After a 27-point defeat to the Minnesota Vikings, the team coached by his former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, was Marvin Lewis saved by the dead cat bounce of his team’s 2-0 ending to their disappointing season? Not according to the man himself.
“I made up my mind I wanted to coach,” Lewis told Sports Illustrated’s Jonathan Jones. “So do I want to go start over somewhere where I don’t know the people or coach these group of guys downstairs that no one else has? That’s an easy decision. You look at what’s open and these are the best players. And that’s what you want.”
Talent has never been the question in Cincinnati under Lewis though. The methods of utilizing that talent and maximizing it when the games matter the most have been the crux of Lewis’ 0-7 playoff record. And Lewis knew change would have to occur somewhere if not from the position he would return to.
“I knew we were going to have a lot of change on the coaching staff.” Lewis said. “I knew I had to make changes and those are the things that Mike and I had to discuss. I had to make changes on people that had been with me for a long time and had been friends, and it’s difficult.”
Former offensive line coach Paul Alexander and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther were just a couple of familiar names associated under Lewis’ tenure in Cincinnati that were replaced this offseason after Lewis announced he would return as head coach on a two-year contract.
Ken Zampese, long-time quarterbacks coach turned offensive coordinator was also canned mid-season last year, and his replacement Bill Lazor made the same transition that Zampese did. Now Lazor and new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin have Lewis’ support to remake each unit from the ground up.
“We brought in new coordinators and let them have their chance at it,” Bengals owner Mike Brown said last month. “This will make us look different. It will be a challenge to digest for our players. It usually takes a little time. I will be holding my breath some as we start out with it. There will certainly be a few ups and downs with it. It should produce real change with the football team and we are trying to have change.”
With all this change that we’ve heard so much about, Lewis’ way of going about things can’t be expected to differ going into his 16th year on the job in Cincinnati. He knows his failures speak louder than his successes, and he can only focus on what matters to him the most.
“The only thing I’m trying to do is win the championship. That’s it.” Lewis proclaimed. “That’s what this is about. I’ve been there twice. I’ve been there on both ends of it.”
Lewis experienced the losing side of a Super Bowl in Pittsburgh back in 1996 before the defense he coordinated in Baltimore carried the Ravens to a title five years later. From position coach, to coordinator, to head coach, all in the same division (sans a year in Washington), Lewis’ coaching career has been nothing but extensive. And for those thinking that he’ll be in Cincinnati forever, he’ll tell you something different.
“I’ve been blessed but I don’t worry about beyond this year,” Lewis says. “No, no. There will be an end.”
History tells us the end will be the same as the past decade-and-a-half. But nearing 60 years of age, Lewis knows his time is coming to an end as a head coach. How he uses these next two years may ultimately define how he’s remember in that role.