5-14-04, 3:05 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski followed Panthers head coach John Fox to the podium Thursday. Now, he wants to follow him to the Super Bowl.
Someone must be noting that Bratkowski is overseeing one of the NFL's up-and-coming passing games. As part of the league's coaching symposium in Orlando, Fla., Bratkowski spoke to his peers for about 40 minutes on making the transition from a position coach to coordinator after Fox spoke on going from a coordinator to head coach.
Being part of the NFL's biggest turnaround team in 2003 gets you on the lecture circuit. Marvin Lewis spoke for an hour on what he learned during his first season as a head coach for the 8-8 Bengals. The two-day workshop might not have had the intensity of a Sunday afternoon, but it was an assignment not taken lightly.
"It's an honor any time you can talk to a group of people that are the best in the world at what they do," Bratkowski said. "That's what you're doing when you're talking to a roomful of NFL coaches, head coaches, and coordinators."
There were some light moments. During a segment in the media session in which different coaches were called on to appear in a simulated talk show format, Lewis raised his hand with a question and said, "This is Marvin from McDonald Pa."
But the topics were serious and hit close to home. Bratkowski walked through the easier transitions of being promoted to coordinator from within, or re-joining a head coach. That is what he did in 1995, when Dennis Erickson hired him as the coordinator at Seattle just as he did at Washington State and the universities of Miami and Wyoming.
But Bratkowski admitted the toughest adjustment of all is what he had to do when he came to the Bengals before the 2001 season. The former Steelers wide receivers coach was hired as the coordinator by a head coach that had never worked with him as Bratkowski inherited not only the NFL's worst passing game, but a staff that wasn't his own.
Three years later, the Bengals are coming off a season in which they finished 12th in the pass (ahead of such passing regulars as Green Bay, Jacksonville, and Denver) with a Pro Bowl wide receiver in Chad Johnson.
He chalks up much of the success to the professionalism and flexibility of the men who stayed and the ability since '01 to keep the continuity of philosophy, players, and coaches.
"I was really the only new change on offense and the previous coordinator (Ken Anderson) was still on staff," Bratkowski said. "Fortunately, he was a good friend and made that situation easier because it (could have been) very uncomfortable.
"So we were dealing with a group of coaches on the same staff that had run the same offense for a number of years, had worked together, and now here was this guy coming in to change everything and it required a lot of trust and commitment on those other coaches' parts. Here's this guy forcing them to change their thinking, get them out of their comfort level into something they're uncomfortable with and then re-teach it."
During his talk, Bratkowski was able to draw on that 2001 transition to highlight his major points of communicating with the head coach, adjusting in order to look at the big picture instead of getting buried in a position group, and decision-making.
"You're going to have two different coaches on offense with opposing points of views and sometimes the discussions get heated," Bratkowski said. "It's that coach against this coach and you have to make a decision on their proposals and you have to explain to them it's a call based on what's the best fit for the scheme and players and not if you like this guy or that guy."
Much of the coordinator's job is chairing philosophical discussions as a two- to three-inch playbook is constructed. It's here that Bratkowski says the coordinator has to bring a broader view that positions coaches sometimes can't afford to have.
"You're trying to look at the big picture, because you're trying to give the system room for flexibility and growth," Bratkowski said. "You can't have a lot of exceptions. I call them warts. 'All right guys, this rule at all times, except this time, this time, and this time.' Those exceptions come back to bite you in the butt because the players don't have anything to hang their hat on."
Lewis took the group through each phase of last season, starting with when he got the job. One of his main points was the importance of budgeting time with media and off-field endeavors so other things won't take time away from coaching. Before a roomful of coaches, he also reminded them how important it is to treat their own coaches well.
"They set the tempo for practice. They're the instructors, they're the master teachers. They have to have an energy that runs over into our players," Lewis said. "If they're not happy, if their wives aren't happy, I don't now how much success we're going to have. We want this to be a great place to work for a long time. There are times in coaching there are those worried about getting the next job instead of doing a good job with the one they've got."