1-7-01, 2:25 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
All but one coach returns to the Bengals staff for the 2002 season after the resignation of safeties coach Ray Horton.
The club is also waiting word from Stanford, where running backs coach Jim Anderson spent Monday interviewing for the head coaching job.
Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau said Monday Anderson would return if he didn't get the job. He said no decision has been made if a safeties coach is to replace Horton or if cornerbacks coach Kevin Coyle is to coach the secondary. The Bengals finished ninth in NFL defense, their highest ranking since 1989, and some of the credit went to coordinator Mark Duffner's decision to split the coaching in the secondary for this season.
"I liked the attention to detail back there with the two coaches, but we're still looking at some different things," LeBeau said.
Horton, the Bengals' second-round draft pick in 1983, played on the 1988 Super Bowl team and coached the last five years with the club. He reportedly wasn't pleased with the divided duties after four years as the secondary coach. Plus, he's got a connection with Houston General Manger Charley Casserly, his boss when he coached in Washington.
Horton politely declined comment, but said he was interested in still coaching in the NFL.
"You could tell Ray wasn't happy here," said strong safety JoJuan Armour. "They try to hide it from us, but there was a sense he wasn't happy and I guess it's time for him to move on."
Bengals President Mike Brown said the decision to keep the staff intact came after constant consultation with LeBeau.
"We talked at least two dozen times about it," Brown said. "If Dick had been insistent on some things, then I think something would have been done. But we were pretty much in agreement with how it came out."
LeBeau agreed that he had daily input and that, "I've very happy with how," the staff is shaped for next year. Both men pointed to the dramatic turnaround of the defense and the improved offensive statistics this year over last year as signs the Bengals are headed in the right direction despite a seven-game losing streak in which they scored just 57 points.
The Bengals set a team a record with 48 sacks and allowed the fourth fewest sacks ever with 28 in a season quarterback Jon Kitna threw a team-record 581 passes.
"I was more proud and pleased with that statistic than any," LeBeau said. "We threw 70 balls against the second-leading sack team in the league two weeks ago (against Pittsburgh) and last week we threw 50 or so (against Tennessee). Everyone talks about their ends and how they've got the most sacks in the last 10 years and yet they got to our guy twice against Pittsburgh and once yesterday.
"The pass protection has been solid. We have a top running back. Our defense is a top 10 defense. We've got a lot of the pieces of the puzzle in place."
Brown has seen pretty much the same football staff since 1999, except for a different head coach
and offensive coordinator, compile a 14-34 record. He continued to say Monday he's not looking to make scapegoats of the coaches.
"There are people who are going to criticize me for it," Brown said. "But I'm just not going to fire somebody because of public pressure. These guys work hard, they work long hours and they know what they're doing."
Special teams coach Al Roberts heads into his sixth season with the Bengals despite an inconsistent kicking game and coverage work. But Brown remembered firing Frank Gansz "about 20 years ago," and Mike Stock "about 10 years ago," and, "both of those guys are still in the league.
"So much can go wrong with special teams," Brown said. "Every time you put a special team on the field, it's a roll of the dice. People make plays. People break down and I don't think that is fully the fault of the special teams coach."
Brown said the club needs to work on its punting, but he also said Nick Harris' ability to put punts inside the 20-yard line has made it better. He does want to see a better return and coverage game. He praised Roberts for teaching kicker Neil Rackers the pop-up onside kick the Bengals recovered twice this season and led to the win against Pittsburgh two weeks ago.
"Our field is the hardest to kick on in the National Football League," said Brown of Rackers' field-goal struggles. "Other guys come in here and don't do any better."
Brown is pleased with how the offense amassed nearly 1,000 yards in the last two gams. Asked if that was a factor in the re-hiring, LeBeau said, "It didn't hurt."
Wide receivers coach Steve Mooshagian also took some heat during the year when his young players hit a big-time drought in the seven-game losing streak. They went 26 straight quarters without a touchdown catch and four straight games without a completed pass play of 20 yards. But they had 11 in the last two games and 33 for the season after just 16 plus-20 catches all last year.
"We had a new system and a lot of young players," Brown said. "I think the offensive guys deserve a chance to have another run at it."