INDIANAPOLIS -- Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has hinted at it before, but he reiterated firmly Friday that when controversial Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict retires, he has a job for him.
"When he's done playing football, I'm going to hire him as a coach -- if I'm still coaching," Guenther said. "He's way smarter than everybody gives him credit for."
Guenther's job offer came amid an emphatic defense of Burfict during an interview session Friday with Bengals media at the NFL combine. Speaking for the first time since two days after the season, Guenther expressed his anger at the way Burfict has been broadly perceived since he was flagged for hitting Steelers receiver Antonio Brown in the head with his shoulder pad late in the Bengals' wild-card round playoff loss last month. Guenther was critical of what he considers an overwhelmingly negative and vitriolic narrative that has surrounded his linebacker in recent weeks.
"Everybody thinks he's this thug, and he doesn’t understand this," Guenther said. "I think it's awful. The way he’s being perceived right now is terrible. I feel terrible for the kid."
Burfict has stayed relatively quiet after the hit led, in part, to a three-game suspension next season. But he broke that silence on Monday when he sat down with ESPN's Josina Anderson. The longer interview will be aired at a later date, but Burfict said he knew he would have to change the aggressive style of play, which has led to 16 personal foul penalties in 50 career regular-season and postseason games.
"His change is the things he has to go through daily in how he plays," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said Friday. "It's not playing football, it's not playing linebacker. His change comes from conceptually. That's what he's got to continue to do. He's a fine, fine player, and he's got to continue to be the guy we expect him to be to win football games for us."
Burfict's past infractions have included punching an opposing player in the groin (2013 vs. Green Bay) and twisting the ankles of opposing players after plays have been blown dead (2014 vs. Carolina). He was fined in both incidents.
"He just can't do the stuff after the play," Guenther said.
That's the only thing Guenther says he’s pleading for Burfict to change.
"He's got to work on playing with controlled anger," Guenther said. "But I don’t ever want to take the edge away from Vontaze because that's the way he plays. I don't want passive linebackers. I don’t want that -- I never have."