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TDBH:Bengals go outside PBS but stay in division to make Lewis head coach

Posted Jan 13, 2018

This Day in Bengals History - January 14, 2003


POINT CLEAR, Ala. – He is the first outsider ever to be named head coach of Paul Brown's Bengals. The first of the nine not first waved into the organization by the founding father. And he’s the first one who wins a Super Bowl ring as a coach and he does it for the Baltimore Ravens, one of the division teams the perennial doormat Bengals are trying to replicate and pass. Bengals president Mike Brown passes the torch tonight. Marvin Lewis's only connection to the Bengals is the nickname of his college at Idaho State. "This is a sea change for us," says Brown, flopping back in a chair in his hotel room at the Bengals’ Senior Bowl headquarters, drained by his franchise's first extensive outside search for a head coach. "We've never done this before. We're going in a new direction and this is the guy we want to lead us. He's new, he's fresh, he's got the kind of presence we're looking for where this team is at now. He is the face of our franchise for the future."  His players back in Cincinnati notice. "There are some things people can no longer say about Mr. Brown," says cornerback Artrell Hawkins. "This was a big move. Here we are, the laughingstock of the league, and we get a coach who has won a Super Bowl and been a coach on successful teams."

Before embarking on this "sea change," Brown tries to find his sea legs. As he usually does before a major decision, he goes for a jog after this morning’s practice to clear his head. With Lewis set to leave here tomorrow, it's believed the decision comes down to the wire today just before the afternoon practice after Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey delivers a strong interview last night. Former Jacksonville head coach Tom Coughlin supposedly takes himself out of the running last week when his plan includes too many massive changes. "It came down to all three guys," Brown insists. "He was the right guy for where we are. He's a proven coach in this league."  Lewis, 44, is clearly relieved after two offseasons in which he has come close to getting jobs in Buffalo and Tampa Bay and turning down Michigan State last month. "For my family, there is relief, for my friends, hopefully, they have a sense of relief," Lewis says, "because they've gone through this more emotionally than I have. I'm glad it's over for them."

The Bengals are coming off their worst season ever at 2-14 and in the last 11 seasons the career record of the three previous head coaches is a combined 52-124. Lewis quickly reverses the trend in the upcoming season with an 8-8 record that is the biggest turnaround in the NFL in 2003 and earns him a runner-up in the NFL Coach of the Year balloting to New England’s Bill Belichick. No one could call that 15 years later Lewis is still on the job with 125 wins and second in tenure with one club behind only Belichick. Lewis draws criticism for not winning a post-season game, but during his run the Bengals win the toughest division in football four times and go to the postseason seven times, tying the post-season berths they made in the 35 seasons before Lewis arrived. More importantly Lewis leads the charge by changing the culture with new food, new weight room, new travel, new, new. Brown has made the right call and his players agree. "Of the three guys they were talking to, he was the best choice," says quarterback Jon Kitna. "Guys know what Mike Mularkey has done with the Pittsburgh offense, but the defensive guys might have felt slighted. Guys were worried that Coach Coughlin might have come in with too much of an iron fist. But everyone is aware of Coach Lewis and what he's done with his defenses since 1997 … Guys in our locker room are going to respect him right away."

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