LeBeau to return

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 the head coach of the Bengals.

"Dick took over this team under very difficult and trying circumstances and did everything anyone could have asked," said Bengals President Mike Brown. "And the fact that he's won over the players was something that was important."

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.

In his first shot as a head coach during 42 NFL seasons as a player and assistant coach, LeBeau, 63, took over chaos back on Sept. 25 in the wake of Bruce Coslet's resignation. It was hours after a 37-0 loss in Baltimore as the Bengals began the season outscored, 74-7, in the first three games.

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.

Defensive captain Takeo Spikes and offensive captain Willie Anderson 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 has taken heat for not allowing his head coaches to pick his assistants. But it's a charge he says is unfounded and he says his coaches have as much freedom at picking their assistants as any in the league.

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."

Brown said LeBeau's age didn't give him pause.

"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."

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