Opening Comments (including signing a contract extension):
ML: “I’m glad that this is all behind now and we can move forward and coach. I’m really happy to get the extension done, with the excitement around what we’ve done with the team. There is still a lot of work to do, and the goals we have in place are very important to achieve. I’m happy, pleased and flattered for the organization to offer the opportunity like this and to not leave it sitting there throughout the season, and we were able to get things completed. We’ve got a lot of work to do and tough decisions to be made in the future here, and let’s get the best team we can put together and move forward.”
You seem to have a lot of continuity on this staff now, with you, Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer all having had contract extensions:
ML: “Along with Darrin (special teams coach Darrin Simmons) as well. You have the decision makers and installation people for our phases of football. We have to have success on the field, and those guys will have the same opportunities. I’m excited by that.”
For you to get this done, was it more about getting the other coaches done first?
ML: “I think they ended up being on separate paths. I’m thankful those guys are in place. They feel good and excited about it, and it adds to the continuity of the team. It’s good for players to not have that much change.”
Comments about training camp:
ML: “Obviously it’s been a good start. We’ve had four days of practices, and over the next couple days we get more into situational football, which will help lay down the ground work. It’s an exciting weekend here, with the work in the stadium with three practices. There will be no limit to the amount of fans (able to attend), and no tickets necessary. Just come on down. It will be fun for the players on Sunday to split up into two squads (in the Mock Game) and get the mechanics down.”
It’s still early, but what are your thoughts on
ML: “Yeah, it is way early, but everything Ben has done thus far since being with us has been really a positive thing. We are excited about it. His ability to cut and run is going to add a dynamic to our offense. Thus far we are very pleased. With his leadership and his ability to just do his thing, I think he will drive our other backs to be better players.”
There is a lot of competition on this roster, all the way down to the 53rd spot. Is the competing ratcheting up?
ML: “We have the young guys, the drafted guys, but then we have the guys who have some experience and who all kind of know how things should be and how they should react and how they should do things. That lends to really good competition, but kind of smooth sailing through things, too, because for the most part they know how things should work.”
How much has
ML: “Last year Andre really grew into the player we drafted and expected to have. Unfortunately it got delayed and sideways (during his rookie season) for different reasons with the holdout and an immediate injury and so forth. He really has taken a lot of steps in maturity.
“You just saw the personality come out of a guy that was picked where he was picked in the draft. The total man – all the qualities of a first-round pick, particularly a high first-round pick – they began to emerge throughout last year. He's kind of picked up where he's left off. He's had a really good, productive offseason. That's a great positive step for him.”
When he was drafted, most people thought of him as more of a run-blocker, but he excelled last season in pass blocking:
ML: “We felt he was a very good all-around player, obviously, to pick him where we did. I don't know who ‘most people’ were. Obviously they had a very pro-style offense there at Alabama, running the ball out of the I-formation yet throwing it and doing things. He was very well coached there with Joe Pendry as offensive line coach. There was a lot of positive to Andre when Andre got out and came here.”
The young guys on this team seem to know how to practice:
ML: “Well, we talked a lot about it. We show it to them. We try to show them, and yesterday was another step with practicing in full pads. I had to show them some clips of what that looked like. It's been a long time since guys have practiced in full pads. The last time may have been the second week of Georgetown last year. A lot of snaps have been taken just in uppers (shoulder pads) or nothing at all. Everybody had to be reminded of how you practice in full pads.”
There is a lot of turnover in the NFL for head coaches, but you are now extended through what will be your 12th season in Cincinnati. What emotion or feeling does that bring to you, to have been in one place for so long?
ML: “It's gratifying, obviously, to have that opportunity to be in place here now for 12 seasons. But at the end of the line there is one thing that hangs over your head, and you’ve got to do that, and that's to win a championship. That's why we coach. That's why we do this. That's the nugget you keep striving for all the time. There are a lot of positives that go along the way, there's highs and lows. But that is the thing that keeps driving you. I am very pleased and flattered to be able to do it. We love being here and living here. We have obviously built a fine, fine thing. The Community Fund (Marvin Lewis Community Fund) continues to flourish, and the things the staff does over there are things I get too much credit for. It’s all the great work they do. We are very pleased with that as well.”
Is that goal of a championship more realistic now than in some past seasons?
ML: “I would disagree with that. The line between winning and losing is so fine. You just have to keep strapping good plays after good plays and take advantage of opportunities. You have and try to minimize the bad plays you have, the turnovers and things. You hope to have some luck with injuries, and when you do have injuries, you hope you’ve prepared well enough that the next man up steps up and helps you win. There’s a lot of talk about that, but each and every year we’ve had a great opportunity. Obviously we’ve gotten better since I first walked in this room in January 2003. There’s been an evolution. I think everybody who ever walks out on that practice field, talking about visiting coaches and so forth, they’ve talked about that.
“This is a very good-looking football team. It’s big and it’s fast. That’s kind of a metamorphosis from where we started. It’s something the organization ought to be very, very proud of, that we really have converted into what an NFL team looks like in size and girth and speed and length, the things you want to have in order to be successful. You’ve got to have long bodies that can extend and keep people away from you. And on the other side, they can have enough hips to finish and do those things. It’s a little more technical, but that’s what I see when I watch our football team practice now. Now we’ve got to go apply it.”
