Scott Mitchell gets his third start as the Bengals quarterback in Tennessee this Sunday. He sat down with Geoff Hobson of bengals.com earlier this week to talk about the sudden change in his life and on his team with his promotion to No. 1 over franchise quarterback Akili Smith.**
HOBSON: Were you stunned when you heard (Bengals President Mike Brown) say this job was open? I think you thought this was going to be a one-year stop for you.
MITCHELL: I didn't know what it would be. You just never know. If you go to a place where there's an established veteran guy, I think it's pretty clear. But when you have someone unproven, there's always the potential something could happen. I just haven't thought that much about it.
HOBSON: You're a free agent and you've said you wouldn't feel great about making it four teams in four years next season.
MITCHELL: It definitely would be a whole lot easier to have some stability and continuity and be familiar with people and surroundings. But after being to two and three different places, it's pretty much the same everywhere you go. It's not a whole lot different. I would definitely rather have it where I was familiar.
HOBSON: The team here seems to be happy with the fact you're a veteran guy who has the passing game up to NFL standards.
Probably the defining plays in that last drive against Arizona besides Corey Dillon's clutch runs were your third-and-six pass to tight end Tony McGee and the third-and-7 pass to Peter Warrick. I guess those are the plays that separate veteran quarterbacks from rookies.
MITCHELL: I don't want to be looked at as a guy who can just win some games here and there. But a guy who can get to the playoffs and we get a shot to go to the Super Bowl. I don't want to be looked at as a stop-gap thing for a year or whatever. I think I've got a lot of football left in me. I'm still relatively young. (Mitchell turns 33 the week after the season).
HOBSON: You helped Detroit go to the playoffs three times. What do the Bengals need to make it?
MITCHELL: Every team doesn't have everything. The biggest thing is an attitude that comes from a work ethic. I don't think that it's guys don't want to do it. I don't think they have had some one say, 'Here s how you do it. Here's what's expected of you, and that's what I like about (Dick) LeBeau.
He gives guys some directions, what they need to hear, what's important. He gives them information and it's up to the players to take it and run with it.
HOBSON: Did you sense the team was drifting before LeBeau?
MITCHELL: I don't think there's any question. I was around Bruce (Coslet) for only three games, but I think he even saw it was time for him to go. I didn't get the sense everyone was on board with what he was trying to do.
HOBSON: Is there any awkwardness between you and Akili?
MITCHELL: It's a tough situation. Human nature makes it that way a little bit. A lot of it depends on the individuals involved. But it's not because of me or because of him that the situation is how it is right now. The coach made the decision he felt was what we need as a team.
I didn't make the decision. Akili didn't make the decision. If there's any kind of awkwardness, it might be toward who's making the decision. But it shouldn't be between quarterbacks. I've been very supportive of Akili. I've tried to help him out as much as I could.
HOBSON: Has he been supportive of you?
MITCHELL: Yeah. I have a sense he's disappointed and I'm sure very frustrated about where it is. I'm sure he's probably going, "What do I do now?"
HOBSON: You've said it would be a good idea for him not to keep shutting out the media. You said it did more harm than good for you.
MITCHELL: You can't defend yourself if you never talk to them. You may try to defend yourself and it may not get out there, but if you totally shut them out, you leave a lot of things up to their interpretation, and I think people will be spinning their stories the way they want for the most part. But I think it's important to give your view of it and your feelings about it.
HOBSON: You went through some controversy in Detroit and in Baltimore just last year.
MITCHELL: I really don't think Baltimore was a controversy. I just wasn't given much of chance. I played a game and a half.
HOBSON: That's when (Ravens coach Brian) Billick said you were his guy and the next thing you know Stoney Case was the quarterback?
MITCHELL: He gave Stoney Case four or five games, he gives Tony Banks six or seven. What would have happened if you gave me five or six games? Where would you be at that point?
HOBSON: You don't know what happened in Baltimore, but you do know in Detroit, right?
MITCHELL: I'm real clear what happened in Detroit. It boiled down to my style of being a player didn't mesh with (Lions coach) Bobby Ross' style of being a coach and I don't think I was the only player like that.
HOBSON: Because you like to state your opinion?
MITCHELL: I like to express my knowledge and insight on things, but not to a point I'm trying to usurp his authority. I'm just trying to say, "Hey, I want to let you know what I'm thinking."
HOBSON: Do you think that rubbed Ross the wrong way?
MITCHELL: I think he had a general mistrust of players in general. I don't think he had a good line of communication. He was one dimensional. He had tunnel vision about what he wanted and anything outside of that was a distraction.
I wasn't a guy that was a jerk. I went to all the off-season things. It wasn't like I was a rebel. I just think it boiled down to I didn't fit his style of coaching and I don't think he took advantage of my strengths when I was there.
HOBSON: Which are?
