Most Bengals fans younger than 30 years old, probably know Solomon Wilcots is an analyst on the NFL Network. However it wouldn't surprise us if fans didn't realize (or know) that Wilcots was also a former defensive back for the Cincinnati Bengals, who started 26 career games, including Super Bowl XXIII as the team's starting free safety. Wilcots played four seasons with the Bengals during a career that began as an eighth-round draft pick in 1987. Like so many former Bengals players of the past, Wilcots seemlessly made the transition into the media. During the NFL Network's On The Clock, Wilcots projected possible draft picks for the Cincinnati Bengals, starting with Alabama safety Mark Barron as the No. 17 pick (we have to add "if he's there" because we're fairly certain someone will actually think we don't realize that already), ending with Janoris Jenkins at No. 21. So really. The Bengals picking two defensive backs isn't that surprising from an analyst that began his career as a Bengals defensive back.
Something else. After the team's 2002 season, former players David Lapham, Bob Trumpy, Louis Breeden, Mike Martin and Wilcots published personal letters in the Cincinnati Enquirer, addressed to Mike Brown, pleading to the owner to make significant changes. Wilcots wrote:
I must begin this letter by first offering my thanks for drafting a hard-hitting kid from Colorado in the eighth round of the 1987 draft. In my opinion, it was one of your better decisions and ultimately affected the rest of my life. I've met my wife, had my three children and began a wonderful career here in Cincinnati.
It was a career made possible with the opportunity to learn from Dick LeBeau, who, for me, has unlocked many mysteries of the grand game of football.
I've also had the pleasure of playing in Pittsburgh for your good friend, Dan Rooney, with whom I know you have a lot in common. Not only are you both lawyers by trade, your fathers (Art Rooney Sr. and Paul Brown) were great NFL patriarchs who nurtured the league from its infancy to the sporting spectacle it has become today.
Now, as second-generation NFL owners, both you and Mr. Rooney have faced the challenge of stepping out of the shadows of paternal greatness and into the glorious sun of shaping your own legacy. Other than operating NFL franchises in cities of comparable market size, the similarities in ownership end there.
In the 15 years since Art Rooney Sr.'s death in 1988, the Steelers have gone 135-95-1 while participating in 15 postseason games - including a Super Bowl.
Respectfully, since the death of the legendary coach Paul Brown in 1991, the Bengals have gone 54-136 with zero postseason games in 12 years.
Every NFL team has experienced good times and bad, but 12 straight nonwinning seasons is no coincidence. Pittsburgh has had two head coaches (Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher) in the last 33 years. The Bengals have had three new head coaches (David Shula, Bruce Coslet and Mr. LeBeau) in the last 12 years.
Continuity has its advantages. In Pittsburgh, Dan Rooney allowed former general manager Tom Donahoe and personnel specialists such as Charles Bailey and Tom Modrak to draft, trade and sign key players in order to become a consistent winner.
The Steelers organization has adapted to the changes of frequent player movement since the advent of free agency in 1994. By allowing coaches to work in concert with their scouting department, communicating the type of player and the specific skills needed for each position, they've ensured a quick and easy transition into their offensive and defensive schemes. Despite losing Pro Bowl players like Rod Woodson, Greg Lloyd, Chad Brown and Kevin Greene, the Steelers were able to infuse their line-up with young talents such as Jason Gildon, Joey Porter, Kendrell Bell and Chad Scott because of their unified scouting and coaching components.
In today's NFL, asking coaches to hit the road and scout players following a full NFL season is like asking a man to run a race four months after the starter's pistol has been fired. Bengals coaches who travel to scout players after the regular season are not only playing catchup, but they are also missing out on valuable time to help develop future stars who spent the previous year running the former team's plays and not your own.
Four years after he was taken in the third round of the 1998 draft, the Steelers' Hines Ward has become a 1,000-yard receiver. Under the tutelage of then-wide receivers coach Bob Bratkowski, Ward learned his craft during off-season training workouts and film study. The best teachers make the best coaches, and the best communicators make the best teachers. Gone are the days when we ask our best coaches to earn their salaries by performing other tasks.
In the end, part-time coaches and part-time scouts will get you part-time results. The formula for corporate success is not difficult. It's called, "Know your role." The owners can own, but let the managers manage. Let the coaches coach, and let the players play. Please, just ask Mr. Rooney. It works.
Hamilton County has given the Bengals a palatial stadium, representing, in its fullness, the financial windfall and state-of-the-art technology befitting a new-millennium palace.
In return, the mega-million dollar investment has been repaid with old-school practices and stubborn ideologies. What is clear to everyone is this formula simply isn't working. Its tried-and-true failure is made evident by 12 consistent years of fractured hopes and broken dreams. While lamenting each loss, our frustrating Sundays have led to black Mondays of depression.
With that said, the use of public funds requires accountability to the public. The irony is, the fans want what you want. A WINNER.
Finally, it wouldn't hurt to communicate with your players and ask them how their families are doing. The lack of general interest in your players has been a common source of conversation in the locker room for years. Clearly, the players are seeking some element of relationship between themselves and their employer. This mere measure of humanity will go a long way in ushering in a renaissance of Bengal pride and tradition.
In a day when players can now choose for whom and where they will play, this little tiff deserves no further explanation. As for me, I owe you a debt of gratitude. But your debt to Bengals fans has yet to be paid.