Players looking for more

12-31-02, 8 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Willie Anderson, who has played in more Bengals' games than anyone on the roster, isn't looking for Mike Brown to step down, but to come down.

"As team leaders," Anderson said in the wake of Dick LeBeau's firing, "we need to have some kind of lines of communication open with him. I'm not looking for Mike Brown to step down, but for him to come down and be more of a presence in the locker room. If not him, then someone from management."

If the fans are hollering for more changes than just a change in coaching staff, the players are also waiting for another shoe to drop.

"If people think Dick LeBeau is the only reason we are where we are, I'm sorry," said linebacker Takeo Spikes.

It's believed that at least four assistant coaches (Ken and Jim Anderson, Mark Duffner, Paul Alexander) have at least one year left on their contracts, but word that Brown is going to allow the new head coach to pick his staff apparently isn't what fans and players had in mind about a massive change.

Anderson is also looking for changes in the front office, where he would like to see more minority hirings and pushed for the appointment of the club's first African-American head coach.

"Find a qualified guy, interview

him, and strongly consider him," Anderson said. "It would be good with how race relations have been in this community the last couple of years. Being the Bengals, we're one the biggest companies in this city. Show them how we feel about equality."

Coaches look like the only change in an organization under fire where the owner is also the general manager.

If you're sick, you have a cold, you don't just wipe your nose with a Kleenex,'' Pro Bowl fullback Lorenzo Neal.You've treated the symptom, but you haven't treated the problem. I think you need to change. You have to be committed to change.''

To say you're 2-14 just because of the head coach is a long way from the truth,'' said quarterback Jon KitnaWe've been through four head coaches now in 12 years, and that hasn't changed. You've been through a ton of quarterbacks, and that hasn't changed. You have to look harder and look for the root of the problem.''

One problem Anderson and Neal see is Brown's aloofness from the players. He goes to every practice, but he keeps his interaction with them to a minimum.

"If not him ,someone who is in a position of control of making decisions on players," Anderson said. "We need someone to come down here when we're 0-4 and say, 'What's the problem? Pick it up.' Or, have guys saying, 'Mr. Brown is coming down,' and they've got to shape up. He should know who is joking around down here, who is going all out. Even come down in strength and conditioning and the training room. We need that presence somewhere."

This is Neal's fifth team and he has seen the owner do it just about every way. In Tennessee, the players rarely saw Bud Adams. In Tampa Bay, they knew and talked to the Glazers. But those teams had general managers.

"If the owner wants to be the GM, he has to know his clients and should know his own players," Neal said. "The players do want that voice, they do want to be able to talk to him, Those are things that have to be addressed."

For his part, Brown indicated Monday he isn't changing his style. He does talk to players when approached, he's had at least two conversations with quarterback Jon Kitna in the past month, and players in past years have taken him up on his open door policy in his office.

But he believes that the bond between player and coach is sacred. After watching what happened to his father with the Cleveland Browns, when owner Art Modell became so involved with the players and drove a wedge between them, Brown has vowed to keep his interaction with players in the background.

"That's the job of the coach," Brown said. "He has to always be the one dealing with the players. I won't get in the way of that."

Anderson is also looking for other things to happen, such as minority hiring in the front office.

A Dec. 1 story in "The Cincinnati Enquirer," reported a total of two African-Americans in the staff directory of 65 employees and team support.

"I'm not saying fire people," said Anderson of the front office. "Or talking about top positions. But just getting some more (minorities) in different parts of the front office."

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