Wednesday, January 1, 2003

Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis and the Cincinnati Bengals are both interested in him becoming the team’s new coach. And yet, as of yesterday afternoon, it was unclear whether Lewis would interview for the job.
Lewis told friends he would consider the Bengals’ opening, despite Cincinnati’s reputation for undermining its coaches’ ability to win. NFL sources said the club asked for and received permission to talk to him.
The prerequisite for an interview, according to sources close to Lewis, will come from Bengals owner Mike Brown, who must convince Lewis he is not being contacted in order to fulfill the NFL’s new minority interviewing guidelines.
Two other candidates appear high on the Bengals’ list: recently fired Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin and Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey. The Bengals reportedly requested and received permission to interview Mularkey. They also appear interested in St. Louis defensive coordinator Lovie Smith and reportedly want to interview several assistant coaches within the organization.
Lewis wants to become an NFL head coach but is wary of interest this offseason. The league recently created new guidelines to improve the chances of minorities being hired for top posts, and teams are compelled to interview at least one black candidate while looking for a coach.
Lewis will hold clubs to a high standard in terms of proving their interest, sources close to him said. A team must convince him that he is among their elite candidates perhaps their top choice before he will meet with them.
A similar standard was set by Lewis for Michigan State last month. Lewis flew to East Lansing and met with Spartans officials only after they were prepared to make an offer. He eventually turned down that five-year, $7.5 million proposal after he decided he didn’t want to give up his pursuit of an NFL job.
Even if Lewis interviews with the Bengals, obstacles would remain. For Lewis to seriously consider any offer, Brown would have to demonstrate that he will fix many of the obvious problems that have contributed to the Bengals’ dismal record over the past decade, sources said.
Lewis, after leading Washington to the No.5 ranking in total defense in his first season with the club, left Redskin Park Monday afternoon and intended to vacation in Hilton Head, S.C. He could not be reached for comment yesterday. Sources close to him said he had not been contacted by the Bengals as of Monday night but he was told to expect a call.
Cincinnati isn’t the league’s most attractive destination. Brown has a reputation for making staffing and personnel decisions, and the club’s scouting department is the league’s smallest.
However, Lewis doesn’t mind having heavy involvement in scouting. And Brown said the new coach can hire his own staff and that the scouting department might be expanded. In fact, Brown apparently is considering hiring a general manager.
If that’s the case, then Coughlin might be Cincinnati’s top target for several reasons.
First, the club is looking for both a disciplinarian and an offensive mind Coughlin is both. And second, the Jaguars are on the hook for $2.4 million in each of the next two years, which would allow the notoriously frugal Bengals to acquire him for little cost.
Those facts are another example of why Lewis might be wary of Cincinnati’s interest. If Lewis believes Coughlin already is the Bengals’ first choice, he probably will not interview.
The primary goal of the league’s new rules is to raise the profile of qualified black candidates. But Lewis already has had plenty of exposure. He was the architect of Baltimore’s record-setting and Super Bowl-winning defense in 2000. He seems to be one of the few black candidates whom the rules actually hurt, because those rules threaten to bring him interviews with little or no chance of an offer.
In Dallas, for example, owner Jerry Jones interviewed former Minnesota coach Dennis Green by phone even though Jones seems to have pegged Bill Parcells as the new Cowboys coach.
In recent weeks, Lewis has declined comment on the new rules but one of his assistants defensive line coach Ricky Hunley, who is black acknowledged the new policy doesn’t benefit Lewis.
“There are other guys out there who are like Marvin,” Hunley said. “The policy doesn’t serve any purpose for them. But it trickles down to the next guys, so they can get that exposure.”
Jacksonville appears to have little interest in Lewis at this point, focusing its efforts on hiring a general manager who then might oversee a coaching search.

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