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Brown, Lewis agree to find a way

Posted Jan 4, 2011


Marvin Lewis

Updated: 1-5-11, 1 a.m.

At about 1 p.m. Tuesday, Marvin Lewis was wondering what the heck he was doing home in the middle of the day and how his Bengals career seemed to be coming to an unexpected end after two tense meetings with management Tuesday morning at Paul Brown Stadium.

But then he got two phone calls. One from former Bengals head coach Sam Wyche and the next one from Bengals president Mike Brown. Wyche, who lost the same job after a similar meeting with Brown went awry 19 years ago, counseled Lewis "to just step back and give it some time."

Actually, Brown also stepped back and gave it some time and turned to his relationship with Lewis in a 2:30 p.m. phone call that brought him back for a record-breaking ninth season despite a 4-12 record and a franchise-worst 10-game losing streak.

Lewis breaks the Bengals' eight-year record set by Paul Brown and his phone buddy, Wyche, with what is believed to be a two-year deal. And Brown declared at a late Tuesday afternoon news conference, "I think we’re going to have a better year next year, and it might get longer than that real fast.”

But it wasn't exactly a three-martini lunch a few hours earlier, when Lewis walked out of the day's second meeting just after noon without a deal. He wouldn't get into what the sticking points were with Brown, senior vice president Pete Brown, executive vice president Katie Blackburn and vice presidents Paul Brown and Troy Blackburn. Yet less than an hour after Brown's call a deal was signed and two hours later Lewis and Mike Brown were hinting at vague changes that indicated a coaching staff shakeup.  

The key elements in the negotiations appeared to be potential coaching changes, the signing of assistants, and possible scheme changes with all options on the table to be discussed in the next few weeks, such as change in emphasis, reassignments or replacements. Lewis said he expects changes while Brown pointed out that Lewis has a deal as long as anyone on the staff.

"I went home. I was frustrated. They were frustrated," Lewis said after his re-introductory news conference. "(Mike Brown) called and said, 'You and I can work this out. We've been together for eight years. This has been a good relationship. You and I are responsible for this team. Don't let other influences affect us. Ultimately, it's up to you and I. You're the coach. You need to understand that. It's your and my responsibility to get this right.' "

The personal appeal struck Lewis as a show of support and loyalty and gave him the feeling that Brown would help him implement changes that both said are needed.

"We're unfortunately probably going to have some changes and that's a tough thing," Lewis said.

With the fan base howling for changes on offense, Lewis was asked if he's going to change out 10-year coordinator Bob Bratkowski.

"That's kind of private to me," he said. "That would be a huge change."

Lewis admitted Brown is "not a quick-change person. He's not going to change that way. He's very well thought out. We'll have some evolution."

But Brown, shaken by a season that started with the experts calling it the most talented Bengals roster ever, freely used the "CH" word Tuesday in their joint news conference.

"How we do things on a coaching level is an issue," Brown said. "There are some things that we both think need to be addressed, and will be as we go forward. There are different ways to address them. We can get change internally or we can get it externally, but we are going to have change.”

It's a huge gamble in the teeth of a fan base seething with the anger of four straight blacked-out home games that ended the season. But Brown is placing his bets on a productive crop of young players, a 2011 schedule that features nine games against losing teams, and the revival of his Pro Bowl quarterback in the unspecified changes of the offense.

The deal would seem to seal the departure of wide receivers Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens and it looks like the Bengals could end up coaching the Senior Bowl in late Janaury for the third time under Lewis, even though the coaching staff is going to have some changes. The bowl looks for teams not in the postseason with relatively intact staffs and Lewis has always lobbied to do it because of the exposure to the draft picks.

"I’ve always expressed my desire to Mike that if we’re not going to be coaching in the playoffs, we might as well go to work and get to know some of the new prospects as well as we can," Lews said "I think it’s been helpful the two times we’ve had an opportunity to do it, and I’ve had a couple other opportunities to do it on other staffs. I think it’s always a plus, and it gives you a good insight into the players – to their temperament, how they learn, what kind of guys they are, how they compete – and I think it’s been helpful."

While a livid fan base seeks change, Brown is fearful of the March 4 expiration of the collective bargaining agreement, which prevents coaches from working with the players. If there was a deal consummated in July or August, the most stable teams would appear to have the best shot.

"I would hate to be in the position of a team that had a new coaching staff, and the players showed up two weeks before the first regular-season game," Brown said. "I’ve been there when that happens, so I know it can happen. It’s a factor and something I’m conscious of, but it wasn’t the principal factor in what we did."

