Reports: Mularkey trip set

12-31-02, 6:30 p.m. Updated:
12-31-02, 7:10 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, a Sam Wyche student of attack offense, is going to prep for his club's playoff game with the Browns in a job interview with the Bengals. Tuesday's various media reports said that the meeting is scheduled for Saturday.

That comes after the club received permission to speak with Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis for the head coaching job that has been open less than 36 hours.

"I think there is a lot of talent there and it's going to be a good opportunity for someone," Lewis said Tuesday night from Washington. Asked if it would be a good opportunity for him, Lewis said, "I'd rather not comment."

Both are high-profile coordinators with post-season experience. Lewis, 44, is architect of the Ravens' record- setting defense that won the Super Bowl two years ago, and Mularkey, 41, has led the Pittsburgh offense to back-to-back top five finishes in the rankings and playoff berths in his two seasons as coordinator.

Mularkey couldn't be reached for comment and the Bengals won't confirm the reports or talk

about who else is on their list. Former Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin and Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith apparently had yet to be contacted as the old year began to turn into the new around dinnertime.

Bengals President Mike Brown and his family are apparently headed to Pittsburgh Saturday for the visit with Mularkey. The NFL prefers candidates who are still in the playoffs to be interviewed in their city.

It's an ironic interview of sorts. After nine seasons as a tight end in the NFL, Mularkey got his start in coaching from Wyche when the former Bengals head coach moved on to Tampa Bay. It was Wyche's departure from Cincinnati 11 years ago this week that started a row of dominoes leading to this coaching search after missing the playoffs in 12 straight seasons.

With Mularkey, the Bengals would be getting a descendant of Wyche's creative theory of offense that he learned at the knee when Wyche hired him with the Buccaneers as quality control coach in 1994 before making him tight ends coach in 1995.

""Sam was always trying to attack people,'' Mularkey told "The Pittsburgh Post Gazette," when he first became the Steelers' coordinator last year. "If you're trying to substitute, he'd snap the ball. He was trying to attack you between plays. It wasn't just when the ball was snapped. A team would try to defend you by sending out better personnel but he'd try to hurry-up with the offense before they could do that. I have tapes of 15, 16 [defensive] guys on the field when the ball's being snapped."

This isn't the first time the Bengals have looked at Mularkey. In their search for an offensive coordinator two years ago, they had him on their list until Steelers head coach Bill Cowher promoted him to coordinator from tight ends coach. One of Mularkey's close friends, Bob Bratkowski, then the Steelers receivers coach, got the Bengals job. Which is why a Mularkey hire would probably keep much of the offense intact.

Wyche, who couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday, has always spoken highly of Mularkey and has been an admirer of his work in Pittsburgh. One of his specialties is the Statue of Liberty play for quarterback Kordell Stewart, just one of the many tricks Mularkey has been able to pull off in his two years there calling plays

"When he was with us, Mike was coming up with those ideas," Wyche told the "Post-Gazette." "I encouraged that when I could; you don't just get that from every coach."

What Wyche also liked about him is that Mularkey wrote letters to every NFL team and every college that fielded a football team, Division I through NAIA in an effort to get a job. He got one job offer, NAIA Concordia in St. Paul, Minn. It paid just about five figures and, at the same time, he went to the University of Minnesota and worked as a software salesman for IBM.

He heard Wyche might be interested after reading one of his annual letters, so Mularkey paid his own way to the '94 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., borrowed a pass off his old Vikings line coach for the nightly cocktail/schmoozing hour, and introduced himself to everyone in the ballroom instead of standing with the knot of unemployed coaches.

"He walked up to me on the field at the Senior Bowl and immediately it felt just right,'' Wyche said. "He was eager and hungry, trying to break in. He had the background. Mike was prepared."

The Bengals are going to send their assistant coaches to the week leading up to the Jan. 17 Senior Bowl, whether the Bengals have a new head coach or not. It's a sign of goodwill by Brown because it is also a big job fair as well as a college all-star game.

But since the staff is in transition, the Bengals won't coach in the game, a job that goes to the two teams with the NFL's worst records. With coach Marty Mornhinweg retained in Detroit, the game will probably be coached by the staffs of the Lions and Texans.

Brown has reportedly given at least two assistants permission to pursue other opportunities.

FOUR SIGNED: The Bengals Tuesday signed four players to the off-season roster. Defensive tackle Mario Monds (University of Cincinnati) signed a two-year contract. He will be classified as a second-year NFL player in 2003. Linebacker Tito Rodriguez (Central Florida) and TE Derek Smith (Kentucky) signed three-year contracts. They will both be classified as first-year players in 2003. Monds, Rodriguez and Smith all finished the 2002 season on the Bengals practice squad. Also signed to the off-season roster was cornerback Tierre Sams of Fresno State. Sams, who was with the Bengals in preseason in 2002, signed a two-year contract. He will be classified as a first-year player in 2003.

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ANDERSON NAMED:** The Bengals have selected right offensive tackle Willie Anderson as the team's nominee for the 2002 NFL Walter Payton Man-of-the-Year Award. The NFL Tuesday announced the list of 32 team nominees for the award, the only league award that recognizes player off-the-field community service as well as playing excellence.

Anderson has been a stalwart on the field for the Bengals, starting on the line

for each of running back Corey Dillon's consecutive seasons of 1100 or more rushing yards. Anderson has the most Bengals games (110) and Bengals starts (104) on the Cincinnati roster, and he is tied with Dillon for the most consecutive Bengals starts (48).

Off the field, Anderson is a leader in efforts to benefit children and the homeless. He works with Cincinnati Children's Hospital as well as with the Boys and Girls Clubs. He is a Little League football sponsor, and has announced plans to start a scholarship fund for youths.

The prestigious award was renamed in 1999 for the legendary Chicago Bears Pro Football Hall of Fame running back. The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award has been given annually since 1970. The winner will be selected by an elite panel of judges including NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Sports Illustrated writer Peter King, Connie Payton (wife of the late Walter Payton), and former players Frank Gifford, Jack Kemp, John Mackey, and last year's award winner, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis. The winner will receive $25,000 to donate to his selected charity. Each finalist will receive a $1,000 contribution towards a charity of his choice.

The 2002 Walter Payton Man of the Year winner will be announced during Tagliabue's annual news conference Jan. 24 prior to Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego.

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