Bengals in decision mode?

1-13-03, 7 p.m. Updated:
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BY GEOFF HOBSON

MOBILE, Ala. _ As NFL officials headed to the first of two Senior Bowl practices Tuesday morning, it appeared the Bengals had yet to offer their head coaching job.

Clues?

The "leader in the clubhouse," Washington defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, attended a Redskins personnel meeting before the practice. Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, who met with the Bengals Monday night for four hours in his second interview, didn't plan to attend the practice. On Tuesday morning, Mularkey had no comment about a possible interview with the Jaguars after they received permission to speak with him Monday.

"It went well. It was good," said Mularkey of his interview with the Bengals as the picture seemed to muddy a bit with the Bengals going into what looks to be their decision mode. But club officials had no comment.

But if wardrobe matches the scuttlebutt, Lewis is going to be the ninth Bengals head coach in the next 24 hours.

After speaking with Lewis Monday here at the Senior Bowl, one NFL source said he was confident Lewis would be named soon. And, Steve Spurrier, the Redskins head coach, told a reporter he assumed he was losing him because "I'm hearing what everybody else is hearing."

But Lewis, 44, the NFL's most high-profile assistant coach who has been close twice before, isn't counting any chickens and if he's got the job, he's not saying. Lewis had no comment as Monday turned into Tuesday in Cincinnati.

For the media, Lewis' arrival here Monday took on the aura of a presidential frontrunner coming to town to claim his party's nomination. Except, everybody but Lewis and the Bengals was saying he had the job.

"Nothing new," Lewis said Monday afternoon when asked if he had heard anything from the Bengals.

Still, this place is hot with who figures to be on Lewis' staff. Indications are offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski and running backs coach Jim Anderson are to remain with offensive line coach Paul Alexander, quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson and tight ends coach John Garrett question marks. It would be Anderson's 20th year with the club and Lewis is comfortable with Bratkowski since they know each other from their assistant coaching days 20 years ago at Idaho State and Weber State.

Special teams coach Jay Hayes, who spent the past season in Minnesota, is a long-time friend of Lewis who has been mentioned as a possible candidate in Cincinnati. A source with Baltimore said he doubted Lewis could take any coaches from that current staff.

As for Lewis, he took a low profile Monday. He attended the lower key North team's practice Monday instead of the Carson Palmerfest South practice. He sat in the stands virtually incognito in pretty much civilian clothes, wearing a golf hat instead of Redskins' garb.

"I just have to worry about one side of the ball," said Lewis with a laugh as he walked to his car. "I just had to look at defensive players."

Bengals President Mike Brown attended the South practice and Mularkey, 41, had to attend some season-ending meetings in Pittsburgh Monday morning before flying here, so the best chance to meet with the Brown family was evening for his second interview that is expected to end the club's search since firing Dick LeBeau 15 days ago.

Former Jacksonville head coach Tom Coughlin is still in the mix, apparently, but is seen as running third.

Brown is anxious to get a coach named as soon as possible so the new man can recruit his own staff and resolve the fate of LeBeau's assistants. As NFL officials gathered here Monday, Lewis had plenty of support from past and current associates.

"There is some talent in Cincinnati," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens general manager who worked with Lewis for six years. "They get the right person in there to get those players to start to believe that they can instead of that they can't, then it could make a problem for all of us in the AFC North. Make problems for everybody. You can get to a point you think you're doing enough, but you're not doing enough. I think Marvin will be able to get those guys to realize what they've been doing hasn't been good enough."

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