When you have been an NFL head coach for almost 16 seasons, you’ll likely have built a wide coaching tree, and you’ll probably end up with numerous former players circulating around the league.
This week is almost like a family reunion for Marvin Lewis though.
The Raiders have taken on quite a few former-Bengals of late; they even employ a former coach that was with the team for over a decade, and it is something Lewis seems to enjoy talking about.
“[Paul Guenther] did a fine job here. Since he came here with us in 2004, he hustled, did a lot of different things here and did a good job at all of them,” Lewis told reporters Wednesday. “They’ve morphed around defensively this year with the things they’re doing, but they’ve kind of settled in. Obviously, he had great experience coaching against Pittsburgh, so I thought they did a nice job of getting guys to understand, and they played well.”
Of course, Bengals fans are familiar with Guenther, as he took over the defensive coordinator position for the Bengals when Mike Zimmer became the head coach for the Vikings in 2014. The fact he bounced around as a positional coach with the team since 2004 is probably something most casual fans don’t know.
Guenther really put in the time, so it was a little strange when he opted to move on to the Raiders this offseason for the same position when Cincinnati wanted him back. It probably would’ve saved the Bengals plenty of trouble as his replacement, Teryl Austin, didn’t even manage to last an entire season before getting the boot.
Although, Guenther hasn’t fared that well so far in Oakland either. He was dealt a poor hand when the Raiders opted to trade away Khalil Mack before the season, but Oakland has been so bad, it is hard to blame it all on Mack. The Raiders are ranked 31st in scoring and run defense this year.
Guenther won’t be the only familiar face that Lewis’ Bengals will be going up against on Sunday, though. The Raiders also employ AJ McCarron, Frostee Rucker and Emmanuel Lamur — and those are just the active players. They also have Leon Hall, Reggie Nelson, Justin Murray and Brandon LaFell on injured reserve.
“Obviously Leon and Reggie came out of the same draft. We got Reggie here in 2010, and Leon here in ’07. They had a huge impact on the Darqueze’s (Bengals CB Darqueze Dennard) and Dre’s (Bengals CB (Dre Kirkpatrick) of the world,” Lewis said. “Those guys were great mentors as pros, but now they’re both on IR. Frostee (Rucker) is still playing — he came here in 2004. Emmanuel Lamur (was here) in 2012. They have some guys playing who have been here. (Justin) Murray, who was here during training camp and the end of last season. They have quite a few ex-Bengals.”
It was clear that the Raiders and head coach Jon Gruden knew they were going to have a very young team, so they brought in plenty of experience and great mentorship by adding the Bengals they did. It is a shame we won’t get to see guys like Hall and Nelson, who were such big contributors during their time with the Bengals, play on Sunday. It is also pretty incredible that Rucker is even still around.
“Frostee should write (former Bengals DT) John Thornton a check and say, ‘Thank you, John, for keeping me going and helping me learn how to be a pro’ (laughs). You have to give Frostee credit,” Marvin Lewis said of his former defensive lineman. “I’m telling you, he’s worked his tail off to be still playing like this. You’re happy for him. We picked the right guy, obviously, for him to still be playing like he is right now. But going back to talking about mentors, John Thornton was a great mentor for Frostee.
“The league was going to make it even harder [for Rucker to stick around in the NFL for so long]. Everyone was trying to make it harder. But to his credit, he overcame it. It’s what you do once you’re here that counts. I think that’s important.”
People always make a big deal about the high-profile players playing for so long, but sometimes, the most impressive thing is when a player like Rucker can manage to continue to find role’s on NFL rosters year after year. It takes plenty of commitment to keeping your body in pristine condition in order to play that long, and Rucker sure has done that.
Lewis clearly still has some great memories of his former coaches and players. Hopefully, he is able to have them leave Cincinnati with loss as a going away gift.