Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis apparently was gauging his short-term prospects for an NFL head-coaching position yesterday as he delayed a decision on Michigan State’s opening for a second day.
Lewis still did not accept or decline the five-year, $7.5million offer to become the Spartans coach because of continued concerns he could land an NFL job in the near future, possibly as soon as this offseason, those close to him said.
A variety of NFL head-coaching posts could open this winter, including those with the Arizona Cardinals, Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars and Seattle Seahawks. But it is unclear whether Lewis, who nearly was hired for several such jobs in recent years, would be a strong candidate for those prospective openings.
Michigan State officials continued to press Lewis to accept their offer in discussions late Monday and yesterday but did not increase the terms, feeling that their proposal was generous for a college coach at any big school. Indeed, even UCLA, a coveted program in a more expensive area of the country, reportedly is looking to pay several hundred thousand dollars less a season for its newly vacant post.
Lewis’ concerns did not appear to stem from compensation or the Spartans’ buyback clause, which would be a fairly easy obstacle to overcome (provided it was negotiated down to a reasonable amount) if an NFL team wanted to hire him. Instead, he seemed worried about accepting the Spartans’ offer when a pro job could be had this winter or next.
Lewis supported that line of thinking in comments Monday night. At Redskin Park last night, he declined comment other than to say a decision would not come until at least today. He spent the day meeting with assistant coaches in preparation for Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Redskins are starting to brace for Lewis’ departure one way or the other. If he does not take the Michigan State job, Los Angeles-area reports already are mentioning him as a prospective candidate for UCLA. And those close to Lewis say a rejection of Michigan State would mean he thinks he can get an NFL top job soon.
Lewis said Monday his goal is to become a head coach, whether at the college or NFL level. He already serves as the de facto Redskins head coach at times but makes less than a fifth of coach Steve Spurrier’s $5 million annual salary.
The top candidates to replace Lewis within the Redskins’ organization are linebackers coach George Edwards and defensive line coach Ricky Hunley. Hunley might assume Lewis’ duties as assistant head coach regardless of whether he is named defensive coordinator.
Lewis’ patience also could be attributed to lessons learned from his surprising turnaround during negotiations 10 months ago to join the Redskins.
Over a three-day span in early February, Lewis appeared certain to take the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ head-coaching job, then to return as the Baltimore Ravens’ defensive coordinator and then to accept the Redskins’ offer to become the NFL’s highest-paid assistant.
Lewis admitted Monday that “there’s no question” he learned something from that series of events. He said he wanted to discuss Michigan State’s offer with the “people who are important to me” and then, as quickly as possible, make the “right decision.”
That said, what happened Monday before Lewis declared himself undecided was pretty unpredictable in its own right.
First Spartans officials were convinced they had their new coach when Lewis and his wife, Peggy, departed East Lansing on Monday afternoon. Then ESPN reported that Lewis told Redskins officials he was not taking the job. That report was widespread by the time Lewis spoke with reporters and declared both scenarios false.