10-18-01, 2:10 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Dick LeBeau hadn't been retired a year from the Lions when word filtered down from Detroit by the players and trainers in the fall of 1973.
"You haven't gone, LeBeau," they told him. "There's a kid here from Yale who is just like you. You're reincarnated."
When LeBeau takes his Bengals into Paul Brown Stadium Sunday, he'll look across the field into the mirror and see that kid coaching the Chicago Bears.
Even more spooky?
Dick Jauron got his first intoxicating whiff of coaching in the NFL 20 years ago sitting in the Cincinnati coaching box next to a Bengals secondary coach named Dick LeBeau. Jauron played his last two seasons as a NFL free safety in Cincinnati under LeBeau, with the last year spent on injured reserve with a bad knee.
Asked to tick off the similarities between himself and his NFL double, Jauron laughed Wednesday over the phone from Chicago.
"That's flattering to me," Jauron said. "I don't know how flattering that is to him. The one thing I can tell you about Dick LeBeau is that was the best I played for."
Asked who won their latest golf match, Jauron crisped the answer, "Anytime we've ever played golf, he's won."
Same measured self-depreciation. Same arid one-liners. Same crisp answers that reveal everything and nothing. Same passion for golf, history, folk music. Same surprising three-win start with a team about to equal last season's victory total.
LeBeau has been known to pick up a guitar and twang out a tune. Jauron briefly opened an art gallery after his playing days.
How about this? When LeBeau played in his first NFL head coaches' golf tournament this past spring at the league meetings in Palm Desert, Calif., he won it with a 73. Runnerup? Dick Jauron with a 78.
"They're the same guy," said Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham. "Dick Jauron is as solid as a rock. Just what you would expect from a coach's son.
"If you talk to the guys on the Bears about Jauron, it's almost an echo of what the Bengals say about LeBeau," Lapham said. " He's got great people skills and the players have huge respect for him because he's a straight shooter and a guy who was a very good player."
Lapham, an offensive lineman, and Jauron, two guys who went to high school
on the North Shore of Massachusetts, were natural friends during Jauron's stint with the Bengals from 1978-81. Lapham recalls his teammates voting him Most Valuable Player of the 4-12 team of 1979 with his six interceptions.
Lapham also remembers walking off the field at Riverfront Stadium after the Bengals lost the 1980 opener to Tampa Bay and Jauron asking him what made future Hall of Fame defensive end Lee Roy Selmon so good.
"That was Dick," Lapham said. "He was like a coach when he was playing. He was always asking players and coaches questions. Just a smart guy. If you had a son, believe me, you would want him to grow up to be like Dick Jauron."
The Boston Globe named Jauron one of the Bay State's top 10 prep athletes of the 20th century.
Lapham remembers going to Boston Garden for the state schoolboy basketball tournament and going nuts when Jauron swished a buzzer-beating jumper to give Swampscott the state title.
Bengals President Mike Brown calls him, "the closest thing Yale ever had to Frank Merriwell."
But Jauron felt he had to step out of the storybook when Paul and Mike Brown approached him after his
career ended with the knee injury that sidelined him for the Bengals' entire Super Bowl run in 1981.
"Dick is a very bright guy and you could tell just by the way he handled himself on the field that he would be an excellent coach," Brown said. "My father and I had high regard for him, not only as a player, but as a person, and we thought he'd be a good addition."
Jauron turned down the offer and knew "eight to 10 minutes later," that he wanted to get back into the game.
"The Brown family and the Bengals were good to me. I had a great experience there," Jauron said. "There were other things I wanted to do. I had been in football as long as I could remember. I decided it would probably help me to get away just briefly. I knew I wanted to come back and that I always would come back."
At least one of his teammates wasn't surprised that Jauron went into business.
"Of course, I'm always surprised when someone goes into coaching. It's a lot of damn work," said former Bengals cornerback Louis Breeden, who went corporate with Louis Breeden Promotions.
"Dick struck me as the type of guy who would end up in a corporate office instead of doing Xs and Os," Breeden said. "I was surprised when he went back. But he was a sharp guy and a smart ballplayer. Very disciplined. Paid attention to detail. He's a lot like LeBeau in that he's very easy to get along with. That's probably why I got along with both of them. I'm pretty laid back and they were, too."
Jauron and former Bengals tight end Jim Corbett opened a health and fitness center in Cincinnati after the 1981 season, sold it two years later, and he went to work for Nautilus before former Bengals defensive coordinator Hank Bullough lured Jauron into coaching in 1985 when Bullough was the head man in Buffalo.
At 51, Jauron is 13 years younger than LeBeau and he hesitates to say that any one person shaped his career. But there is no question the year in the coaching box with LeBeau was as big an influence as any.
"I liked his technique," Jauron said. "I liked how things were taught and the way he taught them. The thoroughness that we were taught. How things never changed. Dick didn't change a lot of things, so you had something to build on."
Which is how they have each rebuilt dying programs. Jauron stabilized the Bears to a 4-4 finish last season amid the Cade McNown quarterback mess and now with McNown gone, Jauron has the Bears purring at 3-1 under Jim Miller.
New Bears General Manager Jerry Angelo, Tony Dungy's former personnel man in Tampa Bay, apparently has become a big fan of Jauron and sees a lot of similarities in him and Dungy when it comes to relating to players. So barring a collapse. It looks like Jauron will turn the tables on the critics and survive into next season.
"(Dave) Wannstedt went 9-7 and lost the respect of the team," said one Bears observer of Jauron's predecessor. "Dick went 5-11 last year and got more respect in the locker room."
Sound familiar? LeBeau righted his team following Bruce Coslet's resignation after three games last season and coaxed them to a 4-9 finish that included a 2-2 December. At 3-2 this year, LeBeau has the Bengals over .500 for the first time in October since 1990.
"There's no question," Lapham said, "that LeBeau had a strong influence on his maturation as a young man."
But the competition is simmering. Kind of like at that golf tournament a few years back among coaches and athletes from baseball, football, hockey and basketball.
The one time Jauron and LeBeau were teamed in the tourney, they were pitted against two hockey players who made no secret they thought they would polish off the former DBs in no time.
"You can just kind of tell they thought they were going to beat us," LeBeau said. "We drilled them. No contest. That was fun."
On Sunday, LeBeau won't be looking in the mirror asking who is the fairest one of all.
"I wish Dick all the best," LeBeau said. "But certainly not Sunday."