'We're counting on it'

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, a driving force behind the 2002 creation of USA Football, appeared at the first National Conference on Youth and Amateur Football Friday. Before and after his speech at the Cincinnati Marriott at RiverCenter in Covington, Ky., Tagliabue took questions from Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com, Dustin Dow of The Cincinnati Enquirer, Kevin Goheen of The Cincinnati Post, and Terry Kinney of The Associated Press. **

You've got this big commitment to youth football, which means sports must have been important to you growing up.**

PT: Sports and family were the defining elements of my life as a child. My father had played semi pro basketball and my mother was a big supporter of her four boys and my older brothers played football and basketball. So by the time I came along, I was the third, I spent all my time in the schoolyard at P.S. 27 in Jersey City playing sports. Then I had the opportunity to go on to college on an athletic scholarship (to play basketball at Georgetown University), so I'll always be grateful for that. But I think sports gives you tremendous values for every walk of life. **

Did any of your youth coaches influence you?**

PT: I would say every coach does in a way. Some good, some not so good. I guess really my high school track coach and basketball coach had a big impact on me. My college basketball coach.

But (there were) also role models. As a kid growing up, I was a fan of every sport and you could see people who you admired. Leaders in sports. In the NFL the Giants and the Cleveland Browns were the most visible teams for me.

You found out about Paul Brown at an early age.

PT: Absolutely. Growing up in the 50s in New Jersey, the Giants were the big football team in the New York area. But the greatest team nationally was the Cleveland Browns, so I would look at the Marion Motleys and Otto Grahams at the same time as we were looking at the Frank Giffords and others.

Did Paul Brown give you any advice when you took the commissioner's job 15 years ago?

PT: I think the only advice he ever gave me was to be yourself. Form your own opinions and listen carefully to everybody, but be true to yourself, and he knew from me sitting around the rooms of competition committee meetings. That was his advice. Be yourself. **

Before Marvin Lewis was hired, it was being reported that you were putting pressure on Mike Brown to make changes, which both you and Mike have denied, and it looks like Mike did what he wanted to do.**

PT: I think Mike knows how to run a football team. He's been in the game for most of his life. He tried differerent things and decided to try some other things. He was very thorough in trying to decide who to hire and hired a good man. It's all the organizational changes. It's the new stadium, the practice facility. In this day and age, it takes a lot of things to attract players and keep players. So I think the stadium has helped, everything has helped. It's the culmination of a lot of hard work over the last decade. **

What (Lewis) did last year, did you see that happening when you were here last year?**

PT: I think so. The whole organization changed. Marvin was a big part of it. Certainly ownership, and the whole coaching staff, the players. Everyone has to change when you improve as dramatically as they did. In some ways it was a recapturing the roots of the Bengals that had a great organization in the 80s. It was very positive, certainly for the fans here and for the city and very positive for the league.

What does it mean for the league to have an organization that has been down for so long to rebound the way it has?

PT: That's our hope, our goal. Our structure is to have every team be competitive. Not everyone can win the Super Bowl, not everyone can win their division. But cycles of competitiveness, teams being in the chase periodically and winning periodically, that's important. So when you see any team that's down for awhile and then comes back and becomes strong and competitive is what we're all about. **

Marvin Lewis has been very active in the community and getting out to talking to groups. What kind of impact has that had?**

PT: He's got the self confidence and the level of commitment in everything he believes, it's almost magnetic. When he walks into a room, he doesn't have to raise his voice. He just has to clearly state his ideas and you want to believe it. He's been great getting out into the community, talking to young people, talking to parents, talking to everybody. I'm sure with his energy, and his self confidence, it's a big impact on the organization and the Bengals. **

Do you think the changes he has made has changed the way the team is perceived?**

PT: Absolutely. Everyone knew based on his track record with the Super Bowl success the Ravens had when he was there, that where ever he ended up it was going be a blessed organization at some point. How quickly it would happen was one of the questions, but there was a good pool of talent here that had been selected earlier, he made some changes, and then he brought the edge out of that talented pool and I can see that continuing this year. We've got them prime-time in two games, we're counting on it.

Will you be back for a game this year?

PT: I hope to be. **

A hallmark of your term has been labor peace after it was so divisive in the '80s. What has been the key to that?**

PT: The first thing was to be open to change and to make the assumption there is usually more than one way of doing things in life. I think we were wedded and the Players Association was wedded in the '80s to the idea there was only one way to do it. The two ideas were totally different. Then when I came in and started talking to (NFLPA president) Gene Upshaw, we started from the premise that there are usually three, four, five ways of doing things and let's talk about three, four or five, and figure out which one is the best on a mutual win-win basis. Change of mindset was the most important thing, and we're continuing on that basis.

The NFL and NFLPA are working on an extension of the collective bargaining agreement beyond 2007. Do you see it extending?

PT: We're talking. We have some issues, but I think we're going to extend it.

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