MITCHELL: I think I have a pretty good feel and understanding for this game. I think we never took advantage of what defenses were doing to us because of how (future Hall of Fame running back) Barry (Sanders) was. We had some really good receivers and we had a lot of one-on-one matchups and we were just never able to take advantage of that.
HOBSON: This team tries to do that.
MITCHELL: Very much so. But we have a different type of running back. We're not getting put into a lot consistent third-and-11s and third-and-12s.
HOBSON: Sometimes with Barry you would face those, I guess, when he would try to make the big run by stretching the defense.
MITCHELL: Again, it's because I think Barry was one of those players who didn't mesh with Bobby Ross' style of player. He wanted a Corey Dillon-type of runner.
HOBSON: Do you like a Corey Dillon power type of runner?
MITCHELL: I have no problem with it at all. It's not right or wrong. But (in Detroit), you get one philosophy over here, but another over there, so they don't really have the players that mesh with that philosophy. Some guys can't mold that together.
HOBSON: You've said the one knock on you that upset you the most was when they called you a quitter in Detroit.
MITCHELL: That really bothered me. That I didn't care. I don't feel that way at all. I was devastated. I felt betrayed. It's a hard thing to explain when you hear, "You're the reason we're losing, so we're sitting you on the bench and we have no confidence in you and no faith in you what so ever.
I could go back and tell you time and time again when we won games in the last two minutes or just how many years I played injured and hurt. The criticism just got to a point where it was just too much. It affected me in a lot of ways.
HOBSON: You don't seem bitter now.
MITCHELL: I feel so much different in this situation here and it's because I learned from Detroit.
HOBSON: Is that why you've been real open here? The media is loving it.
MITCHELL: I've been me, I'm not hiding how I feel. I'm not going to rip on people. I try to be positive about things, but I try to tell you the truth and how I really see it. I think that's a lot of what happened in Detroit. I internalized everything. I never let it out.
It was going to be taken the wrong way. I'd be asked a question and it was, well, he's always making excuses. So I wouldn't want to say anything and it was, well, he never talks to us. I felt like no matter what I'd do or say, it was against me. I don't know if that's my perception of that's how it was, or that's how it really was. It's just important for me to be who I am and I don't think I let the players or media in Detroit see that.
HOBSON: Have you opened up to the players here?
MITCHELL: I certainly hope so. I didn't come here as the starter. I don't know if in Detroit it was the expectations I was burdened by. I was one of the first people to sign a big (free-agent deal in 1994) and get a lot of money. At the time, it was a three-year, $11.5 million deal with a $5 million signing bonus and back then it was, "Holy Cow." Now, that's what offensive linemen get. But back then, it was like you've got to be as right as rain all the time or forget it. It was a tough situation.
HOBSON: This team hasn't had a successful leader at quarterback since those five games at the end of '97 with Boomer Esiason. That's all these kids have had here. After last Sunday's game, Tony and Willie Anderson said the biggest thing you did was lead the huddle and talk to guys. Do you feel guys thirsting for leadership?
MITCHELL: I think we all are in a sense. I definitely think it's a big part of my responsibility. There has to be someone to orchestrate and put it all together and give them something to focus on and work towards for every series, every game.
I'm not out there screaming and yelling, but I'm saying things that need to be said and saying them when they need to be said, and even the way they need to be said.
HOBSON: Any examples?
MITCHELL: Before the game, (I said) the only way you win is you work hard and finish and you have to finish every play because you don't know when that big one is going to come. That was was my whole thing during the week (was) about finishing the season and do it the right way and not just go through the motions.
On the third-and-1s and third-and-2s, I might say, "Hey, we've got to get this first down."
HOBSON: How about on that third-and-seven to Warrick out of the shotgun? Did you say anything to him as you broke the huddle?
MITCHELL: I'd been telling those guys even though we're running the ball, you have to expect we're going to need a big catch. We're going to need a big play on third down that wins the game.
I try not to say much specific in the huddle. I try to get them in and out of there. A lot of my tempo is to get this pace going. I think it's hard for a defense.
HOBSON: Tony thought your tempo wore down Arizona.
MITCHELL: It's tough for a defense, especially late in the year and you've been taking a pounding.
HOBSON: I don't think Bengals fans' know that much about you. You just kind of came into their lives. You're building a home in Orlando (Florida) on a lake.
MITCHELL: I love to fish.
HOBSON: What kind?
MITCHELL: My favorite kind is to fly fish. I'm not one of these purists who only fish for trout or one type. I'll fish with bass with a fly rod and northern pike. I do that a lot.
HOBSON: You probably are building with the high rollers in Orlando, like Tiger and Griffey Jr.
MITCHELL: No. I can see where the rich people live with my binoculars.
HOBSON: Do you hunt?
