Tagliabue: Be Patient With Bengals

Wednesday, October 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CINCINNATI (AP) — The question was put to NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue six different ways during an uncomfortable 20-minute media session.

Why can't the Cincinnati Bengals win? Does he agree with fans that the problem is general manager Mike Brown? Can't he do anything about the NFL's most inept team?

With Brown standing nearby shifting his weight uneasily as the questions continued, Tagliabue gave essentially the same answer to each one.

There's nothing wrong with Mike Brown's football philosophies, he said. Fans just have to be patient. Things can turn around. And no, there's nothing he can do.

``That's really not my job,'' he said Tuesday after getting his first tour of Paul Brown Stadium. ``I have a lot of respect for the people who run our teams, including Mike Brown.

``At any given point in time, some teams are going to be in a winning cycle and some teams are going to be in a losing cycle. And Mike knows that more deeply and more disappointingly than anyone in the room. He played the game. He's been around the game his whole life. He's the owner of the team.''

He's the owner of an 0-6 team that hasn't had a winning season since his father, Paul, died in 1991. The Bengals were the NFL's worst team in the 1990s and have opened a new stadium with perhaps the worst team in franchise history.

Tagliabue had visited Cincinnati and lobbied voters to approve a tax hike for the stadium in 1996, saying it would help the Bengals be competitive.

He didn't back down on those words Tuesday, but suggested patience is needed now.

``Mike will not sleep well until he wins a division and wins a conference and wins a Super Bowl, or at least gets back to where the team was in the late 1980s,'' he said.

Tagliabue fielded the questions smoothly in a stadium interview room while Brown stood a few feet away, hands clasped in front of him. Brown shifted uncomfortably from side to side and stared at reporters as the tough questions flew, but said nothing.

The only light moment came when Tagliabue joked that he might be to blame for the Bengals' problems.

``Sometimes I wonder whether it's me because before I arrived, when Pete Rozelle was the commissioner, this was a hell of a football team when I came in 1990,'' he said. ``And they haven't won since. Sometimes I wonder if it's something I did.''

Tagliabue said it's likely but not guaranteed that the Bengals will remain in the same division with the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers when the NFL realigns before the 2002 season. Houston will rejoin the league then, giving it 32 teams.

He said half of the owners will meet next month and the other half in December to try to work out a realignment plan.

``You quickly realize there are not too many givens,'' he said. ``When you have to analyze how 32 teams fit together in eight divisions, you almost have to draw on a clean slate.''

A few months ago, some owners suggested expanding the number of teams in the playoffs in 2002. Tagliabue said there's not much support for the idea now.

``It comes back to continuing to have a regular season that is demanding and which results in teams being eliminated from the chase — in other words, keeping the value of the prize of winning,'' he said.