Sunday, March 16, 2003

Daugherty: Bengals' perception

Blackburn changing club's tune

Jon Kitna praised God for the extra $1.6 million he came upon two months ago, when the Bengals reversed field and awarded him his bonus. In this case, the Almighty looks like a petite woman with a law degree and a sense of public relations her dad never had.

Can we get an amen for Katie Blackburn?

Really now. Did you ever think you'd see the Cincinnati Bengals change their minds about giving away a million-six? Our sad-sack football franchise is remaking itself, right before our eyes.

It wasn't enough that Marvin Lewis practically held open the exit door for Takeo Spikes. Or that Lewis, the new coach, looks like the general manager Mike Brown refused to hire. Now the Bengals are throwing money around like philanthropists.

It really is a new day.

When Lewis declared when he was hired that the Bengals were his team, you could have cut the skepticism with a scalpel. Since then, Lewis has remade the coaching staff, brought in experienced, winning pros who want to play here and, most tellingly, kissed off the Bengals best defensive player without so much as a passing regret.

If Lewis could send Takeo Spikes packing, nobody's job is safe. Not only did he let Spikes leave, Lewis had Spikes' replacement, Kevin Hardy, walking in as Takeo was walking out. When someone asked Lewis about Spikes, Lewis said he wouldn't be discussing somebody else's player.

That is Parcells-ian arrogance on a grand scale.

You have to love it.

You have to like, too, the obvious and expanding role of Blackburn. We'd heard for a few years she'd be taking over more of the day-to-day, but it took a 2-14 season for that to happen. Blackburn has had the benefit of watching her father take the body blows of public perception for a decade. She seems ready to avoid the same fate.

Mike Brown will retain the title and the corner office. He'll be keeping the team's financial strategy conservative. There will be no cash-over-salary cap spending sprees. But it's clear that Mike Brown now has a hand in the business, not two hands and both feet. Mike would have matched Buffalo's offer for Spikes, even as the linebacker trashed the organization. Lewis, with Blackburn's OK, pulled the plug.

Brown always said he wanted his head coach to be more of an out-front operator. Until now, he never had the right guy for the job.

Meanwhile, the Bengals will reap $1.6 million worth of goodwill from the Kitna payout. You can't change league-wide perceptions if you don't start at home. The Bengals' Us-Against-Them management style, whether real or imagined, has been a private gripe of players for years. It was a big reason Spikes remained unconvinced of the team's turnaround. Players and their agents will note that the Bengals changed their minds about Kitna's bonus without being pushed.

You can never be too cynical when the subject is the Cincinnati Bengals, and it is worth noting that the team didn't hire a true GM or notably upgrade its personnel department.

The interior offensive line is weak and nobody knows who's going to play fullback. Still, Lewis' hiring has exceeded high expectations.

The front office appears to be doing the same.


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