Timetable may make Bengals uneasy

1-8-03, 4:10 a.m.

The only certainty in the Bengals' coaching search is the uncertainty bred by the silence. But that doesn't stop the coast-to-coast cyberspace speculation.

Yet consider the word out of the reliable "Pittsburgh Post Gazette." Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey could very well end up a candidate in Jacksonville as well as Cincinnati.

So now the question is not only can the Bengals wait for a guy who can't be interviewed again until after the Steelers lose, but can they wait for a guy who might not even choose them?

Could that force the Bengals to focus their decision on Marvin Lewis and Tom Coughlin?

Could your head hurt any more from all the scenarios?

Here is an effort for some answers in this week's Hobson's Choice:

will mike brown hire a coach by friday?if he doesn't i think mularky is going to be hired.i hope like hell he hires marvin lewis,he can turn this around and may be the only one person who can. **Shawn, Brookville, IN

SHAWN: That looks to be the big clue. The longer they go without a coach, it appears to be Mularkey. Or, they are interested in him enough to talk again. If not, you figure the announcement is this week. Lewis is certainly an attractive candidate and, really, they all are.

Lewis because of his great defenses, Coughlin

because of his experience building from scratch, and Mularkey for his ability to produce with different types of quarterbacks.

Down sides? Lewis and Mularkey have no head coaching experience and Coughlin has had three straight losing seasons in which his intensity wore out some of his players. But then, that could be seen as a plus for this job.**

Hey Geoff! If Tom Coughlin becomes the next head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, do you believe he will

retain any of the current Bengals assistant coaches? **Drew, Louisville, KY

DREW: A Coughlin hiring would mean the most change on the staff because he would pretty much bring his staff from Jacksonville and he would most likely be his own offensive coordinator. A Lewis hiring wouldn't spark as much change, but you figure the whole defense would turn over. A Mularkey hiring would probably net the fewest changes, simply because he spent the bulk of his career with the Steelers and they like their offensive assistants and would probably stop them from following Mularkey, particularly to a division rival.**

Do you have any idea who the various club executives prefer for the head coach position at this point in the derby? I am curious to know if there is any division, or if there a consensus. I must say that Mularkey or Lewis are my personal hopefuls, for the sheer fact that players like playing for them. That cannot be underestimated in this day of free agency turnover. They have proven track records and are also purported to be firm with players, which Brown desires in the next coach.

Do you know whether the Bengals had any scouts/executives at the recent Orange Bowl game? They surely were impressed by Carson Palmer. He seems to offer intangibles that Akili Smith never brought to the table, in addition to the obvious physical tools. **Dave, Boise, ID

DAVE: Thanks for the kind words at the beginning of your e-mail. As much as everyone has speculated on the order of preference, no one knows because they simply aren't talking. The reports that Katie and Troy Blackburn are pushing Marvin Lewis are curious. They must have been very impressed with Lewis since he is still in the mix, but the buzz is that Mike Brown is also very impressed with Lewis, so there doesn't appear to be any factions or consensus. Frankly, the published quotes coming out of the meetings suggest they could see all three as head coach.

The Bengals don't usually scout bowl games, but have already seen plenty of Palmer. They scouted him in a game last November, made a school visit earlier in the season and most likely visit with him a few times in the offseason, when they will no doubt see him work out at least once. They've already seen virtually every snap he's taken on tape and they like his size, strength and arm and are high on him. But whether they draft him rides heavily on the opinion of the next coach.**

Why does Mr. Brown think by changing coaches will hely the bengals. When what the majority of sports people think that he needs to hire a General Manager and step out of the picture, seems how they havnt done a thing since he was the one making all the decisions. **Mike, Fairborn, OH.

MIKE: Brown thinks the head coach is the most important guy in the operation. He sets the tone of training camp and the season while also making the calls on scheme and, for the most part, the lineup. And, at least in the case of the last two head coaches, has the say on who his assistants are. He also has a major say in draft, free agency and the final roster.

How much power the head coach exactly retains has been debated from here to eternity. But he has enough to be a person with a significant impact.**

In their search for a new head coach, why isnt Mike Brown also considering coaches in the college ranks?. Bill Snyder of Kansas State would be perfect for the job, nobody is more obsessed with turning a football team around and winning than Bill Snyder. Once he turns a team around, he keeps them near or at the top year after year. Thats my opinion anyway, whoever Mike Brown chooses, I hope he`s a good one. **Tom, Waterloo, IA.

