- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 11, 2003

The Cincinnati Bengals kept Marvin Lewis on hold yesterday, waiting for the outcome of today's AFC divisional playoff game before attempting to conclude talks to hire the Washington Redskins' defensive coordinator as coach.
Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, whose Steelers play at Tennessee this afternoon, is one of the finalists for the Bengals' opening. If Pittsburgh loses, Mularkey would be able to join Lewis and Tom Coughlin in having second interviews.
Lewis and Coughlin had second interviews on Thursday. Lewis spent Thursday night in Cincinnati and continued meeting with Bengals officials yesterday.
Lewis has emerged as the front-runner in part because he is willing to relax standards that Coughlin is not, sources close to the talks said.
Coughlin, the former Jacksonville coach, at one point had the job if he wanted it, sources said. But he wouldn't allow the Bengals to continue the methods that have made them the NFL's worst franchise for more than a decade.
At issue for both coaches was the history of owner Mike Brown, who has been frugal, forced assistant coaches on new coaches and maintained the league's smallest scouting department.
Lewis spent much of his initial meeting with the Bengals on Dec.31 arguing for his idea of the right organizational setup. His second meeting was expected to involve similar discussions.
Indications in recent days were that the sides would be able to reconcile their differences, largely by Lewis giving way. But it wouldn't be without a plan, those close to Lewis said.
The idea would be for Lewis to get the job, work to make changes, win some games, work to make more changes, win more games and so on. There apparently are some in the Bengals organization who want to accommodate the new coach, and Lewis is willing to see changes over time rather than having them guaranteed up front.
Lewis also would have to accept what is believed to be a competitive but not overwhelming salary offer. The Bengals might approach the $1.5million yearly offer Lewis turned down from Michigan State last month but certainly not top it. The club does seem willing to go over $1million annually, but Lewis already is making close to $900,000 in Washington.
Some of Lewis' confidantes believe he would compromise too much to become Bengals coach. He might become a candidate in Jacksonville in coming weeks, and there will be more attractive jobs open next winter.
But there are several factors that are making Lewis willing to deal with Cincinnati, including the scarcity of real shots at NFL head coach positions particularly for blacks and concern about returning to Washington for another year, sources said.
There are only so many openings each offseason, and it's difficult to tell when someone will become a "hot" candidate. This year there were just three vacancies (Cincinnati, Jacksonville and Dallas), and the Cowboys job was filled essentially with Bill Parcells before Dave Campo was fired.
Outsiders' sentiment also might work against Lewis if the Bengals' job doesn't come through. Those close to him disagree that Lewis should be looked on unfavorably if he comes close and misses out on another job, but they acknowledge that such a track record eventually works against a candidate.
With regard to the Redskins' organization, there is evidence that Lewis is ready to leave and that the club is ready for him to leave.
Washington is known throughout the league as a difficult place to work, and Lewis conceded this year that the Redskins are "no utopia." Sources close to Lewis believe that, if he isn't set on departing, he certainly isn't weighed down by reasons to stay. His ambivalence about the Redskins is part of why he considered Michigan State's offer so seriously.
From the club's perspective, coach Steve Spurrier is ready after a year to take more of a command position on the club. Last year he relied on Lewis for many basic functions, but he is more familiar with his duties now, and Lewis' presence might create conflict. Spurrier is prepared to have a stronger presence on defense in 2003, with linebackers coach George Edwards in line for a promotion to the coordinator post.

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