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Old school still open

Ken Anderson could have said it wasn't his fault.

He could have said the head coach left, the receivers were too young, and the quarterback too raw.

He could have said it was an unfair decision after a crazy-quilt season of more chain reactions than a Los Alamos morning.

He could have said all those things on his way out the A&E Door. But he didn't because they don't tell tales out of the old school.

"I don't think," Anderson said Friday, "that there's anything wrong with the old school."

The season was so miserable offensively that no one can quibble with head coach Dick LeBeau's decision to find a new offensive coordinator to replace Anderson. A coach who can put Akili Smith into the era of Donovan McNabb instead of the era of Art Donovan.

But it's always tough when one guy has to fall.

It was Anderson's first full day back at work since his demotion last week from offensive coordinator to quarterbacks coach. And make no mistake. He is back on the staff because the head coach wants him there.

And the questions came as LeBeau looks for a new offensive coordinator to all but blow up the scheme that Anderson has nipped and tucked for 30 years as the Bengals' all-time leading passer and a coach.

What's wrong with the scheme?

Is it the players and not the scheme?

Did you give second-year quarterback Akili Smith too much of the offense to handle?

But Anderson made it as clear as crisply as one of his slant passes to Dan Ross.

"I'm not going to get into all that," Anderson said. "I can understand why the move was made. And now it's time to move on."

He admitted he isn't quite sure what his role is until a new coordinator is named.

What if the coordinator is a guy who works with quarterbacks? What then?

"I've signed a contract," said Anderson about the possibility of leaving. "This has been my home for a long time. I had the opportunity to stay and I took it."

Is his relationship with Smith too strained after the quarterback left town for the offseason publicly wondering about his future with Anderson and the scheme?

One of Smith's points was that when Bruce Coslet resigned after the season's first three games and Anderson took on the full offensive load, there was hardly time for individual attention.

"I don't think it was as drastic as all that," Anderson said. "He was frustrated. We're all frustrated. I don't know of a problem. I look forward to working with him."

But to answer the X-and-O questions, the ugly little questions that must be asked,

would be to defend himself. And for a guy who once stared down the big, bad Oakland Raiders behind one bar on his face mask and steered a town and a team to the Super Bowl on precision and patience, that wouldn't be old school.

Nowadays, players and coaches leave NFL towns and teams as carefree as The Hat and The Car wheeling around the Monopoly Board. And while they pass Go and


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collect $200, they usually use their Get out of Jail Free card to heap some verbal abuse.

Say what you will about Anderson and this offense that finished last in NFL passing this season.

Say what you will about an offense that in the last decade has chased one franchise quarterback out of the league while not finding out yet what the most recent one can do.

Say all that and yet Anderson flashed some old school Friday and there should be something said for that.

Why stay? Why stay and get the office moved down the hall and get a new boss and get a new playbook?

"The Bengals are my life," Anderson said. "This franchise, and the success of this franchise, means the world to me."

OK, so it's not Lou Gehrig saying he's the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

But in the year 2001, it sounds almost as impressive.

Say what you will. But there are guys like 11-year veteran quarterback Scott Mitchell who saw the crushing affects of the 12-16 hour days Anderson logged in the office resulting in 121 passing yards per game.

And he saw a decent guy in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"I appreciate all the hard work he put in there," Mitchell said. "After Bruce left, he was just trying to ride the ship out like the rest of us. He was told to run the football and we ran the football.

"We weren't going to get big passing numbers," Mitchell said. "Sometimes I felt limited. I thought we could do more passing. But I understand where Dick was coming from. It takes a few years for a team to establish an identity."

The Bengals were trying to do it after their playcaller and chief offensive coach, Coslet, resigned 180 minutes into the season.

"Ken didn't have an offseason, a minicamp, or a training camp," Mitchell said. "He was making the best of the situation. He did what he was told to do."

Some think the transition from Coslet to Anderson was particularly jarring because they had such different approaches and Anderson spent more time with the players than Coslet.

Then there were the five receivers who came into the season with 15 NFL catches and the quarterback who had two NFL touchdown passes.

But Anderson, "won't get into all that." He leaves with the rest of the coaches on Sunday to start the all-star game scouting, and he wonders like the rest about what the new coordinator will want.

For an old school guy like LeBeau, letting go of Anderson couldn't have been an option.

They still argue over the Great Question. Did LeBeau, in his final years as a Lions Pro Bowl cornerback, ever intercept a young Bengals quarterback named Ken Anderson?

"He says it was my rookie year in an exhibition game," Anderson said. "I say it was the year before and the guy wearing No. 14 then was Sam Wyche. But I wouldn't argue with his memory.

"All I know," Anderson said, "is I'm thrilled to death Dick got the job and I'm going to do the best I can to make sure he succeeds."

There would be no defending or ripping or second-guessing.

The old school is still in session in some parts.

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