Marvin Lewis will stay as Bengals’ coach
CINCINNATI – The front office won’t change significantly. The Bengals will still be practicing in the cold. Even with all that, Marvin Lewis decided to stay.
Lewis agreed to an unspecified contract extension on Tuesday that will make him the longest-tenured coach in club history. Owner Mike Brown agreed to changes in the coaching staff and the roster as part of a deal that left both sides comfortable.
The Bengals are coming off a 4-12 season and have had only two winning records in the last 20 years – both under Lewis, who is 60-69-1 in eight seasons, including losses in both playoff appearances.
“We are close to being the kind of team we can be,” Brown said. “I think continuity will give us the best shot at becoming that team. We have a good relationship, Marvin and I. We work well together. It isn’t an easy relationship, but it’s a good one.”
Lewis wanted to stay, but only if there were changes in how the team operates. The team initially offered an extension last season, when the Bengals were on their way to winning the AFC North title.
The coach and owner met on Monday and talked about what Lewis needed to stay. They had more discussions on Tuesday morning and reached an agreement in the afternoon.
“When you consider all things, looking forward and so forth, I think this is the right spot for me to be,” Lewis said. “I’m not happy with where we are. It’s not finished. I came here to do a certain thing and we’re not done. I just felt that way.
“I really came to the realization this morning that this is what I wanted to do.”
Brown said the uncertainty over the collective bargaining agreement was a factor, though not a major one, in wanting to keep Lewis. He implied that the extension was for at least two years, but wouldn’t be more specific.
“And I would say this: I think we’re going to have a better year next year, and it might get longer than that real fast,” Brown said.
Lewis will surpass franchise founder Paul Brown and Sam Wyche for longest coaching tenure. Lewis’ 69 losses are the most for any Bengals coach – one more than Wyche, who led the Bengals to a Super Bowl during the 1988 season.
Wyche and Brown had a falling out that resulted in change after the 1991 season. Lewis and Brown are amicable.
“I want to emphasize there is very little difference between us ever,” Brown said. “We talk things out. We have hard conversations sometimes. Sometimes they can even be a little brittle. But we work through them and we come to conclusions.
“It isn’t as though I’m dictating and Marvin’s a puppet. That’s not the way it works. He does have real control – not influence, control – over his area, and that should be understood.”
Brown said there won’t be changes in the scouting department – the NFL’s smallest – or other front-office operations. He also said that a covered practice facility isn’t an immediate priority. The Bengals are the only northern team without one either completed or planned.
The Bengals have the right to cover one of the practice fields next to Paul Brown Stadium, but would have to pay for it. Instead, the Bengals got on buses and went to a soccer facility to practice for their playoff game against the Jets last season.
“Marvin has a desire to have a practice facility,” Brown said. “I have a desire, but probably not as keen. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a desire to do it. The timing is important. Right now, we’re faced with major issues in the National Football League and those are at the front of our agenda. When we get through that, then we’ll have time to consider the issue.”
It’s not the first time that Brown has kept a coach coming off a lousy season. He gave Dave Shula a two-year extension in 1993, when the Bengals were completing a 3-13 season that would stand as the measuring stick for franchise futility – until this year.
Like the ’93 team, the 2010 Bengals lost 10 straight games, the franchise record. Unlike the ’93 team, this one had a lot of talent and high expectations.
Cincinnati won the AFC North last season, when Lewis won the Coach of the Year award. The Bengals kept the core of the team intact and added receiver Terrell Owens, hoping to repeat as division champions for the first time in franchise history.
Instead, the offense crumbled. Owens blamed the coaching staff for much of the problem. The Bengals failed to sell out their final four home games.
There is likely to be at least one significant change in the coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski finished his 10th season in Cincinnati and might take the fall for the offense’s struggles.
“There will be changes considered with the coaches,” Brown said, declining to be any more specific. “We’ll examine how they all fit and make decisions after we’ve had an opportunity to consider that more.”
Bringing Lewis back is the first of many major decisions the Bengals have to make in the offseason. Owens and running back Cedric Benson are free agents. The team also has a one-year, $6-million contract option on Chad Ochocinco, the top receiver in franchise history.