2-5-03 6 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
A Bengals' tradition starts to fade as the club continues to shift more and more of its personnel duties away from the coaching staff.
With the hiring of former tight ends coach John Garrett as a scout Wednesday, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis prepared to map out his pre-draft strategy with less demands on his assistant coaches.
Garrett's hire, coupled with the appointment of NFL veteran Bill Tobin on Monday, gives Lewis the ability to take much of the scouting burden and traveling assignments off and away from his assistants in the weeks leading up to the April 26-27 NFL Draft.
"(The coaches) have things to do," Lewis said. "There's a different process. We don't have to talk about that anymore. This is part of the evolution Mike (Brown) has talked about throughout, and part of the decisions we needed to make for us to maximize getting better."
The size of the Bengals' player personnel department, oft-criticized as the smallest in the league, now has numbers comparable to their AFC North rivals, and the confidence of Lewis. Lewis still wants his coaches to keep a hand in scouting, which is one of the things that attracted the Bengals to him, but he is also looking for balance.
"I can be here watching seven guys on tape a day rather than go to one workout," said Lewis, who will set the schedules. "We had this thing turned just a little bit different from other teams, that's all.
"There will be some guys we need to target and we're going to go see those guys with our coaches and our scouting staff. The other guys, as we go down the line, we've seen them at the combine and we get videos of their workouts. We'll be like every other team."
According to media guides, the Bengals now have seven evaluators in the scouting process not counting assistants. That's compared to nine each for Pittsburgh and Cleveland, and 11 for Baltimore. The Bengals have 99 years of NFL scouting and personnel experience, compared to 96 for the Ravens, 76 for the Browns, and 122 for the Steelers.
The Steelers have a scout who works for the scouting service BLESTO, but all his information goes to Pittsburgh as well as the other NFL teams subscribing to BLESTO. The Bengals pay for scouting reports from National, another scouting service also used by several NFL clubs.
Three of those years belong to Garrett, 37, who broke into the league scouting pro personnel for Tampa Bay. But his six years as a Bengals' coach have schooled him well for the art of scouting because no team in the NFL has relied so heavily on their coaches to scout. Now those days look to be over.
"Here, you do more scouting and do it more efficiently than even some scouts at other places because you have so much on your plate," Garrett said. "When your coaches scout, one thing has to be very clear. You have to have coaches who like to scout and are effective and good at it. If you do have those guys and trust their evaluation skills and their ability to organize, you let them do more.
"If you don't and you have guys that have never done it, then their responsibility is less. I think that's the way its developing with Marvin because I think most of them are used to coaching and with the addition of Bill Tobin and myself to the scouting staff, now we have greater coverage and more knowledgeable opinions from very intriguing perspectives, which really allows us to fully evaluate and analyze a player."
Garrett, working under senior vice president for player personnel Pete Brown, is going to have pretty much the same duties as vice president for player personnel Paul Brown, director of football operations Jim Lippincott, and director of player personnel Duke Tobin. They will also negotiate contracts as well as scout colleges throughout the fall, and pro players throughout the year.
Bill Tobin, a scouting consultant, will also scout the campuses extensively during the fall. Fellow consultant John Cooper also makes some fall visits.
What will be different now is that everybody but Pete Brown, who has to coordinate the draft room, will be going on the road in March and April to relieve the assistant coaches. With Lewis' streamlined strategy, the position coaches will no longer make 30 or so school visits, and they will probably only make trips when the Bengals have targeted a position early in the draft.
For instance, one coach or one scout could gather information from one workout and bring it back to be processed in the draft room.
"For those (top) guys, I want the coordinators and the coaches to make those trips because the big thing is going to be the character of that player," Lewis said.
Garrett can see the benefit of the coaches staying more at home.
"Especially in the first year when they are putting together the offense and the defense and going through how they want things taught," Garrett said. "And then after that, there'll be more time to do projects and you'll have more time to research teams that you're going to play, but haven't played them all that much in the past."
Bengals President Mike Brown has always admired not only Garrett's scouting skills, but also his willingness to give an opinion. Brown will never forget the 1998 draft, when Garrett, then an offensive assistant, recommended the club draft wide receiver Randy Moss. Not only once, but twice because they picked 13th and 17th in the first round. Brown was the only guy that agreed with him, but they got outvoted by the other coaches.
"Best player I've ever scouted," Garrett said. "I do have convictions and you will hear them."
Also Wednesday, the Bengals signed their first player in the Lewis era in free agent fullback Terry Witherspoon. The 5-11, 250-pound Witherspoon, 25, signed with San Diego as a college free agent out of Clemson in 2001. He was on the Chargers and Dallas Cowboys practice squads before being activated by Dallas. He played in the Cowboys' final three games of 2001. He was re-acquired by San Diego on waivers in April of 2002 and was with the Chargers until being waived on Aug. 27.