Bengals coach Dick LeBeau reflects on his first month replacing Bruce Coslet as the head man with Geoff Hobson of bengals.com.
HOBSON: In honor of your first NFL win last Sunday, your assistant coaches gave you the small replica of a leather helmet and signed it.
LEBEAU: It was very thoughtful. Ever since this has happened, it's been kind of humbling. Who I've heard from and acts like this. It makes you feel real fortunate.
HOBSON: The leather helmet seems to be symbolic. The oldest rookie head coach (at 63) and your philosophy seems to be (smashmouth offense) and getting back to basics. Is that how you see yourself?
LEBEAU: I have seen a leather helmet before. Since they didn't throw anything away at London (Ohio) High School, they kept some leather helmets in the back of the equipment room, but I never wore one.
HOBSON: You want to clear that up I guess. You seem to be reaching guys with what seems to be a philosophy of running the ball, possessing the ball, playing sound defense, getting a turnover or two, and staying in games long enough to get a shot.
LEBEAU: In my experience, I think in the National Football League, it's a passing league. You look at the stats, the balance of plays run to pass and it's become a throwing league. But I still believe you have to run the ball.
On the bad weather days, the tight days, you've got to protect the lead. I was happy we could run the ball that last possession instead of turning the ball back over to Denver. As soon as Corey (Dillon) went 10 yards on the last run he scored on (with 1:49 left), the game was over because timeouts were dead . . .I'm glad for Corey that he went all the way because he needed all those yards to set the record. But that's a good example where running is a benefit in the late stages of a game.
HOBSON: It seems almost fitting. You're a guy who's been in the background for 42 years in the NFL, quietly accomplishing some big things as a player and coach. And you get your first win as a head coach and it's barely noticed because a guy sets an NFL record.
LEBEAU: That's quite all right with me. All I wanted was a win. This game is about players, anyway.
HOBSON: Has Mike (Bengals President Brown) given you any indication you'll have the job beyond this year?
LEBEAU: The only issues we have discussed are football matters around the management of the team. We spent full time on each game and that's the extent of the situation.
HOBSON: What do you think you have to do to come back?
LEBEAU: I never gave it a thought. When we got up in front of the team a month ago, we asked the team to go one snap at a time. I think it would be in error if I didn't do the same.
HOBSON: If the opportunity came up for next year?
LEBEAU: Would I turn it down? Probably not. But it's a subject that should not have wasted breath or consideration. There are more important things.
HOBSON: Because it's not the next snap?
LEBEAU: It's not the next game and that's all we're thinking about. I give no thought to it at all because I had no thought about being the head coach when the season began.
HOBSON: But you probably would take it if offered?
LEBEAU: Sure. Who would say no? But it's not going to impact anything I do, which is trying to make us better every week.
HOBSON: When you got the job, there was some debate if you were Mike's first choice.
LEBEAU: There are several guys he would have considered. Mark (linebackers coach Duffner) has the most head coaching experience. Kenny (offensive coordinator Anderson) was a Most Valuable Player. I'm sure he considered all of us, if not others. It turned out I'm the coach.
HOBSON: I don't want to say your philosophy is harder or tougher. . .
LEBEAU: It's different is the best way to say it. I think any time you have a coaching change, there are going to be changes, differences. It's too early to know what's happening. I think the players are working hard. The next few weeks will be very important because we've taken a step by proving we're good enough to compete and we've got to keep taking the next step.
HOBSON: Given the state of the passing game, its youth and lack of production, that would seem to make the running game more important to this team than most.
LEBEAU: I had a coach named Woody Hayes once. And he'd say three things can happen when you try to pass the ball and two of them are bad. It's a little safer to run the ball, but you have to do both.
HOBSON: You're known for aggressively blitzing, but it seems like your cornerbacks aren't on an island by themselves as much the last couple of weeks.
LEBEAU: I think we've been using the same amount of pressure. I could kick myself for not changing some things quicker, but I think we're on the right track.
HOBSON: What changes?
LEBEAU: I think the major part of coaching is tailoring what you ask your people to do to what their strengths are. I think any honest coach would say that's the major part of coaching and when we fall short, that's where we fall short is not adjusting quickly to their strengths.
HOBSON: The strength of this defense is the linebackers and maybe that the secondary is better not so much one-on-one, but. . .
