BY GEOFF HOBSON
Dick LeBeau used his old-school ways to win over his new-age players and secured a multi-year deal Wednesday to be head coach of the Bengals in his own right.
"It's very generous and I'm very grateful," LeBeau said. "It's taken a long time but, believe me, that's why I appreciate it so."
LeBeau, 63, whose wait to get his own team spans 42 years in the NFL as a player and assistant coach that includes two Super Bowls with the Bengals, finally got the call at his weekly Wednesday noon news conference at Paul Brown Stadium.
LeBeau and the club wouldn't divulge the length or amount of the contract, but he replaces a man who made about $750-800,000 per year for four years.
"For a little guy from London, Ohio, no I didn't," said LeBeau when asked if he ever thought he'd sign such a contract.
Bengals President Mike Brown introduced LeBeau and it was clear the two are comfortable with their working relationship, now in its 17th season.
Indications are the structure of the club's football operations, with Brown as the general manager and the coaches doing the bulk of the scouting, is going to stay pretty much the same.
"I've been blessed in the last 20-plus years now. I have been employed primarily by the Brown family and the Cincinnati Bengals organization," LeBeau said. "And what brief little stint in there (I) wasn't (1992-96), I worked for the Rooney family and the Pittsburgh Steelers and you're talking bedrock National Football League there."
And that's how his players see LeBeau. Bedrock NFL. The Pro Bowl cornerback for the Detroit Lions back when men were men and LeBeau was intercepting 62 passes from 1959-72 for the third most of all-time in a career when he retired and went right into coaching.
Which is why the news was greeted with relief in a locker room of players LeBeau won over not long after he took over for Bruce Coslet in the chaotic morning of Sept. 25. It was hours after a 37-0 loss in Baltimore as the Bengals began the season outscored, 74-7, in the first three games.
"He'll do a lot for this team," said offensive captain Willie Anderson. "He's changed the mindset of a team that had a different attitude. That had the attitude of Bruce Coslet or Dave Shula," Anderson said.
"His attitude is to just keep fighting. I've been looking for a coach who's got that aggressive, attacking (mentality). Being aggressive no matter what. Since I've been here, he's the only coach that's done that."
It was Anderson, who along with defensive captain Takeo Spikes, met with Brown Tuesday to pass along the team's support for LeBeau. On Wednesday, Anderson, a big fan of "The Godfather," smiled and said, "I gave him an offer he couldn't refuse."
"The players think Dick shot straight and that he acts on what he believes," Brown said. "That he's clear about where he wants to go. That they feel good about him as the head coach and I would be lying to you to tell you that isn't a factor in my mind. He sells me, but he also sells them."
Count Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon sold. He has been the beneficiary of LeBeau's smash-mouth, physical mentality that lives on the running game.
In the 33 games before LeBeau took over, Dillon carried an average of 17 times per game. In the 12 games since, he's carried 22 times per game for LeBeau on his way to a possible 1,500-yard season with one game left.
"It's a chess game and that was a great move," said Dillon of LeBeau's extension. "He's great. He's a Sho-Gun warrior."
Dillon, a free agent next season, has become personified with LeBeau's style and he enjoys it.
"Teams pretty much know we're going to come out and run the football
and if they didn't know it before, they know it now," Dillon said. "They have to stop the run."
Brown said there would be no other coaching announcements until after the season. But it's expected someone will replace LeBeau as defensive coordinator, with the leading in-house candidate current linebackers coach Mark Duffner.
Also under scrutiny is a pass offense that has failed to find the key to franchise quarterback Akili Smith and ranks last in the league in passing.
LeBeau said he expects to make the call on his own staff. Brown has taken heat for not allowing his head coaches to pick his assistants, but it's a charge he and LeBeau say is unfounded.
It's believed Brown has spent the past few weeks with LeBeau feeling him out on which of the current coaches he can work with in the new era.
"In 32 years I think I've intervened on the decision with assistant coaches twice and none in the past 10 years or so," Brown said. "It's just not the way people perceive it. You need the head coach to be comfortable with his people."
LeBeau defended the club's philosophy of sending coaches out into the field to scout in the offseason, saying it's a "luxury for the coach to be as knowledgeable about the draft as we are."
LeBeau also backed Brown's assertion that he gives the coaches a wide swath, particularly in drafting.
"I can remember several discussions in the draft room (with Brown) that I wish (the coaches) would not have prevailed and he would have because there's so many football players that we talked Mike out of that are pretty good doggone football players," LeBeau said. "I, like Mike says, I've been lucky, blessed to be through a lot of good times here. I know that it works. We have to make it work."
Many thought after the initial season in Paul Brown Stadium with only two sellouts, Brown would for the first time feel the heat of angry taxpayers and fan base and soothe them with a big name coach.
"I don't know if it's possible to make a public relations splash with a coach, or if you do, if it's the right thing to do," Brown said. "There's so many guys I've seen come on as coaches, and everyone would say, 'Who's that?' and in five years he's the big guy.
"And I've seen the reverse," Brown said. "The big names come in and it doesn't pan out. It comes down to one thing. How do you do on the field? I think Dick gives us a good chance to win on the field."
Duffner, LeBeau and Brown never commented on reports that Brown's first choice to coach the team after Coslet left was Duffner, a former head coach at Holy Cross and Maryland, and that Duffner stepped aside out of respect for LeBeau's experience and title of assistant head coach.
But if Brown wasn't enamored of LeBeau then, he is now.
"Dick took over this team under very difficult P>**
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and trying circumstances and did everything anyone could have asked," Brown said. "And the fact that he's won over the players was something that was important."
The Bengals are 4-8 since and LeBeau has been endorsed in all corners of the locker room as a coach who brought them focus and identity.
Anderson and defensive captain Takeo Spikes have been LeBeau's most vocal supporters. When the captains met with Brown Tuesday to discuss ways to improve the club, they backed LeBeau for the job after talking to several starters and leading players.
That was apparently one of the factors that turned Brown from the idea of blowing up the entire coaching staff that Coslet assembled before the 1997 season and has a record of 18-45.
"They supported Dick yesterday and that was something that had to be looked at," Brown said. "Another important thing was how hard our team has played. We're short on some things, but one of them isn't effort. A lot of teams would have folded up the tent with the kind of season we've been through, but it hasn't happened."
Brown said LeBeau's age didn't give him pause. His father, Paul Brown, retired at 67 after leading the Bengals to the 1975 playoffs with an 11-3 record.
"I've known coaches older than Dick who have been a success in this league," Brown said. "He's in fine health and he's got great energy and enthusiasm. It wasn't an issue."