1-16-04, 1:50 p.m.
1-16-04, 3:10 p.m. Updated:
1-16-04, 6:50 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals moved quickly Friday to fill the spot vacated by wide receivers coach Alex Wood's departure to Arizona as offensive coordinator when they turned to former Redskins offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.
But another team looking for an offensive coordinator came after another one of their position coaches when the Steelers contacted the Bengals about interviewing long-time running backs coach Jim Anderson. Anderson, heading into what would be his 21st season in Cincinnati, is expected to interview with Steelers coach Bill Cowher at next week's Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., for the job vacated by new Bills head coach Mike Mularkey. On Friday, Cowher tapped former Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau for return to Pittsburgh and a second tour as defensive coordinator.
Jackson, 38, who recruited and coached Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer when he was the offensive coordinator at the University of Southern California, left the Trojans before Palmer's junior season in 2001 to join the Redskins as running backs coach under Marty Schottenheimer. He was one of two coaches Steve Spurrier retained in 2002, and then Spurrier appointed him offensive coordinator this past season before Joe Gibbs became the head coach earlier this year.
Jackson, who had also met with the Dolphins and Jaguars after Gibbs cleaned house, had one reason for taking the job in Cincinnati.
"To be with Marvin Lewis," Jackson said of the Bengals head coach. "And to be with that staff that he's created. Guys like Bob Bratkowski, Leslie Frazier. Ken Zampese. It's a chance to be a part of something special and I think everybody can see that the future is very bright there."
Jackson, a former quarterback at Pacific in the mid-1980s who also lettered in basketball, is known as a high-energy, hands-on coach that Lewis is seeking. The bouncy Jackson may be seen as the offense's equivalent to linebackers coach Ricky Hunley, another former Redskins coach Lewis knew from his one year as Spurrier's defensive coordinator in 2002.
"Oh yeah," said Jackson, who is going to meet up with the staff this weekend as the Bengals coach the North squad in the Senior Bowl. "I like to coach. I like being at practice. I like being with the players."
Before his team broke a four-game losing streak back in November with a 27-20 victory over Seattle, Spurrier asked Jackson to speak to the team at the Saturday night meeting.
"We try to use everyone that has a little fire in him," Spurrier said the next week in The Washington Post. "And Hue has got a lot of fire in him, certainly."
And, Lewis loves fire.
"I'm excited to be able to add a coach of Hue's energy and talent to our staff," Lewis said. "He has been a coordinator at both the college and pro levels, and I became well acquainted with the way he works when we were at Washington together. He has a knowledge of all aspects of the offensive game."
In addition to Palmer, Jackson has coached some high-powered players and offenses.
While coaching receivers as well as quarterbacks during his stint at USC, Jackson saw running back Chad Morton score 15 touchdowns and rush for 1,141 yards his senior season before re-joining Jackson this season in Washington as the Redskins' kick-off returner.
Under Jackson, Redskins running back Stephen Davis had a career-high 1,432 yards in 2001, and Davis was on pace for another 1,000-yard season in 2002 before a shoulder injury prematurely ended his bid.
Jackson was in Palmer's home right from the beginning as he watched him play at Santa Margarita High School in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. He's certain Palmer is going to have that same kind of Heisman Trophy success in the NFL.
"Because he's such a good person," said Jackson, when asked what makes Palmer click on the field. "He was easy to recruit and easy to coach. He's got a great family, great people around him. Just a tremendous support group."
Although Spurrier called the bulk of the plays in Washington, he had enough regard for Jackson to make him his first offensive coordinator ever – including at Duke and Florida _ and even stopped the presses by giving the playcalling to Jackson for a couple of games. One of those days was the was the 379-yard effort against Seattle.
"I learned a lot from Coach Spurrier just from a conceptual standpoint," Jackson said. "That was a great opportunity be around a guy and watch the things he can do for an offense".
Jackson's infectious enthusiasm has been known to crack up a coaches' room watching a video of practice, where he has been seen running after and sneaking up on ball carriers in an attempt to strip the ball. Asked if he's ready to chase the equally bubbly Chad Johnson, Jackson said. "I can't wait to get on the field just to coach him and all those other guys."
"Coach Spurrier isn't really a rah-rah guy," fullback Rock Cartwright told the Washington Post back in November. "But it's not needed from him because you have a guy like Coach Hue who does that kind of stuff. His enthusiasm is tremendous. He gets guys ready to go. And when he speaks, he speaks from the heart so guys really listen."
Jackson inherits a formidable group from Wood, the new Cardinals' offensive coordinator. Both starting receivers had career years in virtually every category. Johnson is starting in the Pro Bowl with 90 catches and an AFC-leading 1,355 yards while Peter Warrick missed an 80-catch season by one ball despite getting sidelined the next to last game of the season with arthroscopic knee surgery. Third-round pick Kelley Washington also flashed some rookie promise as the third receiver in responding with 22 catches and four touchdowns, the most passing scores by a rookie wideout since Warrick had four in 2000 and Darnay Scott five in 1994.
"I've already seen some video of them and they're exciting guys to watch," Jackson said. "They're good and they want to be good players. That's what I'm supposed to get them to do."
In Pittsburgh, Steelers tight ends coach Ken Whisenhunt is still perceived as the frontrunner to replace Mularkey. But Anderson, 55, is coming off one of his finest seasons since he joined the Bengals from Stanford when head coach Sam Wyche arrived in 1984. Rudi Johnson became the first player in franchise history to have three 150-yard rushing games in the same season and the ninth to register a 100-yard game in Anderson's tenure. He also got good production out of rookie fullback Jeremi Johnson, a fourth-round draft pick.
Ironically, Steelers running backs coach Dick Hoak is the only position coach in the NFL who has more consecutive years with the same team (33) than Anderson. The Bears made a run at Anderson in the late '90s, but he decided to stay with the Bengals, and he was among the finalists for the Stanford head coaching job after the 2001 season.
The Bengals also signed two free agents Friday in former Redskins and Panthers running back Skip Hicks and former Ravens cornerback Alvin Porter.