Saturday, January 05, 2002

Spurrier coach Bengals? Great idea; no chance

        Steve Spurrier is the perfect coach for the Cincinnati Bengals. Which means, of course, that it won't happen.

        He is brassy and brilliant, entertaining and infuriating, a lightning rod in a golf visor and a sustained smirk. He's what Sam Wyche might have been after five Super Bowls — insufferable yet irresistible. Spurrier announced Friday he is leaving the University of Florida to seek another fortune in the NFL. If a deal is not already done, the line of prospective suitors should be lengthy.

        Not that this qualifies as news, but the Bengals will not be part of it.

        “We have Dick (LeBeau) here as our coach, and our plan is to stay with Dick,” Bengals owner Mike Brown said
Friday. “We're committed to him. He'll be our coach next year.”

Bengals like "progress'

       & LeBeau's job was never in jeopardy this season, even as his team was losing seven straight games. Bad as the Bengals have been, the understated LeBeau has made them better than they were a year ago. So long as Brown can perceive progress, a coach need not make the playoffs to preserve his position.

        “We are closer to being right than some people want to give us credit for,” Brown said Friday.

        As one of those credit grinches, I grow weary of gradualism. Eleven years of small steps and large setbacks say the Bengals are more in need of bold strokes than subtle tweaks. Their fans have tired of crossing their fingers and hoping. They want a basis to believe. They want someone like Spurrier.

        Wherever he lands — probably Tampa Bay, possibly San Diego — Spurrier will change the landscape like a one-man meteor shower. His personality will polarize the community and his presence will infuse his players with equal portions of confidence and dread.

        Playing quarterback for Spurrier is like being adopted by The Great Santini: ritualized humiliation. Yet it's also the surest shortcut to the end zone. Spurrier's quarterbacks are sometimes demeaned as “products of a system.” But the system, all concede, is spectacular.

        “I think his (offense) is as sophisticated as NFL passing games,” Brown said. “I think if he came to the NFL, he would be quickly at the forefront.

        “He doesn't just stay with what he did two years ago or six years ago. He has evolved with it over time. The patterns they run are creative. They're clever. They get what people allow them to take. They always stretch the field. They don't just throw underneath. They don't just stick to an identifiable group of patterns. It's always changing.”

An outsider

        Brown remembers watching Spurrier's Tampa Bay Bandits practice in a public park during the short, unhappy life of the USFL. He does not recall ever meeting Spurrier, however.

        One of the recurring criticisms of Brown's management style is he tends to hire people he already knows while not taking pains to seek out talented strangers. Another persistent knock is Brown refuses to permit his coach as much authority as his father, Paul Brown, always demanded.

        For these reasons, and others, the Bengals have never hired a head coach as accomplished and stimulating as Spurrier. Not unless you count Paul Brown hiring himself.

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