|Monday, December 30
Updated: December 31, 4:19 PM ET
LeBeau gone after Bengals' worst season
CINCINNATI -- The NFL's worst team is changing its coach, but not its course.
Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown fired coach Dick LeBeau on Monday, then emphasized he won't change the way he runs the league's worst team of the past 12 years.
It's not what despondent players or disgruntled fans wanted to hear.
''If you're sick, you have a cold, you don't just wipe your nose with a Kleenex,'' Pro Bowl fullback Lorenzo Neal said as he cleaned out his locker Monday. ''You've treated the symptom, but you haven't treated the problem. I think you need to change. You have to be committed to change.''
LeBeau assumed he wouldn't be retained following the worst season in franchise history. The Bengals became a national laughingstock as they stumbled to 2-14, piling up pratfalls along the way.
Two other NFL coaches were fired Monday -- Dave Campo by Dallas and Tom Coughlin by Jacksonville.
The Bengals went 12-33 (.267) in LeBeau's three seasons, the worst winning percentage by any coach in team history. His two-year contract is ending, and Brown informed him Monday morning that there would be no extension.
''I think he understood when he walked in the door where it was going,'' Brown said.
The owner made it clear where the Bengals are going. He will not bring in a general manager and he's not planning any changes in how he runs the front office.
''What can you do?'' right tackle Willie Anderson said. ''He owns the team, and he feels he wants to keep running the team. I just hope that the changes that are coming are real good changes.''
Unhappy fans flooded the Bengals' offices with calls, threatening to cancel season tickets unless Brown does more than just change the coach. Quarterback Jon Kitna agreed that more is needed.
''To say you're 2-14 just because of the head coach is a long way from the truth,'' Kitna said. ''We've been through four head coaches now in 12 years, and that hasn't changed. You've been through a ton of quarterbacks, and that hasn't changed. You have to look harder and look for the root of the problem.''
Although LeBeau wasn't the problem, his impatience with quarterbacks was a major factor in the latest collapse. He started newcomer Gus Frerotte for the first three defeats, turned to Akili Smith for one game, then went with Kitna after the team was 0-4.
LeBeau, a defensive coordinator before he was elevated to his first head coaching job, saw nothing wrong with starting three different quarterbacks in three weeks. He conceded the mistake after Kitna got the offense rolling -- too late to save the season or LeBeau's job.
''I got the job, I kept it for three years, and I lost the job,'' LeBeau said. ''In between, I worked as hard as I could. End of statement. End of story.''
The Bengals' run as the league's worst team began in 1991, when Brown took over after the death of his father, Paul, who founded the team. Cincinnati has gone 55-137 and hasn't had a winning record in the last 12 years.
Sam Wyche, Dave Shula, Bruce Coslet and LeBeau all tried and failed to win under Brown, who has the league's smallest scouting staff and no clear-cut plan to revive the team.
Brown said he believes his team is better off than most folks think.
''We were better than our won-loss record would indicate,'' he said. ''I can say the things I'm saying, and really nobody wants to hear them. I can believe it, but no one else cares. All that matters in this business is, 'How did you come out? Did you win or did you not?' And we did not.''
Poor attendance also figured into LeBeau's fate. The Bengals' last three home games drew the three smallest crowds in Paul Brown Stadium history, convincing Brown that he had to change something.
Several assistant coaches are under contract through next season. Two of them, defensive coordinator Mark Duffner and running backs coach Jim Anderson, are expected to be interviewed for the top job.
Brown tends to hire coaches who have a link to the franchise and will be loyal to the front office. He said he is considering at least one assistant coach currently working for a playoff team.
Kitna said he thinks the next coach's fate will be tied to how much authority he receives.
''Is that coach going to have ultimate say on who's going to be here and who's not?'' Kitna said. ''That coach is going to have to come in here and do something to change the attitude of this football team.''