TOM: There is also a pretty good college candidate out your way in Iowa's Kirk Ferentz. Some thought Ferentz would get some play in Cincinnati because he is an offensive guy with NFL ties dating back to the mid-90s with the Browns and Ravens. That NFL connection is huge with Brown. The only Bengals head coach who ever came out of college was Indiana's Sam Wyche, but the Bengals hired him because of the work he did with the 49ers as an assistant.

The ultimate irony here is that the best coach the Bengals ever had, Paul Brown, came out of college to revolutionize the pros in 1946 to prove a college guy can win at the next level.**

Another possible canidate. Geoff would the Bengals ever consider another offensive guru like Al Saunders? He has helped Dick Vermeil in building offenses like the Rams, now the Chiefs. Just a thought. **Chris, Macon, MO

CHRIS: Saunders is an interesting guy and it's a bit surprising his name never comes up. But the only time he was a head coach was in San Diego 15 years ago and he went 17-22. A hard sell.**

Do the Bengals really need to look at an offensive person like the Pittsburg prospect? It seems the offensive moved the ball fairly well after the quarterback meley was completed. Of the list of candidates presently being looked at which one would do the best job for the bengals. **Don, McAllen, TX

DON: The offense moved the ball, but only won two games. Mularkey is attractive to a franchise that has failed to develop a young, winning quarterback because he has revived the career of two different types of quarterbacks in Kordell Stewart and Tommy Maddox.

All the candidates have what the Bengals need. Mularkey has coordinated powerful, balanced offenses, Lewis' defenses are consistently in the top five, and Coughlin has a track record of the discipline and attention to detail this team needs.**

According to the Bengals.com poll, most fans believe that re-signing Takeo Spikes is the number one priority of Cincinnati in the off season. But, is it really wise to spend $5 million a year on another linebacker after just signing Brian Simmons to a $3.8 million extension? Don't forget Steve Foley is a dominant player that was sidelined all season. Also, Canute Curtis is coming off a solid season.

Cincinnati might be better off spending that kind of money on free agent cornerback Chris McAllister of the Balitmore Ravens. **Drew, Louisville, KY.

DREW: Next to what tie to wear at his first news conference, that's the first decision the new head coach has to make. To give two linebackers who don't rush the passer that kind of money would be unheard of. But Spikes is a unique guy because he is an emotional leader, has been one of the most productive players on the team for five years, and is one of the most popular and high-profile players.**

Clearly Jon Kitna has established himself as a solid QB this season, and I think that he has earned the right to go into next season as the undisputed starter. My question is, why don't the Bengals trade for an available QB instead of wasting another high draft pick on an unproven young gun? There are a couple guys who stood tall as backups this season guiding their teams to wins.

First is Marc Bulger. Martz isn't going to be able to keep both Bulger and Warner so one of those guys will probably be available in the offseason. Second is Kelly Holcomb who looked like Chad Pennington-like against the Steelers in the playoffs. The Browns are dedicated to Couch so Holcomb could also be available. With a trade for one of those young QBs, we could ride Kitna for a year or two while the young guy learns the offence, and then stick him in there and win some games. The worst thing that we could do is draft Palmer or another gunslinger. If anything is to be learnt from this season, its that accuracy is more important than arm strength, as taught by Rich Gannon, Chad Pennington, Marc Bulger, Kelly Holcomb vs. Peyton Manning, Daunte Culpepper and not this season but many seasons ago, Ryan Leaf. **Mike, Akron, OH

MIKE: All your points are quite valid. The strange thing is that the Bengals thought they had a verbal deal from Holcomb in the first days of 2001 free agency because he played so well against them in the preseason. But when his coach at the Colts, Bruce Arians, emerged as offensive coordinator for the Browns, Holcomb went to Cleveland.

