SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Joe Bugel blames himself.
He also blames his former Phoenix Cardinals assistants, or anybody else who ever told him that Ivory Lee Brown wasn't ready to carry the ball in the NFL.
Since watching Brown throw his 245 pounds around for the San Antonio Riders this spring, Bugel has been kicking himself up and down the NFC East cellar.
"I'm going to be honest. As a football coach, I probably made a big mistake by not playing that man," the Cardinals head coach said. "If you're a one-back offense and you've got a 245-pound back with his qualities, you're making a mistake by not plugging him in.
"This year I'm not going to make that same mistake."
Nine games with the Riders have retooled all initial impressions of Brown, a big body from tiny Arkansas-Pine Bluff who leads the World League in rushing with 676 yards.
Brown's 94 yards on 11 carries were key in San Antonio's 23-20 overtime victory in Sacramento in April, and a repeat performance will likely send the Surge home for the postseason.
"He fits in their offense well," Sacramento linebacker Michael Jones says. "He's a big back, but he doesn't really hit as hard as you think he would. He's got some agility, and he'll move side to side. It's kind of surprising."
A seventh-round draft choice by Phoenix in 1991, Brown received barely a look last summer before being planted on the Cardinals developmental squad for the season. Johnnie Johnson and Anthony Thompson were Bugel's backs of record, a fact the coach regrets in retrospect.
"When we brought him into camp, he had every talent we were looking for," Bugel said. "But we had people on our staff who were not patient with the young man. Those people have been replaced.
"I was badly advised, if you want to know the truth."
Since then, running backs coach Bobby Hammond has been replaced by former Chargers assistant Bobby Jackson, who has worked with Marion Butts -- a back in Brown's mold.
"He liked big backs in San Diego, and I'm looking forward to working with him," Brown said. "He told me he doesn't usually see 245-pound backs move left and right like I do."
San Antonio coach Mike Riley saw the same thing when Brown arrived as a Cardinals allocation to the World League in February.
"One day in the gym, I saw him take a tennis ball and stuff it [through the basket] behind his head," Riley said. "He's really an athlete. He's not just a big back who's kind of a bulldozer."