LEBEAU: We're playing better. Our line has more depth, but we've had injury problems at that spot and we're going to need them back there to get their strength back. I think we can do more defensively than we've been able to do. The next three to four weeks are very important for our defense.
HOBSON: You've added several new starters. (Right cornerback) Rodney Heath and (strong safety) Chris Carter on defense, (left tackle) John Jackson, (receiver) Craig Yeast on offense and a reconfigured defensive line.
LEBEAU: I'm not counting. Everyone is going to have to play. We're still looking for combinations. The right ones.
HOBSON: You've said in the last month that your biggest adjustment has been all the stuff that comes across your desk.
LEBEAU: As the defensive coordinator, you're just worried about defense. Now I'm responsible for the entire football team. There are a lot of other lives that are impacted.
There's a lot. What do you call those damn things? (The weekly) inactive lists. You've got the (instant replay) challenge button. You've got the red flag to throw (when you want to challenge a call). You've got to know what time the team goes out for pregame. I never had to get a team to pregame. You've got to think when it's time to go the next drill in the pregame.
There are three or four press conferences a week always for the head coach. The only time you do that as a coordinator is at the Super Bowl, or a (conference) championship game, both things I've done. But now it's three times a week and it's not a matter of getting used to it. It's part of the job, so you do it.
HOBSON: Who did you get phone calls from Sunday night and Monday morning?
LEBEAU: The phone rang continually. For me, they were many humbling moments. When you think of the lives you interact with, the amount of people who take the time to come back to you is obviously one of life's better moments.
HOBSON: Did you hear from a lot of old (Detroit) Lions?
LEBEAU: I heard from (former linebacker) Wayne Walker. We're very close.
HOBSON: Did you hear from Bruce?
LEBEAU: I talked to Bruce. I kind of expected that. That's Bruce Coslet. He's a class guy all the way.
HOBSON: How has it changed on the sidelines for you during the game with the defense? You have to watch most of the game now I would think.
LEBEAU: I don't tell Kenny what to call, but there are times I may tell him I want to run or something like that. And you've got to know what down it is for tactical decisions.
I don't draw as many pictures for the defense as I did, but I still draw some. The players go to the phones more now to talk to their coaches. Mark (Duffner) and Ray (secondary coach Horton) and coach Tim (defensive line coach Krumrie) is already on the sidelines. But they talked to the coaches a lot anyway.
HOBSON: The club has been in the four games you've coached.
LEBEAU: Every game has been a one or two play game. That's why Denver was so big because we made that play instead of the other team. That's the first time that's happened. Is there a reason why we can't make those plays? There isn't.
HOBSON: Obviously your relationship with Mike has changed because you deal with him a lot more.
LEBEAU: Mike has been very helpful to this. He's a big reason they're responding positively. He's created an environment that's let us get things started.
HOBSON: Like what? He gets banged here every day, but coaches around the league say he's a great guy to work for.
LEBEAU: Whatever I've needed, he's been available. He's been there for me. I've never worked for another owner, but it would be hard for me to imagine any owner would be better to his head coach than Mike has been to me.
HOBSON: What do you like about the job?
LEBEAU: I like to reach the job every coach wants. I like saying, 'Let's run the ball, Kenny.' I like that. I like to think I know what to do. I'm not saying I know all the answers. But I think I've been around this game long enough, particularly this league. I've certainly been exposed to great coaches. Paul Brown. Woody Hayes. Don Shula.
HOBSON: That great story you tell when you were in that one training camp in Cleveland and Paul Brown came over to you after a receiver caught a three-yard hitch in front of you for a first down: "The only one in the stadium who didn't think they were going to throw that pass was you, LeBeau."
LEBEAU: Paul never raised his voice. He taught me you don't always have to yell to get your point across.
HOBSON: You've probably fired a few of those out in the last month.
LEBEAU: I try to let them know I'm interested in their life and performance.
HOBSON: After what happened with Corey last Sunday, can we expect you to keep saying, 'Kenny, let's run the ball.'? Will you be saying it this week against the Browns?
LEBEAU: I like to run the football, but I like winning better. Whatever it takes to win. EDITOR'S NOTE: Dillon carried the ball 12 times in the 24-7 loss to Cleveland Sept. 10.