Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Winning worst thing for Bengals?

Will it convince Brown to forego changes?

By Joe Kay
The Associated Press

As the Bengals pulled off their first home victory of the season, a small airplane flew over the stadium, towing a long banner through a gusty wind. "Don't Change A Thing Mike, We Love Losing," the banner said.

The sarcasm was aimed at owner Mike Brown's private box and underscored the mixed feelings that accompany any good thing that the Bengals do these days. Even a 20-13 victory over New Orleans in the final home game Sunday left fans unsure how to react.

It's nice to win, but will it merely convince Brown to stay the course?

He was giving no hints Monday about what he'll do following a season-ending game at Buffalo on Sunday. Two weeks ago, Brown put front-office personnel off-limits to reporters, hoping to avoid questions about the future.

The coaching staff also is in the dark about what will happen once one of the worst seasons in franchise history ends. A loss at Buffalo would leave the Bengals 2-14, the worst record in team history.

Coach Dick LeBeau said Monday that he hadn't talked to the owner about the staff's fate. LeBeau and Brown review film of the previous game every Monday morning.

"We've been really busy," LeBeau said. "Because it's Christmas week, our schedule's quite a bit different."

That was a tactful way of saying the staff will spend the week preparing for the game while trying not to think about what will happen after the season.

"That's a part of this business," LeBeau said. "If you can't deal with that, you're not going to be in coaching very long. We've always got plenty to do, believe me. We want to build on this success and go up there and play a good football game."

Fans are afraid that's exactly what they'll do. The Bengals (2-13) always win a few at the end, letting Brown conclude that no major changes are needed.

It has happened repeatedly during Cincinnati's 12-year run as the league's worst team. Despite the Bengals' 55-136 record since 1991, Brown has fired a head coach only once - Dave Shula in 1996.

After the Bengals again won their final home game, Brown had a big grin on his face as he walked through the locker room. Cincinnati is 18-3 in its final home games since 1982, including 10-2 in the last dozen.

Before he stopped talking to the media two weeks ago, Brown had indicated that he wasn't inclined to hire a general manager or retire and turn the team over to his daughter, Katie.

He is considering adding to the NFL's smallest scouting staff, and it's likely that there will be some changes in the coaching staff, even if LeBeau is retained.

The question is whether a few wins at the end of a terrible season will give Brown a rationale for staying the course. Everyone outside the front office seems to recognize that would be the worst that could happen.

"Hopefully, this is something you can grow and learn off of," said quarterback Jon Kitna, who has called for shakeup starting at the top. "Still, at 2-13, there are a lot of things that need to be changed."

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