- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 11, 2004

Frustrated at not having landed a head coaching job despite putting together one of the all-time great defenses in Baltimore, Marvin Lewis came to Washington in 2002 with no plans to stay.

Lewis hoped to show he could direct a top defense for a different team and mentor neophyte NFL head coach Steve Spurrier to reach a goal 22 years in the making.

The Redskins’ defenders, some of whom were working under a fourth boss in four years, understood that Lewis, while helping them become better players, also was using them to further an ambition so naked that he didn’t even move his family from Baltimore because he wasn’t going to be in town long.

“We knew what we were getting with Marvin,” said middle linebacker Antonio Pierce, one of just five Redskins defenders remaining from Lewis’ Washington tenure. “It was obvious that he was only going to be here for a year. He almost left for Michigan State before the season was over. It’s different now with Gregg [Williams]. There’s security. We know the coaches will be here next year.”

Lewis, who ended his candidacy at Michigan State to pursue an NFL vacancy he ultimately filled in Cincinnati, looks back fondly at his year in Washington. So much so that he employs eight players and three assistants from the 2002 Redskins.

“I wish we had won more games, but I really enjoyed Washington,” Lewis said of that 7-9 season, which followed a highly successful six-year stay in Baltimore. “I loved the players. You would pay money to coach [linebacker LaVar Arrington] because of all of his ability. Any time you get an opportunity to coach with a new coach, you learn new things. It helps you learn to teach better, coach better.”

Lewis coached the Redskins’ defense to a fifth-place ranking in the league, but the current unit under Williams is the NFL’s best despite more injuries (23 starts missed compared to just 10 in all of 2002) and fewer stars (one Pro Bowl among the healthy players).

“We’re more of a team now,” Pierce said. “Back then, we had a lot of well-known guys. This year, we have more guys out to prove themselves.”

At the same time, Lewis’ reputation as the game’s top defensive mastermind has taken a hit. After ranking 28th last year during his highly acclaimed 8-8 debut for the long-downtrodden Bengals (3-5), the defense is 27th overall and last against the run heading into Sunday’s road game against the Redskins (3-5).

“We’re a work in progress,” Lewis bristled when asked about his defense’s lowly rankings. “I look out there and we’ve got five rookies [playing] at a time. We’ve got new guys, guys we thought would be playing on special teams and they’re starting.”

While right tackle Tony Williams and middle linebacker Nate Webster are out for the year with injuries, Lewis added eight of the 11 starters so he can’t blame Cincinnati’s ugly history — an average of fewer than five victories from 1990 to 2002 — for this year’s struggles.

“We [used to be] a team that people didn’t want to play because you’re supposed to beat the Bengals and if you don’t, there’s a lot of stuff said,” said first-year starting quarterback Carson Palmer, the top overall pick in the 2003 draft. “Coach brought back a little bit of respect for the Bengals. Our fans are behind him all the way. He won over the city last year and he brought in guys who are proud to be here and happy to be playing for the Bengals.”

And Lewis, whom Bengals owner Mike Brown has given full control of personnel decisions, is happy to be in command even if it means being the face of the franchise as he has been the past 21 months.

“Someone had to carry the ball in the beginning and kind of show the way,” Lewis said. “Hopefully we’ve made the transition through to [receiver] Chad [Johnson], [halfback] Rudi [Johnson] and Carson. When you undertake any job, it’s not a sprint. I wish we were further ahead in the race than we are, but we’ve learned some valuable lessons. If we use those, we’re going to gain and move forward.”

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