1-19-03, 5:15 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
MOBILE, Ala. _ Jim Anderson is staying put as the Bengals running backs coach after being informed Sunday night the Steelers are staying inside to hire their next offensive coordinator.
Anderson, who interviewed with Steelers head coach Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh Saturday night, got the word when Cowher left a phone message for him that he had opted to promote from his own staff in replacing new Bills head coach Mike Mularkey. Anderson was out of pocket here much of Sunday evening because he was involved in the Bengals' coaches first meeting with the North squad that they will direct in Saturday's Senior Bowl.
"I thank Coach Cowher for the opportunity. You learn through every experience. You're always learning no matter how long you've been anywhere," said the 55-year-old Anderson as he heads into his 21st season with the Bengals. "I'm happy. It's tough when you've been some place for so long, but when an opportunity like this comes along, you owe it your family, your self, your profession to take a look at it."
Anderson admitted it was strange being in the Steelers' facility after all these years. He has coached against Pittsburgh in 40 games, and Cowher has been the head man in 24 of them.
"Yeah, it was. I've never been over on their side," Anderson said. "I've gone up to Pittsburgh to work guys out, but I've never been on he Steelers' side. It's good to see a different facility and in some regard you appreciate a little more what you have."
Even though he doesn't have a title, Anderson has always appreciated the amount of input he gets in the running and passing games since he came to Cincinnati with Sam Wyche in 1984, as well as the amount of scouting and say he has in personnel. It's believed that Cowher has tapped tight ends coach Ken Whisenhunt, 41, a former NFL tight end for nine seasons and three teams. Whisenhunt replaced Mularkey as tight ends coach in 2001 when Cowher promoted Mularkey to coordinator.
RUDI, RUDI:** The agent for running back Rudi Johnson said Sunday night he's had preliminary talks with the Bengals about signing his client to a multi-year deal before free agency begins in six weeks. Peter Schaffer, in town for the Senior Bowl, said Johnson's situation isn't dependent on a trade or release of Corey Dillon.
"We don't make personnel decisions," Schaffer said. "Rudi loves being a Cincinnati Bengal, loves playing for Marvin Lewis, and he has a great relationship with the Brown family, especially Paul Brown. That is just some of what goes into it. We'll see if their actions speak louder than their words."
Head coach Marvin Lewis said the day after the season re-signing Johnson is a major '04 priority, but Schaffer won't be shy about taking Johnson on the market even though it would be as a restricted free agent. He points to Johnson's age and likes to remind people that his client turned just 24 during the season, only three months before Bengals rookie quarterback Carson Palmer. Schaffer figures he'll be the most accomplished young running back available with guys like the Eagles' Duce Staley (29 come March) becoming free. Schaffer compared Johnson to another of his clients, Steelers running back Jerome Bettis.
"Even a guy like Corey Dillon is 29," Schaffer said. "Rudi is about the same age as a lot of these kids here and he's already got three years experience and he's already rushed for (957 yards) in a season. Age is something that personnel people are going to look at with a guy like that, particularly at running back. It's very analogous to Jerome. He came out early, and has been well compensated because he's had three chances instead of two."
A team would have to be prepared to lose a first-round pick if the Bengals don't match an offer sheet for Johnson because it's assumed the club is going to offer him a one-year deal in the $1.5-2 million range to get that option.
That's why restricted free agents don't leave teams very often (last year linebacker Takeo Spikes became the first player the Bengals never matched), and teams have to know that Cincinnati is very serious about keeping Johnson after he became the first back in club history to have three 150-yard games in the same season.
Still, Shaffer thinks Johnson has last year on his side, after the Redskins dished out huge bucks to lure wide receiver Laveranues Coles and running back Chad Morton from the Jets despite the restricted tag. That may have been an anomaly between two teams who really don't like each other, but Schaffer isn't so sure. It certainly proves it only takes one team to set the gold standard.
"Running backs, receivers, the skilled guys, historically, those are the (restricted free agents) that interest other teams," he said.
GREAT NORTH CALL:** Bengals assistant strength coach Kurtis Shultz doesn't expect to know until later this week about his bid to become the head strength coach for the Vikings. Shultz interviewed with old friend Mike Tice in Minnesota late last week for the vacancy created by Steve Wetzel's departure to Arizona and a reunion with new Cardinals coach Dennis Green.
Tice and Shultz are both University of Maryland products. Tice played quarterback at College Park in the late 1970s, and Shultz played basketball there before becoming the
program's strength and conditioning coach in the late 1990s. Tice is an avid Terps basketball fan, and when they came to Minneapolis to play in a Final Four, Tice, then the Vikings offensive line coach, had Shultz come in and work out his linemen.
"Coach Tice and I go back a ways. We first met in Boise when we were in the NCAAs and he came out there," Shultz said. "I guess he figured I've got a chance to be a head strength coach."
Shultz, 31, who, along with strength coach Chip Morton, has been a key figure in head coach Marvin Lewis' overhaul of the Bengals' weight room, a decision many players have said is one of the big reasons for the club's resurgence.