Updated: 12-2-08, 5:30 a.m.
If you read between the lines, this is still Marvin Lewis' job if he wants it.
But two things that are pretty clear from Monday's discussion with Bengals president Mike Brown are that he continues to hold coaches and quarterbacks in high regard with a healthy Carson Palmer the center of a 2009 recovery.
In a discussion with Bengals.com and The Cincinnati Enquirer, Brown said Lewis had done some incredible work as his coach and if Palmer had been healthy this year, "This thing would take a quantum leap forward if we just had Carson Palmer back on the field playing the way he can play."
"I'm not going to say anything other than they are the same people that have been here for years now and they've been good years and years that weren't so good," Brown said of his coaches. "But they're the same. They coach the same. They're teachers. They do their jobs as teachers, the same as they did before this year. I don't criticize them for how they teach."
With the Bengals at 1-10-1, there is much speculation about how much change the club faces next season with much of it focused on Lewis even though he has two years left on his contract.
The estimates are that Lewis is owed somewhere between $8-10 million over the next two years and history says Brown won't make a move. But he also has high regard for Lewis, the man he hired in 2003 to revive a program that had won just 19 games the previous five years.
And, he indicated Monday that he feels their Chris Henry disagreement is in the past and he supported Lewis's decision to deactivate Chad Ocho Cinco.
"In many ways he's done an incredibly good job," Brown said of Lewis. "Our players still try hard and that's hard to come by when you go through all the losing this team has gone through. But he has them out there trying to the best of their abilities. At least in my eye. And on this point my eye counts."
The club still has to hash out the details of what to do next year, so everything is on hold until after the season's final game on Dec. 28 at Paul Brown Stadium against Kansas City. But Brown also indicated that he feels like a healthy Palmer answers a lot of the ills.
Brown acknowledged that the offense has struggled since the midway point of 2007 even before Palmer got hurt. The Bengals are not only last in the NFL in offense, but they are on pace to score their third fewest points of all-time (201) and to score the fewest points since the 1968 expansion Bengals.
Yet Brown looks at the last two games they played with Palmer.
"We were not hitting on all cylinders early in the year. I think we could have worked through it and got back up and been OK," he said.
"Against the Giants he hurt his arm, and yet in that game we went into overtime with the Giants who are the best team in the National Football League as we speak. Then the next game he played we played Dallas close to even up and he was playing with the injured arm. He couldn't throw the ball down field. I thought he was quite remarkable that game playing with those limitations. Do I think he's a good quarterback? I do. Do I think if he comes back here healthy he'll make a difference? I do. I think we'll rebound when he comes back."
Brown continues to indicate he has confidence in his personnel department to find players and that he has no plans to hire a general manager.
He cited a team analysis done before the 2008 draft that showed from 2003 the 43 players the Bengals had drafted had played a total of 1,104 NFL games and started 525, ranking the Bengals 11th and 12th, respectively in the league in those categories.
When Brown spoke about the personnel issue back in January, he said the Bengals were higher than that in percentage of players still with the team (fifth with 67.4), percentage of players still in the NFL (fifth at 81.4 percent) and percentage of players no longer in the NFL (fifth at 18.6).
As for other issues, Brown also said:
He expects Ocho Cinco to fulfill his Bengals contract to the option year of 2011. It didn't bother him that The Ocho was lukewarm last week to the idea of coming back. Brown is impressed how he has played with a dislocated shoulder he suffered Aug. 23.
"He's played with it all year, which is to his credit. Two other players we had here didn't. They opted out," Brown said. " Chad stayed out on the field with it. Plays every game with it. Same injury. (Dislocated) shoulder.
"The injury has impacted him, the late start has impacted him. Let's face it, the loss of Carson has impacted him. So it hasn't gone anywhere near his previous standard. People all see that. Make that of it what you will. If Chad gets his full health back, it's very likely he'll be the player we saw before this year and I hope that's what we see next year."
He revealed that safety Marvin White is the 21st Bengal to go on season-ending injured reserve after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in his knee Sunday. He was extremely impressed that White played more than a half with the injury.
"I've never seen a player do that in all the time I've witnessed football. I take my hat off to him for being brave enough to do that. It showed he wanted to be out there playing. Which is to his credit and to the credit of the coaches, too, that a player would want to do that."
Brown also said the club is trying to find out why it has been hit by the injury bug the past two seasons.
He called wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh "a tremendous competitor," and said the team hasn't been able to yet reach a contract extension with agent Kennard McGuire. Brown said it was too early to discuss a possible use of the franchise tag on him.
"He's the one player that has played to his previous level this year," Brown said. "It's going to be a question of money and we'll find out in the offseason if it's a deal we can make or not."
No, Brown has not seen the WhoDeyRevolution billboards calling for him to hire a general manager, the position he fills as the Bengals president.
"I've heard about the billboards. I don't rush out to pillory myself and look at them."
But he understands the frustration and passion.
"It's an interesting thing in Cincinnati," Brown said. "The fans and the Bengals have a love-hate relationship. When we're doing well, we ride high. And when we're not doing well, then we get kicked around some. I think what that reflects is an emotional connection they have with us.
"And they're disappointed and when they're disappointed they flare out and we understand what's going on. That's what happens here. We want to please them. Believe me. That's what we want most. We're not doing that right now and it means a lot of sleepless nights down here."
In his first comments since Brown re-signed Henry despite Lewis' disagreement: "Marvin and I've had a good relationship. We've had an ability to stay on the same message. Except for that one case ... in my mind it's behind us now."
"If you've got further concerns on that kind of thing," said Brown in alluding to Plaxico Burress, "you'll have to call the New York Giants who have an 11-1 record and their guy, who has taken the role over of NFL bad guy."
Brown also reflected on the disciplining of Ocho Cinco last week by Lewis. He says Lewis has that authority and that he sent The Ocho home from Pittsburgh without talking to Brown.
"It was the right thing to do," Brown said. "(Discipline) has been his call and it is his call and he has done it."
After Sunday's game in which Ravens right tackle Willie Anderson reiterated his belief that Brown and the coaches were given incorrect medical information about his foot in leading to his departure, Brown said the coaches ranked Stacy Andrews ahead of him.
"But I want to add quickly that Willie Anderson was the best right tackle this team ever had here," he said. "He ranks right up there with Anthony (Munoz) as the two best offensive linemen we ever had here."
But Brown said he and the coaches went by sight more than anything when he offered a pay cut to Anderson back on Aug. 30. He said Anderson's foot problem last season limited him to part of one practice per week and "he played effectively at most half of a game every other week."
"We all saw what was going on. It wasn't somebody telling me something and it just wasn't me," Brown said. "The coaches saw what I saw and that was a decision made by the coaching staff and I was involved in it."
He admitted he was surprised that Anderson has played as much as he has this season after watching him go for 70 or so snaps against the Bengals a week after he went for another 70 against the Eagles.