Bruce Coslet begins his second head coaching job with a lot of problems and little room to maneuver.
The Cincinnati Bengals are 1-6, headed for their sixth consecutive losing season. Fans have deserted them. The locker room is divided. The coaching staff is stressed.
It’s a much tougher predicament for Coslet, who got to start from scratch with the New York Jets . Coslet, an offensive coordinator who took over for Dave Shula on Monday, is boxed in by circumstances.
With a home game against Jacksonville only five days away, Coslet had not even spoken to the team as a whole by Tuesday. Players had two days off after returning from a 28-21 loss in San Francisco.
“I’ve just started the process of telling them what I think needs to be done,” Coslet said Tuesday afternoon. “So far, so good. They’ve been receptive. We’ll see how that portrays on the field.
“I’m like the fans out there — I’m a little skeptical right now. And they have a reason to be, and so do I. Nobody’s comfortable. It’s just a major change and it’s going to be a difficult time for the next several weeks.”
Tension is palpable at the team’s Spinney Field complex. As reporters were escorted to Coslet’s office for an interview Tuesday, two assistant coaches got into a fight in an office down the hall. Other coaches came running to break it up.
“Hey, it’s a stressful time for everybody,” Coslet said. “We’re like family, we’re together so much. So something like that is not out of the ordinary. I’ve seen it happen before. And this has been a very stressful week. So don’t read anything into it. There’s nothing to it.”
Players also are showing the strain. Quarterback Jeff Blake, who was with Coslet in New York, walked past reporters trying to get his reaction Monday.
“I’m not talking about the coaching change,” Blake said.
Other players said there was division in the locker room.
“I think that has got to change,” offensive lineman Scott Brumfield said. “No matter who’s coaching this team, we’re never going to win unless everybody pulls together. You definitely have players going their own ways. No matter who’s coaching, you’re never going to win with factions.”
Coslet’s job is to fill in the holes in talent and get the players working together, and to do it quickly. Although president Mike Brown talked about Coslet as a long-term coach, he has not given him a contract beyond this season.
“It’s almost overwhelming,” Coslet said of the team’s deficiencies. “It’s just one game at a time. We won’t fix it all this week. What we miss, we’ll pick up the next week, then the next, the next, the next.”
Coslet has experienced what it’s like to be a head coach, serving four years in New York. He led the Jets to the playoffs, and was fired after going 8-8..
“We have better personnel here than there was at the Jets when I first took over. There’s more talent here,” Coslet said. “The Jets were in a sad state of affairs, they really were. We went to the playoffs my second year there really doing it with mirrors. Their overall talent level was not good.”
In New York, Coslet had a few skirmishes with the media, got into a shouting match with fans at Giants Stadium during a game, and spent a lot of time defending his play-calling.
Coslet said he learned from his first head coaching job and is more qualified the second time around.
“I think I did a pretty good job in New York,” Coslet said. “I think I’ll do a better job just because of the experience factor. I made a lot of mistakes being kind of a green coach there. Also, I did a lot of good things.”
In New York, he showed he wasn’t afraid to make changes.
“Bruce kept us motivated and we were always well-prepared,” Jets safety Lonnie Young said. “I think he’ll try to make the necessary changes over there and get that situation going in the direction he wants. He’s not one to sit around and not do things.”