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And the Bengals still have Wyche, the lightning rod for most of the blame heaped on Cincinnati by the fans and the press. But how much longer will Wyche be around? The game against the Giants was a referendum of sorts on him. For once he was not distracted by his passion for the plight of the homeless or by the controversial issues of women in the locker room and America's win-at-all-costs mentality. His focus was on football and coaching and regaining the respect of his players. On Saturday, he had said the game would speak loud and clear about the players' regard for him as a coach. If they didn't play hard, he said, they would be sending him a message about his prospects with the Bengals.
Cincy played hard, but afterward Wyche still wasn't sure if he had much of a future with the team. He has two years left on his contract, at about $500,000 per. However, four months after the death of his father, Bengal founder and NFL legend Paul Brown, Cincy general manager Mike Brown is faced with some big decisions concerning the team's future.
"There could be and probably will be a new coaching staff here next year," said Wyche after Sunday's game. "When I sit down and talk to Mike [after the season], we'll decide if our best chance to win is with me. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But I'm not going to be just listening. I don't want to be part of a second-best effort, just because my contract isn't up."
Wyche wouldn't comment directly when asked if he will demand more say in personnel decisions or if the Bengals need to get with the NFL crowd in areas like scouting and Plan B. All he would say was, "Successful coaches are ones who have a lot of say." It's clear, though, that Wyche wants Cincinnati to be more aggressive in all phases of personnel work.
Here's a perfect example. The Bengals were down to six healthy offensive linemen when Munoz dislocated his left elbow on Sunday. Faced with this situation, most teams would have a pro personnel scout calling available tackles right after the game to fly in for a Monday tryout. In Cincinnati's case, offensive line coach Jim McNally asked Wyche what he thought of bringing in journeyman Mike Withycombe, if McNally could find him. Fine, Wyche said. So McNally started phoning friends around the league to see if anyone knew how to reach Withycombe.
Brown refuses to talk about organizational changes he might be considering. "If you fail as completely as we have this year, you question everything you do," said Brown last Saturday, "but it doesn't mean we're going to change everything."
Pressure has to be building on Brown: Does he retain Wyche and keep the coaching staff intact, does he fire the whole lot of them, or does he fire only the defensive coaches, as is widely anticipated? With his father no longer reigning over the franchise as football swami emeritus, how does he go about reorganizing the front office? How does he come up with a plan that will enable the Bengals to acquire players who can help them while retaining those good players who might be tempted to move on?
The fact is, the competition will not end for the Bengals with their final game on Dec. 22; it will only intensify. With the possibility of six or seven coaching changes around the league after the season, Cincinnati will be in a fight to attract top coaching candidates. Further, if the Bengals become more active in the Plan B market, bidding wars may have to be waged. And with the draft promising to be among the richest in recent years, Cincinnati cannot afford to make mistakes—not after three consecutive subpar drafts and with nine first-stringers who will be older than 30 at the start of next season.
Here's one way Brown can bring his front office into the modern age. Take about 5% of the $32.6 million in 1992 TV revenue and spend it on salaries for four college scouts, a pro personnel director and a director of football operations—a veteran football guy to oversee the whole thing. The Bengals must upgrade their football brain trust, because some form of free agency looms, and they are ill equipped to deal with it.
It's a franchise at the crossroads, a franchise in dire need of modernization. We'll soon see if Brown intends to build a new superhighway or patch the existing two-lane road.