12-4-02, 8 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
This 1-11 season has driven Bengals President Mike Brown to the ground zero of his daily evaluations of the franchise and one of the options getting heavy scrutiny is re-tooling the league's smallest personnel department.
Brown is loathe to deviate much from the coach-centered philosophy that his father used coaching the Cleveland Browns in the 1950s despite getting grilled on a yearly basis for not changing with the times and going with a big-budget scouting staff. But he admitted Wednesday he is looking at "different ideas." Although he is still formulating specifics, he does expect the department to look and act differently next season when it comes to decision-making and he is thinking about making some additions in scouting.
"We are looking at changes that people outside might not notice, but would be different for us," Brown said.
During the scouting and drafting of college players, Brown has traditionally acted more as a moderator than a dictator and feels he has given his coaches more say in the process than virtually any other club in the league. His draft rooms resemble college seminars with all coaches getting a chance to take the floor on any player. Brown is
now wondering if there have been too many opinions.
"It's the way we give jurisdiction to make calls," Brown said of the changes. "We might tighten that up and not be as liberal as before. I don't know if people think there are just one or two people making all the calls down here and we aren't.
"It's done by the coaches at mainly their position," Brown said. "Where I have real confidence in those people, I want to continue doing it that way. Where somebody is new, I may put restrictions on just how far they can go until they're up to it."
The primary knock on using the coaching staff as the club's lead scouts is the drain on their time in the offseason when it comes to refining their Xs and Os. There are assistant coaches and head coaches who have worked for the Bengals who felt rushed and hurried to break down film, execute projects, and come up with new ideas when put on top of their scouting duties.
This school of thought argues that with most teams keeping their coaches at home while they send out their bevy of scouts, that puts the Bengals at a competitive disadvantage because their coaches aren't able to spend as much time on scheme as other staffs.
It's a misnomer that the Bengals are the only team that sends their coaches on the road. All NFL coaches attend the scouting combine, most go to the Senior Bowl, and many teams send their assistants to selected college workouts in the spring. The Bengals are different because they are full-scale, sending their coaches to see the top 20-30 players at their positions.
"You can't do that anymore," said one former AFC personnel man. "Not with how much work the coaches have to do with football. You have to go through the playbook and all the tapes. Just to get the cutups ready for when the players come back for the offseason is a huge job. There's not enough time."
Plus, scouts can save you from coaches who don't like to scout, can't scout, or both.
Brown doesn't think scouting is a drain.
"Our coordinators are free to stay in house during this time to the extent that they feel that it is necessary," Brown said. "We don't have every body on the road all the time. Some are out more than others. The X and O stuff can be covered by the coordinators."
There are also coaches who have worked here who heartily endorse how the Bengals do it. Former defensive coordinator Larry Peccatiello, who also worked for the Redskins and Lions, has been a big proponent of the system while he was here and after he left.
Giants offensive line coach Jim McNally also thinks the system works because he did it here for 15 years and helped take the Bengals to two Super Bowls. His notebook of his annual 40 or so sojourns to different colleges became as legendary as his lines because he was such a good scout.
He has since worked for organizations in Carolina and New York that rely heavily on scouts and have kept him pretty much in the office.
"I think there's a happy medium," McNally said. "Make eight or 10 visits for the top guys or bottom guys, whatever they need. Here, they still ask for opinions off film, but you don't have as much information as the scouts, and I always enjoyed having the input.
"But the thing about staying in the office is you get time to research and you can spend a lot of time on football," McNally said. "Say you want to research Oakland and New England. Or say you want to research 10 teams. Well, you can break down film until about 5 or 6 at night, go home and come back fresh the next day. There's a middle way. I liked how we did it with the Bengals. We knew who was out there. We weren't missing anybody."
Former Bengals head coach Bruce Coslet, now the Cowboys' offensive coordinator, agrees. Coslet now works for a team that has its own wing for the personnel department, but he feels coaches must always be involved.
"I never had a problem with how we did it in Cincinnati," Coslet said. "Different teams do it different ways. When I went to the Jets, they didn't want the coaches involved much at all. But coaches will always be a part of scouting. I don't know if I would do it any other way. I scout (for the Cowboys), but I might go see only some of the the top guys. I never thought we missed anybody in Cincinnati. You do need time in the offseason for football, but there's only so much you can do anyway. The biggest thing is to get away from it, honestly, because before you know it, the players are already back for the camps and then all of a sudden, it's June and you're reeling."
The Bengals' new division, the AFC North, could be known as Scouting Central even with Cincinnati's department of six people.
The Ravens have 17 in personnel, which includes separate directors of pro and college personnel, two regional supervisors, and five area scouts. Cleveland has 10 in its department, among them five college scouts, two pro personnel types, and a college scouting director. The Steelers have nine in their department, consisting of five college scouts, one pro/college scout, and a coordinator each for pro scouting and college scouting.
The Bengals divide their college and pro scouting chiefly among vice president Paul Brown, director of football operations Jim Lippincott, and director of player personnel Duke Tobin. Pete Brown, a senior vice president, coordinates the effort back at the office and former Ohio State coach John Cooper is a consultant.
The Bengals also use scouting services.
"In my heart of hearts, I know that we are talking about the players we should be talking about in the appropriate rounds," Brown said. "We know who the players are, we know where they are and who to go visit. We have the same information as everyone else in the league."
And while the Bengals have had their high-profile mistakes, they have also grabbed stars like Willie Anderson, Corey Dillon, Take Spikes, Brian Simmons, Justin Smith and Levi Jones, and traded up just this past Draft Day to get maybe their Co-Rookie of the Year with Jones in tight end Matt Schobel.
'When I saw them in the preseason," said one NFL personnel man, "I thought if they got any play from their quarterback that they would have a shot at the playoffs. That's how impressed I was with them."
From 1995-2001, the Bengals had the highest hit/miss ratio of the 30 non-expansion team when it came to drafting. Of the 52 players they chose, 36 were active at the time of last year's study. That was a ratio of .692, ahead of No. 2 St. Louis (.684) and No. 3 San Francisco (.667). According to a "Sporting News," survery, 26 percent of the Bengals' picks are starters, 44 percent are backups, five percent are on other teams, and 26 percent are out of the NFL. The average in the NFL over the last five years has 24 percent starting, 32 percent backing up, 16 percent with other teams, and 28 percent out of the league.
And Brown is hesitant to take his coaches off the road.
"I want them to feel involved," Brown said. "I want them to feel that the player that is coming in is the type of player they want and fits into their system. I don't want to lose that. I think that's a plus, not a minus."
But in 12 seasons, there have been more minuses than plusses.
"We're taking a look and seeing what we can do," Brown said.