Marvin Lewis Awaits Word on His Future With Bengals
For an NFL head coach, his first game, that first play, is a joyous, memorable moment. But inevitably for each, his last game arrives. That last play.
Coaches get fired. Coaches walk. Relationships splinter.
This is what Carolina's John Fox faces on Sunday after nine years with the Panthers. The same scenario could exist for Gary Kubiak after five years with the Houston Texans. Even Jeff Fisher, the longest-tenured coach in the league, may direct his last game with the Titans on Sunday after 17 years with the franchise.
We do not know if Marvin Lewis is coaching his last Bengals game on Sunday when his team plays at Baltimore. Lewis said he does not know.
But we will know soon afterward, he said.
"I think we'll know something there by Monday or Tuesday," Lewis said. "We (he and Bengals owner Mike Brown) talk every day about the future. About the football team, the players and the personnel. We've got to decide how it is going to be. His vision of the football team and mine. There are certain things he wants to emphasize with me. Things that are important to him. I expect to hear those."
It is an unusual relationship. Unlike other owner/coach relationships where the owner simply walks in and says, "You're fired," or "You're retained," this is going to be a conversation about moving forward, about how much the Bengals are willing to continue to evolve and embrace change or if they will revert to old-fashioned ways of doing business. About how much give-and-take both Brown and Lewis can stomach.
"I probably would be surprised," Lewis said of the notion that Brown might simply, abruptly tell him he was fired. "We planned to talk more about the future after the season was over and that's what's next. I think we all know when you get in this business, there is going to be an end at some point and time. It doesn't have to be negative. You never look back or sideways, you go forward. You learn. You are always talking to the players about preparing for the future, for their last play. It is the same for coaches."
Lewis, 52, has spent the last eight seasons in Cincinnati as a fixture in the franchise and in the community. In 2005, when his Bengals won a divisional title, it was the organization's first in 15 years. Last season, when his team swept the AFC North for the first time in franchise history, he was named AP Coach of the Year, a Bengals first since Paul Brown won it 1970.
But this year's team is 4-11. It lost 10 straight games before winning in consecutive weeks against Cleveland and San Diego. Seven of the losses were by eight or fewer points; five by six or fewer points.
"We've failed to meet our goals and expectations as a football team," Lewis said. "We failed to score enough points throughout the season. We've had more turnovers than we've ever had here. And they have come at the most inopportune times and really hurt even more when we failed to score touchdowns to compensate. We've had eight returns for touchdowns against us -- five interceptions, a fumble and two kickoffs. You've got to do a lot of things wrong to lose 10 in a row.
"The blame has to fall on each person. Each one can take responsibility for it."
Lewis is the ninth Bengals coach in franchise history. Soon we will learn if he returns for a ninth season.
"You remember the excitement of it," he said of his Bengals hiring date, Jan. 14, 2003. "The opportunity to put your program in place. That was the exciting part of it. And for me, there were a lot of minority coaches I had looked up to who never got the chance. I owed them every chance to be successful. We are all grateful to Tony Dungy, Ray Rhodes, Denny Green, Sherman Lewis as well as many others, including on the college level, who helped pave opportunity. I have tried to do that as well."