On Chad and Marvin
Some thoughts on the Chad Johnson situation and head coach Marvin Lewis' handling of it and the media:
-- Chad Johnson isn't the Bengals' biggest problem. He's far from the Bengals' biggest problem. Chad Johnson doesn't draft players, manage the salary cap or decide which end-of-career, bargain-basement free agents to pursue. I'm sure Chad Johnson would have loved for his team to aggressively pursue and sign linebacker Adalius Thomas, who ended up with the Patriots.
-- Chad Johnson is not the head coach, nor the offensive coordinator. Nor the defensive coordinator, for that matter.
-- If Chad Johnson were to be traded, T.J. Houshmandzadeh's productivity would decrease. Houshmandzadeh is an excellent receiver, a man worthy of respect for the self-made nature of his climb to stardom, but Johnson attracts a great deal of attention from defenses that helps create space and mismatches for Houshmandzadeh.
-- If you think Chris Henry could step and replace Johnson, you're wrong. Henry has proven not to be dependable. And Henry is one misstep from a even greater NFL discipline. Commissioner Roger Goodell said as much, and further punishment could include banishment.
-- Chad Johnson is not nearly the disruption that Terrell Owens or other wide receivers have been on their respective teams. Johnson works incredibly hard at practice and shows up to work on time every day.
-- Chad Johnson, last time I checked, doesn't play defense for the Bengals. And the defense, far and away, remains the biggest problem on this team. It shows no signs more signs of sustainable improvement now than it did in 2003 or 2004.
-- Is Chad Johnson a scape goat, or as Emmitt Smith said Monday on ESPN, an "escapegoat," for all of the Bengals' problems? Is Johnson a convenient distraction being used by the organization to deflect attention from the real issues of front office management and coaching? If Johnson is an internal problem, is the degree of that issue being exaggerated to deflect attention from an under-achieving team and coaching staff? I'm just asking the question here.
-- That said, Chad Johnson might very well be an internal disruption in the locker room. But I would say he has contributed much more to the organization than he has taken. I think he has made the Brown family a ton of money.
-- I think, and this is a possible attitude in the Bengals front office, that Drew Rosenhaus, Johnson's agent, is the choreographer of many of Johnson's antics -- the puppeteer, to some extent.
-- ESPN's Chris Mortensen is one of the top NFL reporters in the country. He wouldn't make up a Bengals source like the one that he said told him that the Bengals have discussed the possibility of trading Chad Johnson.
-- This is fact, not a complaint: Marvin Lewis is one of those NFL head coaches who treats the national media differently -- more favorably -- than the local media. It happens in other markets around the league; these coaches think they get more bang for their buck going nationally. Lewis has his pet national reporters, ones he receives with hugs (Michael Smith of ESPN, for example) on their visits, reporters that have "helped" him in the past, and he talks to them frequently. I don't want a hug, if that's what some of you are thinking. I just want relatively honest answers.
It's Lewis' prerogative to talk to whom he chooses. But he also insults his team's customers when he fails to communicate honestly with them -- hiding behind an often-bogus cloak of protecting competitive advantage -- through the local media, the primary source of information for Bengals' fans.
I don't take what I think is his evasive, often condescending attitude with us personally. I don't. He can answer our questions any way he chooses. In fact, I receive a lot of e-mail and phone calls from readers who want to know how the local media contingent resists telling Lewis to stick it sideways when he says we (and his customers) are too stupid to understand the basics of football or otherwise attempts to insult us.
For those radio listeners who think the only contact one of the beat reporters has with Lewis is during his news conferences, you're wrong. I can't speak for the other reporters, but the majority of my contact with Lewis is done on the side when there are no cameras or microphones around, one-on-one as often as possible. And for the most part, he is accessible. When I have something important to ask him, unless there is no other chance to talk to him that day, I won't ask it in a news conference.
And, finally, I have told this to Marvin directly: I respect him. I understand what he is trying to do with the Bengals; I don't think he gets much help upstairs, and while he might not need a general manager, he does need more sets of eyes in the scouting department (beyond the good scouts the club already has) to provide him with more and better information on players. I also think he is an intelligent man with an admirable work ethic. But I won't kiss his butt. If I did, I wouldn't be -- and I'm going to use one of his pet slogans -- doing my job. The relationship between newspaper reporter and source, by definition, is frequently awkward.
In fact, he sent word through a Bengals public relations employee that he disagreed with the thesis of my Sunday story -- that the high number of hamstring and groin pulls/strains suffered by Bengals players since Sept. 7 are largely preventable. OK, we can agree to disagree. I stand by the story. I approached Lewis about it directly last week. I asked to speak to his strength and conditioning coach, Chip Morton. I offered them plenty of time and space to tell their side. Morton declined in the end. But Lewis did talk.