- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

The Cincinnati Bengals and Marvin Lewis intensified the process of feeling each other out yesterday during a meeting at the team's headquarters, and it appeared as though the Washington Redskins' defensive coordinator had emerged as the leading candidate to become the Bengals' coach.

Lewis stayed overnight in Cincinnati to continue his second interview with the club into today.

"This gave me a chance to see their facitilities and get a better idea of what they have here," Lewis said in a phone interview last night. "I was impressed."

Former Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin had his second interview with the Bengals earlier in the day. It lasted about three or four hours.

The Bengals' third elite candidate is Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, but he cannot have a second meeting until the Steelers complete their postseason. Pittsburgh plays Tennessee tomorrow in the AFC divisional round.

By then, the job could belong to Lewis. However, both sides might need a bit more convincing.

From Lewis' perspective, sources have said, the Bengals must assure him that they are prepared to change some of the institutional problems that have made them the NFL's worst franchise for more than a decade.

A variety of factors have contributed to Cincinnati's continued losing under owner Mike Brown, including retaining assistant coaches under various head coaches and maintaining the league's smallest scouting staff.

Lewis spent much of his first meeting with Bengals officials trying to convince them of the best setup for a franchise, sources said. His second meeting was expected to involve similar discussions.

However, preliminary indications were that the sides could work out those factors, even though sources said Brown has been reluctant to change his methods.

Pay remains another issue. Lewis turned down a five-year, $7.5million offer to coach Michigan State last month because he didn't want to end his pursuit of of an NFL post. The Bengals would be expected to top the Spartans' offer of $1.5million a year, but it was unclear exactly what the terms might be.

On Cincinnati's part, the club still must make sure that Lewis is its top candidate. Coughlin doesn't appear to head the team's list but obviously had a successful run with the Jaguars, while Mularkey still could be a factor.

A key point regarding Mularkey is his interest. Word out of Pittsburgh early this week was that he didn't want the job, and he reportedly is a candidate for the opening in Jacksonville, as well.

Lewis became the first candidate to interview for the position on Dec.31. Like Coughlin, who interviewed three days later, Lewis spent almost an entire day meeting with Bengals officials and presenting his plan. Both sides were interested as they parted but many issues remained.

Cincinnati also interviewed defensive coordinator Mark Duffner, the former Maryland coach, and running backs coach Jim Anderson in its initial round of meetings. Neither is viewed as a strong candidate.

Washington has been prepared for Lewis' departure for months. Indications are that linebackers coach George Edwards would be promoted to coordinator, which would allow the Redskins to retain pretty much the same scheme and give players their desired continuity.

Still, Edwards would be the club's fifth defensive coordinator in as many seasons.

Redskins defensive line coach Ricky Hunley, meanwhile, might take over Lewis' title as assistant head coach.

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