Another free agent, cornerback Johnathan Joseph, hopes to join Lewis in the fold soon.

"Best news I heard all day," Joseph said Tuesday night. "I bet guys will tell you we already got the No. 1 acquisition of the season. Look at how we played down the stretch. Guys could have given up, but he never stopped coaching and we stayed with it."  

Left tackle Andrew Whitworth, the team's representative to the NFL Players Association, applauded the stability it brings.

"I'm glad to hear it. He's an excellent coach and showed how well he can relate to his players this year," he said. "We kept playing hard and fighting even during the 10-game losing streak."

Through Bengals public relations, quarterback Carson Palmer declined to talk to the media Tuesday.

Lewis called the meetings with the family over the last couple of days "a candid discussion" that shed a lot of light on what everyone is thinking.

"(It was a time when) the decision-makers in this organization spoke their minds," Lewis said. "What's important to them. At times, when you don't have a big say-so in what happens out there on the field on Sundays, it gets frustrating. But I think everybody was able to speak their mind openly and candidly. I was able to respond and Mike was able to respond and that was good."

The Bengals have been ripped for not having a coherent philosophy that drafts, signs and develops players for specific roles in well-defined systems. But Lewis said the Monday and Tuesday discussions have shown him "a conviction."

"It's behind what my vision is," he said. "It was confirmed to me (Monday) morning. It somewhat shocked me. It was by many."

Lewis sits down with management to go over the game each Monday and says, "It's important for them to know who's doing well and who's not as we make decisions. And with that there's no protection from position coaches: 'This guy is functioning at a high level, this guy is not. This was not the receiver's responsibility. This was not the quarterback's responsibility. This guy is responsible in this particular coverage.' ... If you sat up there and you ran a business and you want to know why this isn't going right, you want to know. After the season there comes a time it all comes to a head and I think that was good (Monday)."

Speculation about the differences between Brown and Lewis have been rampant since February, when Lewis revealed he hadn't signed what is believed to have been a three-year offer after his NFL Coach of the Year season in 2009.

"There were things that when I started this job in 2003 that were important to me; we can’t change those,” Lewis said then. “They have to stay on track and I have to make sure we’re continuing to progress that way and those are the things are as important to me as anything.

“I’m talking about structure. I’m talking about decisions on how we do things. How I have the ability to do things to give us an opportunity to win football games."

But on Tuesday, Brown and Lewis downplayed what has been played up in the media, which is that Lewis sought greater control over personnel decisions, an expanded scouting staff, and the lack of an indoor facility. Brown said the Bengals plan to get an indoor facility once the CBA crisis is over and Lewis didn't dispute Brown's assertion he has as much say as any coach in the NFL.

"I don’t know where that comes from, because I don’t know if I’ve sat down here and ever said that," said Lewis of the claim Brown doesn't let him bring in or cut players. "People keep putting that out there. I have a lot of input in our personnel. It’s Mike’s ultimate say-so. He’s the owner, he’s the general manager, and it’s my job when we disagree to show him why this is the way I think.

"As he will tell you, most times he sides with me. It’s my job to educate him on why it’s the way I see it. I understand that. I actually relish that opportunity. As I’ve said many times, it’s one-stop shopping. There’s no middleman I have to go through. He and I talk and discuss each and every morning or afternoon or whenever it occurs, and that’s the way it is."

On Sunday, Lewis said the indoor facility wasn't an obstacle because he knows Brown is preparing for the eventuality.

"Marvin has a desire to have a practice facility. I have a desire, but probably not as keen," Brown said. "That doesn’t mean I don’t have a desire to do it. The timing is important. Right now, we’re faced with major issues in the National Football League, and those are at the front of our agenda. When we get through that, then we’ll have time to consider this issue.

"It’s one of the important issues that we have in mind. I would make the comment that some of this is perception. We worked in the cold weather. We played in the cold weather. It didn’t seem to hurt us any to practice in the cold weather. We played pretty well in it. But I do know that it’s the way it’s trending. It’s the fact that we have been left behind what others are doing. Whether that makes them better than us because they have an indoor practice facility is a question, but it’s coming.”

One well-known Brown-Lewis split is Brown's penchant for the young players and Lewis' admiration for the vets. Lewis acknowledged the other side.

"We had a new outpouring and hatching of these young kids this year," Lewis said. "In some cases, (it was) too late, but yet we did, and I think that’s a refreshing experience for me. I know it was for Mike. It gives you a new life. I know it was for Carson, and I think it showed."

 

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