Bengals tap Lewis to turn around franchise

Posted: Wednesday, January 15, 2003

CINCINNATI -- The architect of one of the NFL's greatest defenses will try to resurrect its worst team.

Marvin Lewis was hired Tuesday as head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, who haven't had a winning season in the last 12 years. Lewis was coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens defense that won the 2001 Super Bowl and set an NFL record for fewest points allowed in a season.

The hiring marked a philosophical shift for the Bengals, who had not brought in a total outsider as head coach since 1980.

''It's a big step in the right direction for the franchise, as well as for the Brown family,'' Pro Bowl fullback Lorenzo Neal said. ''It's good for morale.''

Lewis is the third black head coach in the NFL, joining Tony Dungy of Indianapolis and Herman Edwards of the New York Jets.

The NFL has been under pressure from a group led by Johnnie Cochran Jr. and Cyrus Mehri to accelerate the pace of minority hiring. All 32 teams agreed last month to interview minority candidates when they have openings for a coach or key spots in the front office.

Lewis will bring a fresh perspective to a locker room that wallowed in misery as the losses mounted. Lewis, the team's first black head coach, will be moving to a city still trying to heal from race riots in 2001.

''In the 35 years of the franchise, there haven't been a lot of blacks in there,'' offensive tackle Willie Anderson said. ''For one of the first blacks in the front office to be the head coach, that's a gigantic move. Cincinnati is a place where you wouldn't think that would happen.''

After failing to get a head coaching job after the 2000 or 2001 seasons, Lewis became defensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins, but was eager for the chance to become an NFL head coach.

He's starting at the bottom.

''This is about hard work,'' Lewis said. ''I don't think places win or lose. I have a plan to get the little things done to bring the performance of our team up, to cultivate the guys we have and to add players to it.''

The Bengals haven't had a winning record in the last 12 years and became a national laughingstock during a 2-14 season that was the worst in team history. Dick LeBeau was fired a day later.

For the first time since owner Mike Brown took over the team in 1991, he looked outside the organization for a replacement. Brown also interviewed Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and former Jacksonville head coach Tom Coughlin.

Brown and other front-office personnel were in Mobile, Ala., scouting the Senior Bowl when they chose Lewis as the team's ninth head coach.

The Bengals introduced Lewis in a news conference at a hotel near Point Clear, Ala.

''This is the most unusual place to hold a press conference about a Cincinnati Bengals head coach, 740 miles from Cincinnati,'' Brown said. ''Yet, this is where the process ended up.''

Quarterback Jon Kitna, who has called for change at the top of the organization, was encouraged that Lewis will evidently get to hire most of his staff.

''It sounds to me like they're going to let him have a little bit of say in what goes on,'' Kitna said. ''That's a very positive thing.''

The last time the Bengals went entirely outside the organization for a head coach was 1980, when they hired Forrest Gregg. He led the team to its first Super Bowl a season later, but butted heads with the Brown family over control of the roster and left after the 1983 season.

During their dismal dozen years, the Bengals have had four head coaches with links to the organization: Sam Wyche, Dave Shula, Bruce Coslet and LeBeau. None has been able to produce as much as one winning record in the past 12 years.

The question is whether Lewis, who has been an NFL assistant for 11 seasons, can overcome the front office's shortcomings, which practically ensure failure.

The Bengals are 55-137 under Brown, who refuses to bring in a general manager, give his head coaches final say over the roster or upgrade the NFL's smallest scouting staff.

By hiring Lewis instead of someone on staff, Brown acknowledged a need to change direction and win back fans. The Bengals' last three home games last season drew the three smallest crowds in Paul Brown Stadium history.

''I think we've turned over a new leaf for the Bengals,'' Brown said. ''We are starting fresh. He has the respect of people throughout the National Football League. He sold us, and I think he will sell the people in Cincinnati.''

Brown chose a head coach who will be much different from LeBeau, who also was a former defensive coordinator. LeBeau, 65, was personable and easygoing, and some players took advantage of him.

Lewis is much younger (44) and more fiery. His hiring was welcomed by team leaders, who are hoping for a significant change in the front office as well.

Despite the myriad drawbacks, Lewis took the job because he was so determined to become a head coach after being repeatedly passed over.

''The Bengals' organization deserves a great deal of credit, especially Mike Brown,'' Cochran and Mehri said in a statement.

''We will continue to monitor the NFL and its teams to ensure they act in good faith and we look forward to seeing the NFL embrace the power of diversity among its head coaching ranks and front office personnel.''

Lewis' work in the Ravens' Super Bowl season made him a widely mentioned candidate, but the team's playoff run left him unable to interview for jobs. The NFL now allows assistants with playoff teams to interview for head coaching jobs.

Lewis was considered for Buffalo after the Super Bowl, but got passed over. After the 2001 season, he also got passed over for Carolina's job.

Lewis then emerged as Tampa Bay's prime candidate after Bill Parcells decided against coming out of retirement. General manager Rich McKay recommended Lewis, but the sons of Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer decided against hiring him.

He went to Washington, where he had a lot of autonomy under offense-minded head coach Steve Spurrier.



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