3-26-03, 7:25 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
PHOENIX, Ariz. _ To get some gauge of what the Bengals plan to offer in the AFC North in 2003, take a tour of the NFC East of 2002 here Wednesday during the NFC coaches' annual media breakfast.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis coordinated the Redskins' defense while serving as Steve Spurrier's defensive coordinator. Leslie Frazier, the Bengals' new defensive coordinator, coached the Eagles' secondary. Head coach Jim Fassel's Giants scored 20 points just once in four games last year against Washington and Philadelphia and still managed to finish sixth in NFL offense.
Fassel, no doubt, had quite enough of the Philly defensive backs, splitting with the Eagles despite scoring just 13 points in two head-banging games. As advertised, they got physical at the line of scrimmage with the receivers, which fits with what Lewis was doing over in Washington.
"Their secondary has been sound. I think he's a sound coach," Fassel said of Frazier. "The guys seem to play discipline, they play consistent with good technique, and no one seems confused. I think it's a good match. They're going to challenge you. They're not going to give you free access down the field on a regular basis. That's the way Marvin plays, too."
Eagles head coach Andy Reid already knew it fit because when he lured Frazier out of Illinois in 1999, he also interviewed Lewis for the coordinator's job that eventually went to Jim Johnson
when Lewis stayed in Baltimore as the coordinator.
"I wanted to talk to three coaches with the similar style and Marvin was one of them," Reid said. "They like to blitz, fire zone, they're not afraid to bring people. I think that will be an easy transition for Leslie."
Like everyone else, Reid can't say enough about Frazier as a human being, but he didn't keep him around just because he was a nice guy. Frazier concentrated on the cornerbacks while Steve Spagnuolo handled the safeties most of the time, and Reid sees no problem about him making the jump to playcaller.
"No, not at all. Smart guy," Reid said. "You won't find a better person anywhere. "He's a very good teacher. You never see Leslie out of control. A practice or a game, whatever it might be, he maintains a level head. That's just his style. He's a humble guy."
Agents and Lewis have saluted Frazier's role in recruiting four projected defensive starters to Cincinnati via free agency, and it doesn't surprise Reid.
"I snagged him right out of recruiting," Reid said of Illinois. "You have to recruit for Illinois, a major college, and I'm sure he still has little feel for that."
Spurrier thinks he has a feel for the Bengals now with his old assistant in charge. He thinks they're on the way. He said his staff couldn't figure out why they didn't win more games after watching tape of some games during last season.
"Obviously, defense and organization," said Spurrier of Lewis' strengths. "They've had a good offense with Dillon and Kitna and a lot of those guys, plus some receivers. I just think they need work on the mental side. 'We're good enough to win. There's no excuse. Let's go do it.' I think he can get that instilled."
Lewis didn't always have a smooth path with some of Washington's more entrenched veterans, but Spurrier said Lewis isn't always a my-way-or-highway guy. He had to laugh when a reporter approached him after watching them both one day at training camp.
"He's in between, like you've got to be," Spurrier said. "Some of your guys, you've got to say that, some you have to negotiate a little more.
"(The reporter) said, 'How do you explain the contrasting styles with you and Marvin Lewis? The way he coached. I thought she meant he was low key and I was yelling and screaming. It was the opposite. He did the yelling and screaming in practice and I was sort of low key. She didn't know I was the one (usually) yelling and screaming. You need to be both ways to be successful. You have to be the way you really are."
One guy in the NFC East of 2003 didn't know Lewis before these meetings. So Lewis walked up to new Dallas head coach Bill Parcells and introduced himself. But Parcells knew the road Lewis took.
"(I know him) only by reputation, it's the first time I talked to him," Parcells said. "I think he'll do well. I've got a certain kind of soft spot for those defensive coordinators who get to be head coaches since I was one a long time ago. I like to see that."