BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals' search for a new offensive coordinator means the club is mulling switching to a new scheme as they try to rebound from the worst offensive season in team history.
And linebackers coach Mark Duffner's promotion to defensive coordinator may also mean tinkering with the zone-blitz scheme as head coach Dick LeBeau gets more involved in the offense.
Those were the major changes to a coaching staff that all but stayed intact after a second straight 4-12 season. But LeBeau said schemes on both sides of the ball are fair game and vowed, "We are going to do things differently."
As for a coaching staff that has a record of 18-46 since arriving in 1997, LeBeau recalled the dark days he took over the team this past Sept. 25 when Bruce Coslet resigned as head coach after Cincinnati had been outscored, 74-7, in the first three games.
At Tuesday's press conference LeBeau said "I think they worked hard and supported me, and that's an important thing to me."
But, "everything is open to discussion if it'll make us better," said LeBeau, architect of the zone blitz. "I'm not married to any scheme and Mark will have a strong input on that also."
LeBeau re-assigned offensive coordinator Ken Anderson to quarterbacks coach and although there have been reports of tension between Anderson and franchise quarterback Akili Smith, Bengals President Mike Brown thinks the relationship will work because Anderson now has more time to focus just on quarterbacks.
But Brown also made it clear he's still seeking at least another quarterback to compete with Smith and it may or may not be free agent Scott Mitchell after he logged a 2-3 record after Smith got benched.
Even though the rest of the offensive staff returns intact, Brown and LeBeau don't think there's a problem attracting a coordinator who hasn't worked with the rest of the staff.
"We think we can afford (the new coordinator) the ability to influence, to run his offense, and to (select) assistants," LeBeau said. "Will he wholesale select every assistant on the offense? No, not at this time. But will he have the ability to have input in that final complement? Yes, he will. I don't look at that necessarily as a handicap, but we are going to be looking for a man who's looking at us for an opportunity to succeed and get this franchise where we need to be.
"We are looking for productivity. I'm not going to shut the door on anybody's philosophy, anybody's concept," LeBeau said. "I'm going to look at what they've done."
The Bengals have lived off variations of "The West Coast offense" since the mid-1970s, but on Tuesday the only scheme LeBeau ruled out was the run-and-shoot.
Also on the table is if the Bengals will match what they do on the defensive side of the ball and hire an offensive assistant.
"There are a lot of job titles, so I'm not going to get bogged down with who does what," LeBeau said. "You could always add two more coaches over there and keep the coaches you have here. We're not going to be boxed into a corner by parameters of numbers or positions or titles."
LeBeau said he has been received "very positively," by Brown during talks about expanding the NFL's smallest player personnel department and other support staff, but Brown indicated Tuesday he won't expand scouting.
LeBeau and Brown aren't discussing candidates for offensive coordinator or for a possible quarterbacks coach.
Some names available are former Redskins head coach Norv Turner, Akili Smith's college coach in Oregon offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford, and former Bengals and Buccaneers head coach Sam Wyche.
Wyche said Tuesday he hasn't been contacted and isn't sure his voice problems could let him do the job.
The entire defensive staff returns, as does special teams coach Al Roberts.
With new coordinators, Brown said
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the club will be doing things differently than what has transpired in the last three seasons in which the Bengals are 11-37.
"Different people are charged with running the offense and defense, so in my mind those are very big changes," said Brown of criticism keeping pretty much the same staff.
"Clearly we won't be doing the same things. A lot of this is not Kenny's fault," Brown said. "All this lack of success is unfairly put on his shoulders. There were a lot of things that went wrong. Our job now is to find a way to make it work. We are going to do things differently on offense."
Offensive line coach Paul Alexander, running backs coach Jim Anderson, and tight ends coach Frank Verducci were key figures in the Bengals finishing third in the league in rushing and are returning as is receivers coach Steve Mooshagian. Brown said it shouldn't be a problem luring a coordinator with those jobs already filled.
"Coordinators don't usually bring their staff," Brown said. "They usually bring themselves and work with the staff that's there. Our coaches are solid NFL coaches who have experience and that's important. We have players here who are fine players and we'll upgrade through the draft, free agency or maybe a trade. All that is in the future and a lot of this will be taken care of with the maturation of the players we already have."
LeBeau apparently felt a price had to be paid for the team's horrid offensive showing, which wasn't helped by going into the season with a quarterback (Akili Smith) who had four NFL starts and five receivers who had a total of 15 NFL catches.
"We're going to look for the absolute best offensive coach that we can obtain that can get us primarily, scoring, throwing the ball, and I think the third-down conversion is a big thing," LeBeau said.
In eight seasons, Anderson, the club's all-time leading passer, hasn't had much success transferring his MVP skills to franchise quarterbacks David Klingler and Smith.
Before losing his job to veteran backup Scott Mitchell after 10 starts this season, Smith finished as the league's lowest-rated passer with just three touchdown passes along with six interceptions in 267 attempts. The inexperienced passing game groped down field much of the season, completing just 16 passes of 20 yards or more to wide receivers.
In scoring a franchise-low 185 points, the Bengals were shut out three times, failed to score a touchdown five times, and endured 13 games in which the offense failed to score more than a touchdown.
But Brown alluded to the youth that Anderson faced. Complicating matters for the pass offense was wide receiver Darnay Scott's season-ending broken leg on Aug. 1. The presence of Scott was a major reason the Bengals felt they could release disgruntled wide receiver Carl Pickens 10 days before the injury.
Duffner, 47, a former head coach at Holy Cross and Maryland, has drawn praise for scouting and developing such players as first-rounders Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons and free-agents Adrian Ross and Armegis Spearman. Now the Bengals will look for a linebackers coach.
"It's not just going to be a position for Coach Duffner," LeBeau said. "I have to be free to be involved in all of our football. I want us to be a coordinated, focused football team."
LeBeau has extreme loyalty to two of the defensive coaches, line coach Tim Krumrie and secondary coach Ray Horton, his former players on the Super Bowl Bengals.
But Lebeau also stuck with defensive assistant Louie Cioffi, a Bruce Coslet hire when he joined the staff in '97 from C.W. Post after a stint under Coslet when both were with the Jets.
The status quo on defense figures to draw criticism. Since the staff has been together from 1997, the unit has twice given up the most points in franchise history (452 in 1998 and 460 in 1999) and has finished no higher than 22nd in NFL total defense the past four seasons.
This season is the best of the four, with the Bengals finishing 22nd overall, 24th against the rush and 23rd against the pass.
The 359 points allowed is the fewest the club has yielded since they gave up 319 in 1993 during Ron Lynn's last season as coordinator.
The numbers back up the belief they are decent against the run, but need desperate help on the pass rush and in the secondary. They finished in the top seven in allowing 3.8 yards per rush. But their 26 touchdown passes were the fourth most allowed in the NFL and their 26 sacks were the second fewest, only one ahead of Arizona.
But defensive tackle Oliver Gibson, fresh off agreeing to a four-year contract extension keeping him here until the middle of the decade, was pleased to hear things were staying the same on defense.
"I know how it might look to people outside," Gibson said. "But a big reason I'm happy here is because of Coach LeBeau and Coach Krumrie. There's very thin line between good and great defensive teams. The most important thing is to know what you're doing."