits.

If Brat would leave for another job, the in-house candidates are many, among them Jackson, Alexander, Anderson, as well as quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese, a highly regarded young mind that has already had some interviews around the league and has overseen three of the finest QB seasons in club history dating back to Jon Kitna's 2003 Comeback Player of the Year season.

And, at some point, people in the NFL and in college are going to figure out that a special teams coach moving to be a head coach is a natural progression. No other assistant coach deals with both offense and defense on a daily basis like the teams coach and no one has a better feel for the entire team and the big picture next to the head coach than the special teams coach. And what Darrin Simmons has done with these special teams is akin to rebuilding a small college program.

No, an NFL staff is not a bad place to look.

Q: Should the Bengals start Chris Henry instead of T.J? Because Chris is a more explosive player than T.J. and he's faster.
**--Tyler, Nash OH

TYLER:** It doesn't matter all that much since the Bengals run three wides so much of the time. But T.J. has to be the No. 2 because of his brain, brawn and, most importantly, reliability.

No question that Henry is a stunning talent and is on the verge of stardom. Anyone who has 12 TD catches in his first 58 receptions is clearly a guy on the make.

But which Henry is he going to be? The guy who muscled away two TDs in Pittsburgh? Or the guy that Palmer took to task publicly at the end of the game in Baltimore because he didn't contest a jumpball?

Which Henry is he going to be? The guy who last week foolishly gave Cleveland cornerback Ralph Brown a shot after the play? Or the guy who three minutes later ran a terrific route in the back of the end zone for a score and stayed inbounds like a ballerina.

That's just where Henry is now. He's seeking maturity on and off the field. But Houshmandzadeh is a grizzled vet and a true pro who is fearless across the middle and doesn't mind getting physical in his downfield blocking. He runs a route, you know exactly where he's going to be, and he drops a ball once every solar eclipse.

And, at some point Henry will get there. Hopefully he's taking notes from two of the best in Chad and T.J.

Yes, T.J. has some anger issues, but he knows it and is trying to work on it. It's not an easy game even for the vets.

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