Stormy Monday for Bengals

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Bruce Coslet is gone.

The sleepless nights, the churning stomach, the endless nervous cigarettes and the no exercise. It had gone too far and so the seventh head coach in Bengals history resigned Monday morning less than 16 hours after the worst shutout loss in club history, 37-0, in Baltimore.

Former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason, Coslet's confidant from those long-ago days they combined to give Cincinatti the NFL's top offense, said Monday the constant rebuilding and working with young players had worn out his friend.

"No matter what the situation is, Bruce has always been a realist," Esiason said. "It's not about quitting. I think it was a noble gesture on his part. It was about family issues and relieving the stress of the people he loves. The stress can't be good for a man over 50.

"I think the Baltimore game is indicative of a lot of the problems that Bruce faced," Esiason said. "They were physically outmatched on both lines. Let's face it, there's no room for (running back) Corey Dillon and (quarterback) Akili Smith is struggling."

The enormity of Sunday's loss has Bengals President Mike Brown re-evaluating the football operation. But he said Monday he has no plans to step down as general manager and his main concern is with the schemes on both sides of the ball.

"That team beat us every which way yesterday," Brown said of a Baltimore club that needed a 50-yard field goal at the gun to beat the Bengals 10 months ago. "And they never did that before. Why all of a sudden? What's different? We've got to examine what we do with our scheme and personnel."

As hard as a day it must have been for Coslet, 54, it was excruciating for Brown. He has known Coslet for 31 years, since Coslet's days as a Bengals tight end, and has signed him to enough coaching contracts for 24 years.

Brown had an idea what Coslet wanted to discuss this morning when he told him on the plane after the game, "We need to talk." But he thought Coslet might change his mind after a night's sleep. But he apparently wasn't getting much of that these days.

"He felt the coaching was harder on him than it was meant to be," Brown said. "He wasn't sure he could do for the team what needed to be done. . .He was apologetic to me for leaving at this time during the middle of the season. In the end, it was hard for me because he's a good man, a good friend, a good coach."

The irony is that Coslet, identified with those rollicking Bengals' offenses of the 1980s, leaves the club on a day it is ranked last in NFL offense. They also have the next-to-worst running game and an 0-3 record with a second-year quarterback and two rookie receivers. It was so bad, Smith wasn't surprised a move came.

"That's tough, man, to start 0-3 and you get shut out twice in a row. Something has to change," Smith said. "It's unfair to Bruce because it's not Bruce's fault. We haven't been playing well as an offense and he takes the fall for it. . .I feel pretty bad. I feel like I let Bruce down.

"It starts from the top," Smith said. "Unfortunately it's not all Bruce's fault. It's a young football team. Rookie receivers. I'm a second-year guy. You feel sorry for him. He put in a lot of effort. . .We're at our lowest. We can't go any lower."

Right tackle Willie Anderson, part of a unit on pace to allow 85 sacks this season, felt awful.

"A man just lost his job," Anderson said. "The guy is a human being. Imagine one of your friends co-workers losing their job. That's food off of this guy's table. Losing his job, there's nothing to be rejoicing about. Some of the coaches around here owe their careers to Bruce. Those guys are sad. You can't have the type of emotion where you say you feel great because a guy has lost his job."

Coslet informed Brown of his decision Monday morning and hasn't been available for comment since. As a stunned coaching staff dealt with the decision, they also tried to put together a game plan for the Dolphins' eighth-ranked defense. The job fell to offensive coordinator Ken Anderson, now in full command of the Xs and Os with Coslet's departure and the promotion of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to head coach. Coslet also called the offensive plays, signaling them to Anderson who called the play into the quarterback's radio helmet.

Anderson was coping with the loss of his friend of 30 years as well as his new role of playcaller. He hasn't called plays since Esiason ended the 1997 season with a 4-1 run.

"It's the fourth game of the season, so we can't change the offense," Anderson said. "We can do some things, but the main thing is do what we do and do it better. We'll see what happens, but the plays should get in faster because one step is going to be taken out of it."

Coslet was a sympathetic figure among his former players Monday. He may have had a 26-39 record with the Jets from 1990-93, and he might have finished 21-39 as a Bengals coach after losing 28 of his last 35 games and he came under constant public fire.

But except for Carl Pickens' explosion at the end of last year, no player ever went after him publicly.

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Asked if the change would provide a spark, Willie Anderson said, "I hope it will. But you never can tell. I'm not going to say that we're going to start doing things new and it's going to be a new beginning with a whole new offense and new defense. It's going to be the same stuff. But it has to come down to guys executing the plays. We just didn't execute for Bruce to give Bruce a chance. Our thing now is that we want to give Coach LeBeau and Ken Anderson a chance. Because as a whole, we just didn't give Bruce a chance."

Even Brown wondered Monday if managament had given Coslet all he needed.

"I'm like the players," Brown said. "I'm asking myself, 'is there something more that we could have done?' But whatever it was, we have got to the point that we are here today and now I rather look forward to see to help Dick do this job."

There has been a perception that after going 7-2 to finish coach Dave Shula's 1996 season, Coslet eased up on his players and wasn't tough. The players disagreed Monday.

"To me, he never changed," defensive end John Copeland said. "And he was a tough guy. He wouldn't let you get away with much."

Dillon offered, "Believe me, he had no trouble fining me for stuff. I've got proof."

"I heard people say he should be like (Steelers coach) Bill Cowher and grab a few facemasks," said cornerback Artrell Hawkins. "But that's not him. Why would he do that? Everybody would know that's not him."

"Some players probably respected him, some probably didn't," Smith said. "Some probably don't respect each other. That's the way it is. That's nature. Hopefully we can build that back up and be ready and play."

Offensive line coach Paul Alexander, who came from the Jets with Coslet when he returned as offensive coordinator in 1994, felt miserable because he felt the play of his group puts him at fault.

"It's sickening," Alexander said. "I don't think the world is ever going to know how great of a coach he was. At the Jets, he had things going (at 8-8) and the general manager fired him before he got fired himself in a gutless move. Here, he's been saddled with. . .just this year what amounts to a rookie quarterback, two rookie receivers, a new center, a new right guard and two (offensive) tackles who were hurt and didn't play much in training camp. It's disheartening because I believe if he could weather the change, it would all have been worth it."

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