Saturday, April 17, 1999

Sink or swim, Coslet in this for duration




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Bruce Coslet's future is blurry, but his vision is clear. He can see the need for a new quarterback, even without his glasses. Even if it endangers his employment.

        The head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals occupies a precarious position. Though he has two years remaining on his contract, his job may depend on quick results. Grooming a young quarterback, however, tends to be a protracted, sometimes painful process. This is what's known in the trade as a conflict of interests.

        A coach concerned with saving his skin might be inclined to advocate the quick fix. But Coslet has tried the quick fix, finished 3-13, and is now prepared to build from the ground up. If he's not around for the finished product, at least he will be able to look in the mirror without wincing. This is a coach with a conscience.

        “I don't think about things like (job security),” Coslet said Friday afternoon at Spinney Field. “You do what's in the best interest at the time for your team. Regardless.”

        What constitutes the Bengals' best interest in the draft is open to debate. This is a team in need of help at virtually every position, and no position produces more epic flops than quarterback. Of the 16 NFL quarterbacks selected in the first round during the 1990s, only five are starters. The last time the Bengals chose a quarterback in the first round, it was the debacle known as David Klingler.

        Lengthening the odds, the Bengals probably will be looking at leftovers today, because Cleveland and Philadelphia are expected to pick the first two quarterbacks on the board.

        Another reason to reconsider is the purported offer of New Orleans coach Mike Ditka, who is said to be willing to trade all of his draft choices, Pete Fountain, Preservation Hall and a 12-pack of Dixie Beer for the chance to take Texas running back Ricky Williams.

He's made the commitment
        Yet while Coslet has examined the alternatives — and has argued different sides during the Bengals' deliberations — he keeps coming to the conclusion that it's time to take the plunge on a new passer.

        Barring the possibility that Ditka may sweeten his offer with Paul Prudhomme and Pat O'Brien's, the Bengals can be expected to grab whoever's left among Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb and (most likely) Akili Smith.

        “It's a crapshoot,” Coslet conceded, lighting a cigarette. “But our deal on the quarterbacks is if you don't at least try to take them, you'll never get one. All I know is the teams that contend have a top-notch, high draft choice at quarterback.”

        The Bengals have Jeff Blake, who is entering a contract year, and Neil O'Donnell, whose contract is so onerous he probably will be cut in training camp. Neither player inspires much confidence anymore, and both probably will be gone before Paul Brown Stadium opens for business.

        Drafting early, from the deepest quarterback pool in 15 years, Mike Brown and Co. believe they must act now or risk extending their down cycle deep into the new century. Distressing as it might seem to be building from scratch again after so much misery, a fresh new face is infinitely preferable to another tired retread.

Coach will take bad with good
        If Coslet has any private concerns about neglecting pressing needs in the defensive secondary or on the offensive line, he has publicly endorsed the virtues of the long view. If the Bengals are headed toward another train wreck, their head coach is officially on board.

        “I've been on both sides of this,” Coslet said. “So has Mike (Brown). We've gone back and forth. ... But you have to look at the future a little bit. What's next year's quarterback class going to be? Probably not as strong.”

        Not since 1971 have quarterbacks been selected with the first three choices in the NFL draft. Not since 1983 have the pickings been so lush. At least five quarterbacks are expected to be selected in the first round: Couch, McNabb, Smith, Daunte Culpepper and Cade McNown.

        “You'd like to have Akili Smith's throwing motion,” Coslet said. “You'd want McNabb's running ability, McNown's moxie, Culpepper's size and Couch's presence. Put it all together and you've got John Elway. And it took John Elway 13 or 14 years to reach the top.”

        Tim Sullivan welcomes e-mail at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

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