8-19-03, 2:15 p.m. Updated:
8-19-03, 8:20 p.m.
GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ The Marvin Lewis hiring had its second major impact Tuesday here at a sweltering afternoon news conference when Georgetown College and the Bengals agreed to extend their contact two more years for training camp.
The first impact was felt in free agency, when such highly-regarded veterans as Kevin Hardy, Tory James, and Reggie Kelly signed up. Now after watching its attendance climb in the three weeks of training camp, the college has also bought into the Lewis factor.
"Marvin has the team on the right footing," said Bengals President Mike Brown when asked the reasons for the attendance boost. "Not only the players see that, but it has seeped out to the public. They see a good thing coming."
With the Bengals poised to break camp Thursday afternoon, a total of 3,800 cars have already parked for workouts, compared to 3,700 all last year. The intrasquad scrimmage and the mock game each outdrew last year's intrasquad scrimmage, and brought about 13,000 fans to the campus the weekend of Aug. 1-2.
"We would have been less interested in an extension if we thought it was going to be business as usual based on what we've seen over the last seven years," said Georgetown athletic director Eric Ward of the 26-70 record since 1997. "I can't deny a big part of our enthusiasm about trying to get them back here had to do with Coach Lewis and the things that he's doing."
It is a decision the players seem to back. Defensive tackle John Thornton, who stayed at home with the Titans in Nashville the previous four seasons, is for it.
"I like the rooms and it's a close walk to everything," Thornton said. "I like being away from home, anyway, for camp. It gets you into football. In Tennessee, they gave us the choice of staying at home or the hotel, and I always stayed in the hotel because I wanted it to fee like camp."
Terms weren't disclosed, but clearly the Bengals agreed to a raise in rent. Yet the issue that got the most attention during the negotiations was the state
of the main practice field and the home field for the perennial NAIA power Tigers of Georgetown. The college doesn't have enough money to put in a synthetic field, but they are worried that the field is already showing signs of wear and tear even before their own team takes its annual run deep into the postseason in November and December. The Bengals apparently won't make a commitment to one here and in Paul Brown Stadium until they see how such artificial fields work in Philadelphia and New Jersey this season.
The non-grass field could be a double-edged sword. If the Bengals decide to take out the grass at PBS and go with some kind of artificial surface, that would give them a reason to stay at home and have camp like about a dozen of the 32 NFL teams.
But Brown insisted the short duration of the contract compared to the original seven-year deal doesn't reflect the club's desire to bolt back to Cincinnati and PBS once 2006 arrives.
"It gives us a chance to work out the little things that come up by talking more," said Brown, who emphasized the Bengals signed only one-, or two-year deals with Wilmington College during their 29-year stay.
Ward said the Bengals have assured him that the short term doesn't reflect a desire to terminate the relationship.
"Our original agreement was (long term) because we used that in getting our the financing to develop these facilities," Ward said.
The Bengals' record since they arrived has hampered the college's revenue streams of merchandise, concessions, parking and corporate sponsorships. Attendance has always been sparse and the camp has just six or seven sponsorships now, Ward said, compared to more than 20 when camp opened in 1997.
The fear had been that the college was making only enough money for the sports' facilities. But Ward said the higher rent is allowing Georgetown to spread the wealth to other places on campus.
According to a chart that has run in "The Cincinnati Enquirer," the most heavily attended camp was in 1998 with 4,700 cars, off a 7-9 season. It dipped to 3,500 in 1999, 2,900 in 2000, 2,700 in 2001, and back to 3,700 last year after the club won its last two games to finish 6-10.
"It's about that for us, but it's not that for us," Ward said. "That's the one thing we can't control. . .We couldn't make our decision based on how they did over the past seven years, or what we think they're going to do over the next two, or five, or 10 years. We based it on the fact we enjoy working with the organization. We all like Coach Lewis and we think he has the opportunity and the ability to lead the organization in the right direction.
"We want to continue the relationship," Ward said. "A lot more people know about Georgetown College than they did seven years ago."
Linebacker Brian Simmons is heading into his sixth season and he's known no place else but Georgetown. He also backed the decision.
"You don't have to walk up and down hills. Everything is close," Simmons said. "It's far enough from Cincinnati that you can get away and work. But if you want to go home, it's only an hour's drive. I think it's good to get away. I prefer that than staying at home."
It turns out that the cost for hotels, getting the practice fields to take the beating, and other logistics makes staying back at PBS almost as expensive as moving the camp out of town. At least enough right now that the Bengals have decided to come back.
But it's more than a financial issue. Brown said Tuesday that having a training camp on the road builds "esprit de corps." Lewis is out of the same school.
"I enjoy that," Lewis said. "The thing that impressed me is that I didn't have any of our players feel like they (minded) coming here and that means a lot. Not one."
Thornton said it's pretty much a mindset.
"If you stay at home, it's more convenient," Thornton said. "If you want, you can get a haircut, pay your bills, have dinner with your family. On the field you knew it was camp until you came off. I like the idea of just making it football. When you break camp, you feel fresh. You feel like you've accomplished something."