BY GEOFF HOBSON
Call it the day the music died.
As Dick LeBeau walked to the locker room after directing his first practice as Bengals head coach Wednesday, a man called to him. "Come on LeBeau," he said. "Guarantee a victory."
LeBeau waved, cringed and said softly, "I'm not Broadway Joe."
"Lunchpail LeBeau," is more like it. There's a job to do, a professional job, and a job that has to be done before the whistle blows on this NFL season. So LeBeau turned off the locker room music, turned up the practice tempo and tuned in the Bengals to how he'll run this team.
At 63 and after 42 years in the NFL, LeBeau thinks he knows. After all, he went to three Pro Bowls as a player and to the Super Bowl with two different teams as a defensive coordinator.
So the music is off until they win. The team that hasn't run supervised post-practice sprints for time in three weeks will run them after each Wednesday and Thursday practice. As a team. Not as offense and defense. Or as little guys and big guys. He says he wants, "a look."
"He brought up things that needed to be addressed," said backup left tackle John Jackson, who knows LeBeau from their days with the Super Bowl Steelers. "It's about professionalism and how to act and how to do a job. I don't think (discipline) was slipping. I just don't think guys know. A lot of the guys around here are too young to know what it takes and they need to know about what it takes to be successful in this league."
To paraphrase LeBeau in the Wednesday morning meeting, he said, "We're a team and we're going to do everything as a team." He also told them, "Talking gets nothing done. But today we have to talk." He also said, "If you can't do the job, we'll put the next guy in," a statement some players felt had not been mentioned enough in the Bruce Coslet era.
Then he shut off the music.
Hey, LeBeau said he was going to start small.
"It sounds pretty nice in there," LeBeau said. "If they want, they can get their earphones and hear everything they're going to hear forever. We want it to be a professional environment."
Cornerback Artrell Hawkins noticed how LeBeau quickened the pace of practice by rotating running backs and wide receivers so the plays could get off quicker. Instead of immediately re-setting a botched play, they moved to the next one and replayed the bad play at the end of the set.
No one took shots at Coslet and many players said they were sorry he felt like he had to resign. But his former players didn't hesitate to rally around his successor. The day was pushed back because LeBeau spoke longer than he thought he would, which added meetings to before and after practice.
"I don't think (lack of) conditioning has been killing us, but anytime you run that can't hurt you," Hawkins said. "There was less time between periods. Trying to cut down on the down time and messing around. He wants it to be all business. If we can take this and feed off it, sometimes change is good. . .Trying not to be sloppy or unprofessional. All the little issues which create the bigger issues, like the state we're in now."
That was another theme of the day. "The little things add up to big things." But the biggest attention-grabber was the threat of jobs.
"It's been execute, execute, excute," said fullback Clif Groce, who was asked if LeBeau had gone to the next step and said players would lose their jobs if they didn't execute.
"Oh yeah," Groce said. "(Before) that was just kind of danced around. We never got the kiss. Always the prelude to the kiss."
Defensive captain Takeo Spikes didn't want to say very much because it was only one day. The first day. But when someone made an observation that Spikes had always liked LeBeau, Spikes said, "I don't like him. I love him. He can make a blind dog still want to fight."
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After 42 years of playing and coaching defense, LeBeau clearly enjoyed his first day on both sides of the ball.
"You know what I enjoyed most?" LeBeau said. "Getting to talk to the quarterback. That was fun."
The quarterback, Akili Smith, took satisfaction in the up-tempo practice. He had been taking some heat from some teammates for saying that's what the team needed last week.
"Whew, we got out of that huddle quick today, didn't we?" Smith asked of reserve running back Brandon Bennett.
"I like it," said Bennett, who ran more plays than usual because of the rotation. "You don't get frozen up."
"Coaches who don't have to yell have respect," said Smith of the laid-back LeBeau. "This guy's been around. He was a good player, been to the Super Bowl. He's got credibility, so guys are listening. I hope he doesn't change. He's the coolest dude."
Kids like Smith, 25, have virtually no knowledge of LeBeau's 62 interceptions he racked up for the Lions from 1959-72. But they do remember how he coordinated the Steelers' "Blitzburgh," defense to Super Bowl XXX.
"I told the players I'm looking for a look," LeBeau said. "That's what I'm looking for - I know what I want us to look like and that's what I want to see. I can be as quiet as need be or I can get people's attention when it has to be (done). I'm not afraid of doing my job and these guys have been around me and they probably know I'm not quite as laid back as I seem to be because it's important to me. It's important to all of us and I think that's the main fact of this team. It's important to them to improve their performance and that's what we're trying to do."
The rule about wearing no hats or hoods in meetings was re-emphasized and Hawkins understands: "I've tried that at times myself. Pull it down low over your eyes and catch a few Zs. He was a player. He knows all the tricks."
Jackson wasn't surprised by LeBeau's hold on the group during the first meeting. When he was the defensive coordinator in Pittsburgh, head coach Bill Cowher would often have LeBeau talk to the Steelers.
"Dick knows what the players are really thinking because he's been on a Pro Bowl level and he knows what it takes to get there," Jackson said. "It makes a big difference when you're sitting and listening to what he wants and expects and he's not telling you something unrealistic. He wants more production."
But maybe what the players like is they know he knows he's not Broadway Joe, but Lunchpail LeBeau.
"I got to bed a little bit later the last two days, but basically I don't think my life is going to change that much," LeBeau said. "Half the town didn't think I knew what the hell I was doing anyhow."