Marvin Lewis began work as the Washington Redskins’ defensive coordinator yesterday with his unpredictable journey complete, his massive contract signed and his “instant credibility” in tow.
Lewis, perhaps the NFL’s most respected coordinator after spending six seasons and winning a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens, began watching game tape with coach Steve Spurrier shortly before an evening news conference. Lewis then was introduced as the Redskins’ coordinator and assistant head coach.
The hiring capped a bizarre week for Lewis, who nearly became Tampa Bay’s head coach and then appeared set to re-sign with the Ravens. On Saturday, still reeling from his 11th-hour rejection by the Bucs, Lewis told Baltimore he would return. But on Sunday, Washington lured him away with a three-year, $2.6 million deal that makes him the game’s highest-paid assistant.
“This provided a new opportunity, a new challenge,” Lewis said. “I probably acted in haste Saturday morning a little bit after going through a very tough Friday. I didn’t have a chance to sit back and reflect on what was the best thing for my career and what is the future for me as a football coach. I felt this was right.”
Redskins owner Dan Snyder now has his “Dream Team” to oversee on-field strategy. After a year of conservative, ball-control football under Marty Schottenheimer, the Redskins have an intriguing pairing in Spurrier, the college game’s top offensive strategist for 12 years at Florida, and Lewis.
“This is pretty good,” Snyder said, smiling broadly. He added that he “absolutely” is confident that he is through shuffling the coaching staff after having four head coaches and four defensive coordinators in as many years.
Spurrier spoke excitedly of being able to focus more closely on offensive strategy because he can entrust the defense to Lewis. During the search Spurrier wasn’t committed to hiring the most high-profile coordinator, but he now believes that Lewis’ name and reputation will make a difference.
“It makes me feel pretty good that I’ve got Marvin Lewis on our team,” Spurrier said. “It gives us, to me, instant credibility on the defensive side of the ball. I think our defensive players are going to say, ‘We’ve got a heck of a coach who’s going to give us a chance to really, really play well.’”
The news conference was a bit emotional for Lewis at times, particularly when he spoke of a final conversation with Ray Lewis, the linebacker he helped become one of the NFL’s best in Baltimore.
“It was very sad having to pack up my office after six years this morning,” Lewis said. “But the excitement of driving down here and starting another challenge I’m really looking forward to it.”
Although Lewis wished he hadn’t been so quick Saturday to tell the Ravens he would be re-signing, he added that he felt “kind of put under the gun” by the organization. Meanwhile, money “obviously has got to be a factor,” he said, but the final decision wasn’t based on the Redskins upping their offer a bit and the Ravens standing firm.
Lewis also said he wasn’t trying to get away from Baltimore’s impending salary cap crunch, which will force the Ravens’ standout defense to lose several key members. Far more important, for example, was the opportunity to have more say in personnel decisions.
Ultimately Lewis summed up the decision and the tumultuous process in one sentence: “It’s not over until it’s over.”
Ravens defenses had a distinct style while ranking No. 2 in the NFL each of the past three years and setting NFL 16-game records in 2000 for fewest points (165) and rushing yards (970). Lewis’ 4-3 set used two massive tackles to stuff the run and control interior gaps while speedy linebackers moved quickly to make plays.
The Redskins should expect Lewis to combine that style with the one Kurt Schottenheimer used for a No. 10 ranking last season, then tailor the scheme to the personnel Washington ends up taking into training camp.
“You have to have a blend of [my style and one built for the players],” Lewis said. “These guys have had four different defenses the past four years. To keep things as close as possible to what they were doing before will help their learning curve and keep them going forward.”
If Lewis is as successful as the Redskins expect, another head coaching opportunity is likely to be available. Already he has been a candidate for three such jobs in the past year. Spurrier, for his part, doesn’t have any problem with idea of working with Lewis for a season and then letting him pursue a head job.
“We’ll see how that plays out,” Spurrier said. “Marvin was talking to Mr. Snyder and I, and he said, ‘I’m not worried about being a head coach two years from now, three years from now. My goal is to help the Washington Redskins win a Super Bowl.’”
Notes Spurrier announced the hiring of linebackers coach George Edwards, who recently held the same position with Dallas.
As expected, the Ravens yesterday made Mike Nolan, the team’s receivers coach last season, their new defensive coordinator.