Holmgren: Kitna 'a team guy'

3-27-01, 7:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

PALM DESERT. Calif. _ Maybe Seattle coach Mike Holmgren didn't always see eye to eye with his old quarterback. But Holmgren figures he does have an eye for character when it comes to new Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna.

"Jon is a great person. He'll have a great relationship with Akili Smith. That's not going to be a problem," Holmgren said. "He's a team guy.

"That wasn't the case at all," said Holmgren of the buzz they didn't get along. "Jon and I had a really good relationship. I'm very demanding at that position."

Kitna has been pretty open about his belief that a major reason Holmgren benched him last season is because he didn't belong to Holmgren's new regime in Seattle. On Tuesday, here at the NFL annual meeting, Holmgren was equally as open that it wasn't personal.

But Holmgren admitted he thought Kitna got a little too stubborn in '99 after taking Seattle to an 8-2 start while leading the NFL in passing. And he was looking for steadier play than Kitna's line last season of 18 touchdown passes, 19 interceptions and 17 fumbles.

Plus, Holmgren liked Brock Huard, his second pick of his first draft with the Seahawks in 1999.

"I came to the realization with that particular team we were going to be 8-8, just treading water," Holmgren said of early in the season. "I have this young guy. I'm going to pay him. It was less of a reflection on Jon. This was a long-range decision. This is going to be a struggle this year. I want to see the young guy play. See if I have a quarterback. If I have a quarterback, then the draft is different."

But Holmgren never really got his answer because Huard got hurt, so he swung a trade for Packers quarterback Matt Hasselbeck last month. But he saw something when he had to go back to Kitna after the benching.

"That tells you something about the kid," Holmgren said. "He handled it beautifully. He's a super young man. He has good skills, but he hasn't played a whole bunch. He did some real good things for us. We just needed a little more consistency out of the position."

LEBEAU'S DEBUT: Dick LeBeau, the NFL's oldest rookie head coach since at least the 1970 merger, admitted he's had to pinch himself during the meetings.

"Here I am at the (media) breakfast for the AFC head coaches and I'm thinking, 'Where are the coordinators?'" LeBeau said Tuesday

His old defensive coordinator in Pittsburgh, Dom Capers, sat at a nearby table as begins his second head coaching stint in the NFL with the expansion Houston Texans.

"If anybody deserves to be here as a head coach, it's Dick LeBeau," Capers said. "Where could you find more experience? You just don't find anybody who says a bad thing about Dick LeBeau. He's not a self-promoter."

At age 63, and after 28 seasons as an assistant, LeBeau is still the same unpretentious guy. He missed Monday's group picture of all 32 head coaches because he thought it was set up for Tuesday.

"I wouldn't mind a picture of all of us together," LeBeau said. "To be honest, I thought it was for today. But we tell our players, 'I thought never made a play.' "

"He's a straightforward guy and players love that about him," Capers said. "Coaches love it, too. They will play hard for him."

UNIFORM UNIFORM: There's a semi big uproar about Wednesday's expected vote by the owners to ban headgear such as bandannas and do-rags. Many view it as the league going above its rights in legislating cultural issues. LeBeau sees it merely as the league continuing to make sure everyone's uniform is, well, uniform. And he had to go through it himself 40 years ago as a player when the NFL cracked down on dress.

"Bandannas don't offend me," LeBeau said. "But if that's what the league wants, then we'll abide by it. I used to loosen (pants and jersey) by sewing them and they stopped us from doing that."

SPIKES SURGERY: Bengals linebacker Takeo Spikes is undergoing arthroscopic shoulder surgery by Dr. James Andrews and is questionable for the May 4-7 minicamp. But he'll be ready for the July 20 start of training camp. Trainer Paul Sparling said the procedure is done to relieve lingering soreness.

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