Saturday, April 19, 1997
Coslet looking for a fighter

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Bruce Coslet's ideal job interview is impractical. Also dangerous. If the Cincinnati Bengals' head coach had his druthers, he'd screen college football players by punching them.

He'd want to know which ones would retaliate, and which would recoil. He'd want to know - beyond stopwatch speed and bench press power - which players had the heart for hand-to-hand combat.

''There's a lot of psychology involved,'' Coslet said. ''Because you're dealing with people. If I punched you in the face, would you get up and fight me? I don't know. But you hope that guy would jump up and nail you.''

Coslet is the Bengals' fiestiest coach since Forrest Gregg, which is seen here as a strong recommendation. Like Gregg, Coslet was hired to take a Bengal team typified by indifference and give it a more pugnacious personality. So far, so good.

The Bengals were 7-2 following Coslet's battlefield promotion last season, but he was working with Dave Shula's coaching staff and a lot of players he hadn't picked. Where the Bengals go from here will depend to a great extent on Coslet's ability to appraise talent.

'Go with gut feeling'

This afternoon's NFL draft is Coslet's first as the Bengals head coach, and should provide the first real test of his abilities as a talent scout. Coslet has been a head coach before, with the New York Jets, but the Bengals' organizational chart allows him more input into the draft.

The franchise's final decisions still belong to Mike Brown - this despite the David Klingler debacle - but Coslet is sure to be a strong and stabilizing influence. He views the draft as more of an art than a science, and distrusts the widespread devotion to 40-yard dashes and power lifting printouts.

''You're not going to draft a guy who runs 4.9 to play cornerback,'' Coslet said. ''There are measurables, but they're just parameters. A lot of it is experience, going with your gut feeling. And there's a hell of a lot of luck involved.''

Coslet's regard for Bengals receiver Darnay Scott can be traced to a piece of film that could easily have landed on the cutting room floor. It was San Diego State versus Brigham Young, Coslet recalled, and it was well after the whistle.

''This little corner kept holding him,'' Coslet said. ''I mean all day. Really bad. Then Darnay runs this pattern in the back of the end zone, and (the pass) was incomplete to somebody else.

''He's jogging back to the huddle and this corner came by and he went BAM - smacked him right in the face - and he didn't even break stride and went back to the huddle. And the referee didn't see it.

''I liked that. It caught my attention.''

Educated guesswork

Darnay Scott would not have been drafted in the second round strictly on combativeness. Still, coaches like to see a little spark to go with a lot of speed. They like to think that they can see something the computers might have missed.

For all its studious analysis and absurd intrigue, the NFL draft remains educated guesswork. Excluding Coslet's punch-to-the-face test, there is no reliable indicator that reveals how a great college player will respond to a higher level of competition or a big pile of cash.

If there were, the Bengals never would have spent first-round selections on Rickey Dixon or Pete Koch. And they wouldn't have waited so long on the likes of Tim Krumrie and Ken Riley.

Not that anyone else has found a sure-fire formula. Coslet's draft experience in New York included the brilliant discovery of Jeff Blake in the sixth round, and the terrible blunder of Blair Thomas.

Thomas was a Penn State running back whose collegiate brilliance belied an NFL bust. (Sound familiar?) The Jets made Thomas the second selection in the 1990 draft, and soon regretted it.

''Blair was a can't miss, no-way guy, and he missed,'' Coslet said. ''He just never got it done. He was an exciting, very productive college football player. But that doesn't necessarily transpose into being that in the National Football League.''

Maybe Mel Kiper can draw lasting conclusions from today's draft, but most of us have learned to wait for proof.

''It's fun to go back three or four years later and see how right you were,'' Coslet said. ''I go back through my notes every year, just as kind of a study.''

The punch in the face procedure might yield quicker results, but it does have its drawbacks. Bruce Coslet only has so many teeth.