Paul and Mike Brown have maintained such a stranglehold on the decision making within the Bengals organization through the team's 47 year existence. In recent years, Mike Brown has discussed allowing the team to be run more and more by his daughter, Katie Blackburn. However, one thing that he has only recently discussed is how much he's delegated personnel decisions to Duke Tobin.
Officially, Tobin is the Bengals' director of player personnel. To the untrained eye, that's just some corporate title for a member of the organization who focuses on quality control. However, to those who follow the Bengals closely, that's about the closest that this team is going to get to having a general manager and Tobin is as good at his job as anyone in the business.
Tobin is not your typical front office employee. Mike Brown tends to prefer hiring members of his close inner circle and family for such important positions within the organization. But, Tobin is a former Arena Football quarterback whose father was the general manager of the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears and now, serves as the Bengals' Midwest scout. It was actual Duke's father, Bill, who first told Brown about Duke, who was looking to create a career for himself in the NFL.
Brown, who doesn't say much, can't say enough about Tobin as a member of the organization. "Duke has become the focal point for everyone," Brown told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. "He keeps it on track. I would say today the responsibility is largely his. He puts it all together."
Marvin Lewis got in on the praise as well, saying, ""He’s done a very good job of putting the information together, the cross-checking of things, the organization of things. He’s really streamlined it, I think both personnel and coaching-wise."
Lewis also knows Tobin is no typical director of player personnel. "Mike (Brown) has given him a great deal of responsibility and put him in charge of a lot of things," Lewis said.
Brown and Lewis' feelings are completely validated by the track record. Tobin joined the Bengals in 1999, although only serving in his current role since 2002. If that time period strikes you as interesting, it should. Since generally taking over the personnel aspects of the team in 2002, the Bengals have seen almost all of their success during the Mike Brown era.
Between Paul Brown's death and Duke Tobin's hiring, the Bengals put together a dismal record of 39-89. For the first three years of Tobin's tenure with the team, things still weren't going great as the team put together a similarly abysmal record of 16-48. In 2002, things seemed to be going in the same, bad direction as the team put up their worst record ever (2-14).
However, in the offseason, something clicked. With Tobin's help, the team began drafting smart and putting together a talented roster. "Personality matters in football," Tobin told Hobson, and, anyone who followed the NFL in the mid-2000s can attest that the Bengals had personality, and it worked for them.
He also admitted that one big thing that he looks for is the 'spark' in a player. His exact words on the matter were, "The dull guys without much personality and spark and energy are always the ones that tend to fail."
Back in the day, this personality was evident in dynamic players like Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Carson Palmer, Dhani Jones, Dexter Jackson, and many more players that provided that extra 'spark' they needed to find success at important times. These days, the personality is a bit more concentrated, but you can still the kind of players Tobin he prefers in Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Andrew Whitworth, and even Vontaze Burfict, and Adam Jones.
"We like guys that mean a lot to the teams they’re on," Tobin says. "Guys who elevated the team. Gave maximum effort. Weed out the guys that play because they want to, not because they can."
It's a stark contrast from the days before Tobin. Bengals fans might cringe to remember such dull players as Dan 'Big Daddy' Wilkinson, David Klingler, and Ki-Jana Carter. There were still some guys like Akili Smith, Corey Dillon, and Takeo Spikes who had personality, but it was the wrong kind that either was an active detriment to the team, or didn't fit well with the rest of the locker room.
Over the years, it's become obvious that Tobin's impact on the team has been one of the best things that could have happened. He helped to put together a roster that knew how to win games and actually accomplished it more often than not. Following his first offseason as director of player personnel, the team has put together a record of 112-99-2.
Around the time of the Wild Card matchup, reports swirled that Tobin was drawing interest from the Titans and Lions for their General Manager jobs. Those rumors were quickly put to rest with reports that Tobin had no interest in leaving the Bengals, and that's the best news a Bengals fan can hear... Well, it probably wouldn't beat a playoff win, but, it's great news.
"I'm a loyal guy," Tobin said. "Loyalty matters. Ownership here is loyal to its employees and employees ought to mimic that loyalty. (Ownership's) lives are football, That's what they're about. They don't have outside business interests. This is what their lives are all about and they're excellent at it. That's what makes it a unique, special place. It's all about football. From the lowest guy all the way up to the owner. It's all about football."
Just don't tell Tobin how much credit he deserves for the Bengals' success in recent years. He would rather give the praise to the coach or the players who have combined for that record over the years.
As Tobin says, "I think what breeds dysfunction in an organization is when pieces of the organization start reaching out for credit that a group has achieved."