Since he was hired after the 2010 season, what have you learned about offensive coordinator Jay Gruden?
ML: “Last year, other than not being able to work with the players, (the lockout) was a great thing for our coaches because they really got to go in and understand what we want to get done on offense. To really take a look at the things they had done with the Bucs. How Green Bay does it. How Philly does it. New Orleans. All of the other west coast (offense) teams that we were trying to mimic and pull our things from.
“We got a great fundamental look at them and broke them down, and then had great ability to teach it. To be able to take that now into the offseason and insert some of us in there – very small portions of us from last year – and continue to grow, is how this should unfold. It’s a case of ‘This is how this concept should look.’ That’s where Jay has a great strength, really seeing the offense through the quarterback’s eyes. And being able to really be a visionary that way and go out and coach all 11 guys through it, from how he expects the protection to work or the run scheme to work to all the skill players. And that’s a real gift.”
Are you relieved that this contract is done?
ML: “Yeah. But I like players with one-year contracts, so I guess a coach with that is a motivated coach as well.
Was the whole process easier than it was two seasons ago?
ML: “I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s easy. It’s a complicated thing. It takes time.”
You have said that it took a “selling job” by the organization for the contract extension after the 2010 season. Do you feel now that, from the top on down things are running on the same page?
ML: “I will say that Mike (Brown) are extremely comfortable working together. We can go in and discuss every morning what’s going on and come to a conclusion, and both know the conclusion and feel good about it. There was a lot of confidence gained through last season in a lot of the things that we were doing. From both sides. I think everybody feels good about that.
“Let’s continue it, let’s go forward, let’s do it better. Let’s be better than we were – much, much better than we were – and continue and have that opportunity. We’re all excited about that, from the top down. There’s nobody in Cincinnati that wants to win more than that man upstairs (Mike Brown). And that’s my job to get him there. That’s what I’m committed to keep doing.”
How important is it for Mike Brown to be comfortable? A lot of owners would have given a coach nine or 10 years, then moved on. He seems to put more stock into comfort and continuity with his head coach:
ML: “Somebody that isn’t around him every day might not know that he takes more responsibility when things don’t go right. That’s probably where his patience comes in. There’s times when he’s a little bit more patient than I am, I should say.”
If you were owner, would you still be here?
ML: “(Laughs) Probably not.”
The 2010 season wasn’t very good, but that seemed to put you and Mike Brown more on the same page:
ML: “As it all played out, and as everybody now understands, there were some undertows that were going on that only some of us were aware of. 2010 is gone and we’ve moved on, and now we’re in ’12. What’s in the past is in the past, and let’s keep it there.”
Every year is a learning experience for a head coach, but is there one year that has stuck out to you more than others when it comes to learning?
ML: “When you become the head coach, more than anything else that you deal with, it’s learning the ups and downs of injuries. The unknowns of injuries – the Tuesdays, the Wednesdays that you’re not sure of things. The more that you do it, those decisions are made for you on Wednesday and Thursday more than they ever are on Friday and Saturday. I think that helps everybody; it helps everybody in this building know how it’s going to be. And I think you guys know how it’s going to be. So you reduce the anxiety of it, because the anxiety doesn’t get close to the game, it’s already taken care of. That helps everybody understand, ‘OK, if you want to do this or we’re going to do this, then this is the timeline it’s going to occur on.’”
With what you accomplished last year during a lockout season, how much faith did that give everybody throughout the building?
ML: “It gives faith. It really does. It gives some credence about what we spoke about. But you know what? We all have short memories. We have to keep moving forward. Let's do some special things. That's what we have an opportunity to now continue to do.”
How much did you learn from 2010 for this group after making the playoffs in 2009?
ML: “The biggest thing that we have done differently now is change people. We've changed a lot of people. That is apparent. Then we continued in this offseason to take a critical look at where we felt like we needed to get better. And you've got to give Mike (Zimmer), and Jay and Darrin a lot of credit for that, and to Mike Brown, for listening and saying, ‘you know what? Let's go do that. Let's try to upgrade those areas.’
“From the scouting staff, through the draft, we're kind of all in line with what we think is going to be a successful player in the NFL. I think everybody feels good about that. Duke (director of player personnel Duke Tobin) has done an amazing job continuing to really shape the draft, massage the board and help get everybody on the same page as we cross-check and get input from the coaches. And we all feel comfortable with what we feel like, and about who has a chance to be a successful player. And these young guys, they all have these same traits. And that's a good process. And Mike has been very confident in allowing Duke to keep pushing and pointing us in that direction, and I think Duke has joined the two staffs together very, very well. Everybody feels real comfortable speaking their mind and talking about players and coming to a consensus on it, and obviously at the end Mike (Brown) makes the decision and we go forward. But I think everybody feels good about that process.”
During that process, how many opinions do you have from a cross-checking standpoint?
ML: “You'll have six or seven. The coordinators, the position coach, the area scout, another cross-check scout. And then you'll have Duke and have Pete (Brown), and then mine. You'll have quite a few different opinions. Then ranking them top to bottom that way. If one area scout seems to have position players in his area and wants to see guys on their Coast or Midwest, now let's make sure you go through and study those guys at length so everybody can talk freely about it. As a coach, you want guys that fit what we do. If he doesn't fit, we move and look at the next guy. That's the one thing that we've got to be willing to change: to add the great player and be willing to change and not pass on him.”