MITCHELL: I try, but our season is the same. I hunt small game, deer. I just like the outdoors and I'm not into killing things. I really don't. When I fish, I throw everything back and I only hunt if I'm going to use it.
HOBSON: You mean, eat it?
MITCHELL: Definitely. I'm not into hanging all the things on the wall. To me, I enjoy it, but I also understand the management side of it.
HOBSON: What's the biggest thing you ever shot?
MITCHELL: Probably a wild boar.
HOBSON: How big was that?
MITCHELL: It was in Florida a few years ago. I'm not sure how big.
HOBSON: Bigger than a blitzing linebacker?
MITCHELL: No, they're not that big.
HOBSON: What's the biggest fish you ever caught?
I had a friend on the Dolphins (offensive lineman Jeff Dellenbach) and he called me up one day and told me he got a new boat. A sea fishing boat. He wanted to take it on the ocean for the first time, so we get everything ready.
We buy the bait, and it's live bait, and all the bait is the same except for this one fish and I think it's a fish that gets thrown away. Trash. But the guy says, "No, that's a good one," so I throw my line out there and right away the rod takes off. Z-i-I-p. This big sailfish skies out of the water, so I grab the rod and I'm fighting this fish.
We kind of knew what we were doing, but we didn't know. Know what I mean? So we get this fish in, and it's a huge sailfish. Like 69, 70 pounds.
We're laughing now, because it's the first time we've been in the boat, it's the first thing we did on the trip, and we figure we're just going to kill them.
We sat out there all day and didn't get another bite. Not a nibble. We went out three more times in that boat, and the same thing. Nothing.
HOBSON: You played your first four seasons behind Dan Marino in Miami. What did you learn from him?
MITCHELL: His whole thing was, "I want to keep this as simple as possible and I don't want my mind cluttered." His whole thing was making quick decisions and getting rid of the ball. He felt that put more pressure on the defense than anything else. To make the defense read quickly and when you do that, they don't have a whole lot of time to fool around. If you're on the defensive line, that wears you out, knowing he's throwing it so quickly.
HOBSON: Why do you wear No. 19?
MITCHELL: I've worn it ever since my coach got us new uniforms when I was a junior in high school. I've worn it in high school, college (University of Utah) and every NFL team. I've just always liked the number. I don't know why.
Then I saw this NFL Films thing on (former Baltimore quarterback) Johnny Unitas and I really liked how he was. I never watched him play because I was too young, but when I saw that – playing catch with the Rooney kids when he was with the Steelers _ and then they cut him and he goes back to sandlot football and comes out of nowhere.
HOBSON: You liked his story.
MITCHELL: Yeah. I wore the number before that, but it solidified it for me, and when I went to Baltimore last year, it became a big issue because I wanted to wear No. 19, his number.
HOBSON: You ended up wearing it.
MITCHELL : My agent (Tony Agnone of Baltimore) has actually done stuff for Johnny and I got to meet him and to know him a little bit.
HOBSON: Did you ask him if you could wear it?
MITCHELL: I actually talked to him about it. He said, "I don't give a (crap), do what you want to do." That's how he is. A no-nonsense guy and I liked him even more. And he was like, "I could care less."
The way I look at it, people buy jerseys, sit in the stands and wear the number of their favorite player. I said, "To me, it's just a tribute to remember the kind of player he was."
(Ravens owner Art) Modell wanted me to wear it. He said the Ravens were in a different situation than the Colts and they were looking to create a different deal.
HOBSON: You were talking about chads the other day, but even though you live in Florida, you voted absentee from Michigan. Do you like politics?
MITCHELL: I'm not a junkie, but I like to follow what's going on. The election fascinates me. The thing that bothers me about politics is people can't be honest and be a politician. You have to appeal to many different type of people. If you're going to be elected the president of the United States, you can't be too much of one thing and you tend to be a little hypocritical.
HOBSON: Are you still lugging around that huge World War II book?
MITCHELL: That book got a little long and I knew the ending. It was a dry book. I like to read about four or five at a time, where I'll leave one, go to another, and come back to it.
I started reading when I got to Detroit. We're pretty busy here all during the day, but in other places you get a lot of down time. I used to read to to relax me. I could be thinking about the game and I get so uptight about it, so worried about everything, I couldn't relax. By the time I got to the game, I was so uptight I couldn't function. It really helped me stay calm and relax in pressure situations.
HOBSON: What do you read?
MITCHELL: Non-fiction books. Historical books. I like to read about people. I'm reading that new book about Joe DiMaggio now.
HOBSON: Do you think you'll be like Unitas here and come out of nowhere?
MITCHELL: I sure would like to. I really would. As long as I've played football, I've had a desire and drive to do it. It's not always gone my way and that's been OK because it made me try harder, and push myself and do more things than I thought I was capable of doing. I feel like I have an edge when I play.