Bengals give Lewis call he's awaited

Onetime Ravens architect takes over 2-14 Cincinnati, ends wait to be head coach

`There is no perfect situation'

Third black coach in NFL, he gets five-year contract

January 15, 2003|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Opportunity finally embraced perseverance last night when Marvin Lewis accepted the daunting challenge of reviving the moribund Cincinnati Bengals.

The defensive mastermind of the Ravens' 2000 Super Bowl championship was introduced as the Bengals' fifth coach in 13 years at a news conference in Mobile, Ala., the site of Saturday's Senior Bowl.

He becomes the NFL's third black head coach and only the eighth in its history.

A popular candidate for coaching vacancies since his Ravens defense broke league records for fewest points and rushing yards allowed, Lewis had been passed over three times in the past two years.

He lost out to Gregg Williams in Buffalo, John Fox in Carolina and, ultimately, Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay. Buccaneers general manager Rich McKay wanted to hire Lewis last year, but ownership wanted an offensive coach with a bigger profile.

As assistant head coach and defensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins, Lewis beat out Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and recently deposed Jacksonville Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin. He will get a five-year contract to turn around a franchise that perennially picks early in the draft.

"Generally when changes are made, there is no perfect situation," Lewis said. "There are pluses and minuses to every situation. I've been with three different organizations now and you get a chance to see things that are successful and some that aren't. I have a chance to bring those ideas to the Bengals."

Lewis, 44, replaces Dick LeBeau, who was fired after a 2-14 season, the worst in Bengals' history. He has coached 11 years in the NFL, four in Pittsburgh, six with the Ravens as defensive coordinator and one season with Washington.

His past four defenses all were ranked in the league's top five.

Now, he starts over with a team that is notorious for its on-field failure and off-field frugality. The Bengals have not had a winning season since 1990, the year before owner Mike Brown took over for his late father, Paul Brown.

"They have got, somehow, to create an environment, and may very well be doing this with Marvin Lewis, that is different than what they've had," said Ravens coach Brian Billick. "So that when they hit that invariable bump in the road, they don't go, `Here we go again.' It'll be Marvin's challenge to change that sense of environment."

Lewis is the first coach hired from outside the organization since Paul Brown brought in Forrest Gregg in 1980. Gregg took the Bengals to the Super Bowl two years later.

Lewis, who rejected an offer of $1.5 million per year to coach at Michigan State last month, brings a much-needed tough edge and discipline to the Bengals. He is expected to have a voice in personnel moves as well as the draft.

Lewis goes to a city still trying to recover from race riots in 2001.

"In the 35 years of the franchise, there haven't been a lot of blacks in there," said Bengals offensive tackle Willie Anderson. "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."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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