If the Bengals do take Palmer, they better make sure their coaching staff is free of anyone involved in the development of David Klingler and Akili Smith.**

Hey Geoff, I recently moved to Cleveland, but I'm still have Bengal blood. I read that Mike Brown doesn't like the idea of hiring a college coach. I was woundering why this is? Personally, I think a perfect fit for this team would be to hire the king of special teams Frank Beamer. After all special teams hurt us more than any other area all season. There are also other great coaches in college, just look at the fiesta bowl, Coker and Tressel are both excellent coaches, and i think that looking at the NCAA should at least be a consideration when hiring a new coach. **Kevin, Cleveland.

Take a look at the top 10 winningest coaches on the active list: Dan Reeves, Marty Schottenheimer, Mike Holmgren, Bill Cowher, Dick Vermeil, Mike Shanahan, Jeff Fisher, Tom Coughlin, Dave Wannstedt, Tony Dungy.

Except for Vermeil and Coughlin, all of them became a head coach after paying their dues as a NFL coordinator. And Vermeil (the first special teams coach in NFL history in 1969) and Coughlin (a big part of the Super Bowl Giants' brain trust in 1990) went right from college to a head job but had NFL seasoning.

That's not to say those college guys you mentioned couldn't do it. But the safer track record seems to be a veteran NFL assistant.**

I don't think that there is a player who stands out from the crowd this year in the draft. There are 5-10 guys who are very highly regarded but there isn't a Michael Vick or Peyton Manning who has seperated himself from the field. What are the chances that someone will be willing to trade for the no.1 pick? Maybe Chicago or Carolina really want to get Palmer or Leftwich and will trade up. If we select top 10 we could get someone like Jimmy Kennedy, William Joseph or even Terence Newman. Then with the additional second round pick (or 3rd) we can take the DT or CB that we didnt get in the first, and also get someone on the interior offensive line like the kid from Hawaii or Brett Romberg. Do you think that this may be possible? **Jeff, Cincinnati.

JEFF:: The Bengals would trade the thing in a New York (not 49er) minute, but someone would really have to be in love with a quarterback. That might be Chicago, Carolina, or Washington, but having the first pick in the draft is so unappealing nowadays because of the price.**

I like all those being interviewed on the outside of the Bengals family, but I am a little leery of Coughlin as he would detract from potential free agents. The opposite could be said for Lewis being so well liked and a minority, he could attract some. Mullarkey would undoubtedly bring consistency to our offense by keeping Bratkowski but, I sure hope the majority of these other coaches are released. I'd hate to think of another young QB being tutored by Kenny Anderson. **Rick, Cincinnati.

RICK: Don't sell Coughlin short. Some scuttlebutt has some guys who ripped him in Jacksonville when they left privately wishing they could play for him again after getting a load of other places. Guys want to win and Coughlin demands the things that win games.

As for Lewis attracting free-agents because he's a minority, this space doesn't buy it. He'll attract players simply because he's got a Super Bowl ring, a slew of NFL records, and a reputation for molding top-ranked defenses with a variety of personnel.**

Who is the leading canidate for the First Pick? **Kurtis, Statesville, N.C.

KURTIS: You'd have to say USC quarterback Carson Palmer, but it all depends on the new coach and his staff. For instance, if it's Lewis, he may want one of the two defensive tackles in Miami's William Joseph or Penn State's Jimmy Kennedy, or Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman.**

I think Mr. Kitna said it best with the attitude change has to start at the top. With that in mind why do u think Mike Brown wont hire a gm? I mean takeo said there had to be drastic changes for him to stay, and i think we have been down this changing just the coach road before. And really he has good candidates, but he needs to stay away from promoting one of the other coaches from within. One mor quick question, why havent we begun to try andd resign spikes or oneal? Those will be huge losses if we let them go.. What is your take on it **Manuel, Dinuba, CA

MANUEL: They didn't offer Neal what he wanted because it's believed it was slightly above minimum in the $800,000 range. And they probably read the signals from Spikes as the season got worse and worse that he wanted to see what free agency offers.

Plus, they have the option of tagging Spikes with a designation that gives them the right to match once free agency starts.

As for the GM, Brown thinks the right head coach will turn it. He figures he has paid the $71 million the league says he has to pay players in each of the last two seasons and he has come up with a combined eight wins with a roster many NFL personnel people say should have competed for the playoffs.

Brown is the first to say he has made some mistakes and must take a good part of the blame, but he doesn't know how a GM would change the situation if the core of a potential playoff team is already in place.**

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