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Brown had motivated his players by fear. His successors—Johnson, who was fired after an 0-5 start in 1978, and Rice, whose record to date is 6-14—are players' coaches. "Under Brown you played your heart out on Sunday," says Pat Matson, a former Cincinnati guard, "because you didn't want to be embarrassed when we looked at the films on Tuesday. You didn't want to be singled out as the guy who lost the game. Under Brown you dreaded Tuesdays. The players now tell me the coaches never say a word on Tuesday. Maybe that's one of the problems."
Some critics have advanced the Regeneration theory, whose thesis is that as a general manager Brown has been too willing to trade experienced players—particularly discontented and outspoken ones. This may well explain why the present Bengals aren't quick to offer reasons for their 2-7 start. The Browns like to talk about keeping the franchise "green and growin'," but the fact is that because of the constantly changing personnel the Bengals have not matured. Sure, some 17 of Cincinnati's starters are first-, second-or third-round draft picks, and the Bengals' average age is only 25.6 years, but the record still reads 2-7.
One first-round draft choice who has not yet panned out as Paul Brown had expected is Running Back Archie Griffin, the two-time Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State. Griffin rushed for 4.5 yards per carry as a rookie in 1976, but slumped to averages of 4.0 in 1977 and 3.7 in 1978 and had a 3.4-yard average this season until he suddenly exploded for 103 yards against the Eagles on Sunday. He has not rushed for a touchdown since he was a rookie. Bengal management used to be quick to defend Griffin against charges that at 5'8" and 184 pounds he is too small and not maneuver-able enough to excel in the NFL. Now the only thing Bengal coaches say about Griffin is that he is "reliable." For his part, Griffin says, "How can I think about 1,000-yard seasons when I don't carry the ball nearly enough [an average of nine carries a game] to do it."
Then there is the Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You theory, which argues that while Brown demanded total autonomy as a coach, Johnson and Rice have been little more than Brown's puppets. "Rice has the same authority as the average normal coach has," Brown insists. "I try to conduct myself as I would want a general manager to conduct himself if I were the coach." But, of course, Paul Brown usually worked for a general manager whose name was Paul Brown.
Rice claims he is happy with things as they are. "I have full control of the football operation," he says. "Paul has never interfered. He's never come to me. But I go to him for advice. With his experience, I'd be stupid if I didn't."
In his capacity as the ultimate authority on the Bengals, Brown is more often assailed for sins of omission than commission. Around the NFL, it is common knowledge that Cincinnati doesn't cater to the wishes of its players, which leads to the Love Thy Player As Thyself theory. While some organizations, notably the Cowboys, bend over backward to create a happy atmosphere for their players, the Bengal management maintains a "strictly business" relationship.
"They negotiate your salary, they pay you your salary, you play, and that's it," says one Cincinnati veteran. Trumpy describes the Browns' approach with an analogy: "I've always pictured the Bengals saying to a $40,000 Rolls-Royce, 'You cost me a lot of money, so I shouldn't have to wax you. You should stay clean.' There are many little things the Bengals could do for their players but don't, things that don't cost any money, little things like a handshake or a pat on the back."
Mike Reid, an All-Pro defensive tackle who quit the Bengals in 1976 for a career as a musician, agrees. "If you want to be cared about on a football team, Cincinnati is the last place you'd want to play," he says. "You won't get Paul Brown adjusting to any social change. He believes he's right, and in 1979 football is all wrong." But Reid also says, "The players aren't blameless here. When they step on the field, problems with management should be the last things on their mind. Athletes as a whole are people who have a hard time accepting responsibility for their own actions. It takes maturity to realize you're the one screwing up."
For the moment, Brown does not see the need for anything other than patience. When the Bengals snapped their losing streak at six with a 34-10 upset of the Steelers three weeks ago, their mood improved noticeably. "But if we hadn't won that game, there might have been a disaster around here," said veteran Tackle Vernon Holland.