- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 16, 2003

In "The World According to Garp" the movie, not the book there's a scene in which Garp and his wife, Helen, are being shown a house by a real estate agent. As they're standing outside the place listening to the sales pitch, a small plane crashes into it.

"We'll take it!" Garp tells the agent.

His wife looks at him strangely.

"Don't you see?" he says. "The chances of another plane hitting this house are astronomical. It's been pre-disastered."

That's kind of what's going on in Cincinnati with Marvin Lewis and the Bengals. Most see the Bungles as a hopeless cause, a Jay Leno punch line, a franchise that has an airplane sticking out of it. But Lewis obviously sees it as a franchise that's been "pre-disastered." The chances of the Bengals having another decade as miserable as the last one, he figures, are astronomical.

So when Mike Brown offered him the coaching job, Marvin said, "I'll take it!"

And I think it's a good move for several reasons.

No. 1: As has been shown over and over in recent years, you can win anywhere in the NFL. Green Bay was a wasteland when Mike Holmgren came in and look at the Packers now. People thought Dick Vermeil was nuts to come out of retirement and take over the Rams, and he wound up leading them to the title. Heck, even the Falcons made it to the Super Bowl not long ago. Think the Bengals are in any worse shape than those franchises were?

With free agency and the salary cap, the field has never been more level in the NFL. Hire the right coach, get a little luck on draft day and you can turn a team around very quickly. Andy Reid inherited a 3-13 club in Philadelphia in '99 and won 12 games (including the postseason) two years later. Carolina and Jacksonville reached the conference championship game in their second season, and Cleveland made the playoffs in its fourth. Why can't somebody do something like that in Cincinnati?

No. 2: Lewis should have a longer honeymoon in Cincy than he would in many other places. Why? Because the Bengals have been so bad for so long they haven't had a winning record since '90 that the fans likely will be more patient with him. Let's face it, the team is at rock bottom; its 2-14 record this season is the worst in franchise history. That should buy Marvin, oh, three years to put the teeth back in the Bengals, to eradicate the culture of losing. Nowadays, three years is an eternity. (Just ask Marty Schottenheimer.)

No. 3: Cincinnati has first dibs in the draft. This can be overrated, especially if there isn't a stud quarterback available, but Carson Palmer, the Heisman Trophy winner from Southern Cal, might fit that description. The Bengals have struck out with the last three QBs they've taken in the first round Jack Thompson (third pick, 1979), David Klingler (sixth, '92) and Akili Smith (third, '99) but what if Palmer turns out to be the genuine article? What if he does for them what Troy Aikman did for the Cowboys or Drew Bledsoe did for the Patriots or Michael Vick is doing for the Falcons?

Nobody expedites the rebuilding process quite like a young quarterback. Lewis also has Corey Dillon, one of the better running backs in the game, at his disposal. So he won't have to ask Palmer to do as much in the early going.

No. 4: The Gary Kubiak Factor. Remember him? After Denver won back-to-back Super Bowls in the late '90s, a bunch of NFL teams were interested Kubiak, the Broncos' offensive coordinator. But he resisted their advances, telling them he didn't think he was ready to be a head coach. Well, with his club struggling the past few seasons, Kubiak is no longer a hot commodity and may never get a head job. For that reason, if for no other, Lewis was smart to take the Bengals up on their offer. There's no telling when or if the next opportunity is going to come along.

The Cincinnati job has some negatives, of course (e.g. small front-office and scouting staffs, an owner who doesn't seem to have a clue), but the club also has a new stadium. And the hiring of Lewis, a black, is another indication the Bengals are trying to join the 21st century. Marvin, with his cutting edge defensive tactics, should help in that regard.

As for the Redskins, they'll once again go into the season with a new defensive coordinator. That's four years in a row now they've done that. And unlike the others (Ray Rhodes, Kurt Schottenheimer, Lewis), George Edwards has never been a defensive coordinator before. Will there be a learning curve for him the way there was a learning curve for Steve Spurrier?

When you stop and think about it, Marvin Lewis was the coaching equivalent of Deion Sanders for the Redskins. He was brought in amid much fanfare, paid a ton of dough (for an assistant coach) and was gone after just one season before the team accomplished what it wanted to accomplish.

The only difference is that Dan Snyder has never had to worry about Deion coming back and beating him; Marvin is another story. The Bengals visit FedEx Field in 2004.

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