Skins assistant Lewis talks to BengalsPosted: Thursday January 02, 2003 12:57 AM
By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated
Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis became the first candidate to interview for the vacant Bengals head coaching job, spending almost all of Tuesday meeting with team officials in Cincinnati, Lewis confirmed to CNNSI.com.
Lewis flew to Cincinnati on Tuesday morning, less than 24 hours after the Bengals received permission from Washington to speak with him about the job, which opened Monday when Dick LeBeau was fired after three seasons.
Lewis met with team president Mike Brown and members of his family at an undisclosed location away from Cincinnati's team complex. The interview was wide-ranging and lasted most of the day, with Lewis returning to Washington the same night. Lewis expressed optimism regarding the interview and said the Bengals seemed eager to know where he could be reached as he and his wife left Wednesday for a short vacation.
"They were excited that I would come [for the interview] right away," Lewis said Wednesday night. "I told them I didn't want to wait. They called [Redskins head coach] Steve [Spurrier] to ask permission to speak with me before noon on Monday. I think it went well, and depending on what happens, we may meet again."
By virtue of being granted the first interview for the Bengals job, Lewis appears to be the front-runner for the position. But that's difficult to assess because Cincinnati also has scheduled an interview Saturday with another top candidate: Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey.
The Bengals' front office will travel to Pittsburgh to talk with Mularkey -- whose Steelers have a first-round playoff game Sunday at home against Cleveland -- thanks to a new league rule this year allowing assistants on playoff teams to interview once with teams seeking new head coaches.
Reached Wednesday night, Mularkey declined comment on his opportunity to interview with the Bengals, saying he is devoting his full attention this week to preparing for the Browns.
Though the Bengals are not confirming anything about their coaching search, it seems apparent that Lewis and Mularkey -- neither of whom have head coaching experience -- are atop their wish list. In something of a surprise development, however, early indications are that Cincinnati has no interest in interviewing former Jacksonville head coach Tom Coughlin for its opening.
The no-nonsense Coughlin, fired Monday after eight seasons with the Jaguars, initially was thought to be a prime candidate to take over the Bengals, whose 12-year run of futility has made them the laughingstock of the NFL. But sources close to the situation say that Bengals officials aren't high on Coughlin's autocratic style, and likely won't seek to interview him unless they fail to land one of their first-tier candidates.
Other candidates who are believed to be on Cincinnati's radar screen are Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress, Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith and possibly Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. It is not known if the Bengals have sought permission from Philadelphia, St. Louis or New England to interview Childress, Smith and Weis, but the Eagles won't open their playoff run until the Jan. 11-12 divisional round, while the Rams and Patriots have concluded their seasons.
In addition, the Bengals are expected to grant interviews to two assistants from LeBeau's staff -- defensive coordinator Mark Duffner and running backs coach Jim Anderson. Their chances are slim, however, since Cincinnati seems intent on going outside the organization to hire a head coach for the first time since Sam Wyche took over for Forrest Gregg in 1984. Lewis said he is unsure of Cincinnati's timetable for making a hire.
In meeting with Lewis on Tuesday, the Bengals broke through their own barrier of having never interviewed a black candidate for any of the club's top coaching or front-office positions. Lewis, Smith and Anderson are black, meaning the Bengals will more than comply with the new league guidelines stipulating that at least one minority candidate be interviewed for each head coaching vacancy.
Lewis said he was encouraged by what he has learned about the Bengals organization, which is still reeling from this season's 2-14 record, the worst in franchise history. The Bengals last qualified for the NFL playoffs and posted a winning season in 1990, the year before Mike Brown took control of the organization from his legendary father, team founder Paul Brown.
"From my research, things are not as bleak as people think," Lewis said. "There's some work that has to be done, but it's obvious they want to win. We went through a lot of things, and they let me present my ideas. Looking at it from the outside, some people might say, 'Don't go near that situation,' but that's not how I view it. I think there's a lot of talent there, and it's a good opportunity for somebody."
Lewis, 44, has interviewed for head coaching jobs in Buffalo, Carolina and Tampa Bay in the past two offseasons. He has been high atop the league's list of most qualified head coaching prospects since leading the Baltimore defense to a record-setting performance in its Super Bowl season of 2000.
Lewis turned down a head coaching opportunity at Michigan State in early December, saying he wanted to keep pursuing his goal of becoming an NFL head coach. Lewis was the hand-picked choice of Bucs general manager Rich McKay last February, but the sons of team owner Malcolm Glazer overruled McKay just hours before a hiring announcement was expected.
Lewis left the Ravens to join Spurrier's new Redskins staff after the near-miss with the Bucs, signing a three-year, $2.7 million contract that made him the league's highest-paid assistant. Although Washington's offense struggled under Spurrier for most of the season, the Redskins' defense was ranked fifth overall and was the strength of the 7-9 team.
Mularkey, 41, also is considered one of the league's most talented, innovative coordinators. Though he is just in his second season as the Steelers offensive coordinator, Pittsburgh has finished among the league's top five offenses both years, making the playoffs each time.
Mularkey has interviewed for just one other NFL head coaching job, the Tampa Bay position last year. He was considered McKay's No. 2 candidate, behind Lewis. Mularkey was a Bucs assistant coach in 1994-95 under Wyche.