1-16-03, 5:40 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
MOBILE, Ala. _ Marvin Lewis' hometown of McDonald, Pa., is small enough that when his Ravens won the Super Bowl two years ago, the biggest store in town, the supermarket, displayed a sign that read, "Congratulations Marvin."
"And then right underneath that, they had the winning amount of the lottery for that week," recalled Marvin Lewis Sr. Wednesday. "We kept getting calls thinking that I won the lottery."
Then Marvin Lewis' father laughed when asked if he felt like he won the lottery Tuesday night when his son was named head coach of the Bengals.
"I think so," he said. "Especially after what happened to him last year after being so close in Tampa Bay. I know how disappointed he was with that."
The news got Lewis Sr., thinking about the day he learned his son wanted to go into coaching as a profession. It was about 20 years ago and Marvin was either a sophomore or junior at Idaho State when he called and said he no longer wanted to be an engineer, but a football coach.
"That really took me by surprise," Lewis Sr. said. "I was wondering, 'How far can a Black coach go?' You didn't see very many at that time. This was a kid who never had
to take a book home in high school and he still got all As. And he didn't want to be an engineer? His sister is an engineer and I told him he wouldn't make as much money as her."
Lewis Sr. can get a good laugh out of that now, but in 1980 it was a legit concern. Even with his son's hiring, there are still only three African-American head coaches in the NFL. But the erstwhile engineer finally solved the problem and now Fort Cherry High School has two alums as NFL head coaches with Lewis joining San Diego's Marty Schottenheimer.
"I just didn't want him to get strung along like he did last year in Tampa," Lewis Sr. said. "That's really the only thing I was concerned about. Last year he called and said it was a done deal and then he called about an hour later and said it wasn't a done deal and I know how hard that had to be for him to make that call. So this time we kept a low-profile."
In fact, as of Wednesday night they had yet to speak to their son and they understood. Vanetta and Marvin Lewis were also going through 24 hours of fast-track emotions and events in the home their eldest grew up with two younger sisters. On Wednesday, they buried a close family friend. On Wednesday night, they made plans to make the six-hour trip to Cincinnati to watch Bengals' home games, just like they have made the four- and five-hour weekend trips the past seven years to Baltimore and Washington.
Since their son coached his first four years in the NFL 20 miles away from McDonald in Three Rivers Stadium for the Steelers, they can count the number of games they have missed on their hands.
"We probably only missed five when he was in Baltimore," Vanetta Lewis said. "This is Steeler country, except when the Ravens went to the Super Bowl there was a lot of support for Marvin here and there always has been. I was rooting like mad for the Steelers last week."
Lewis Sr., 68, has been gone almost 20 years from the steel mill where he finished his 31-year career as a supervisor when he underwent heart surgery at age 51. That was about the time he got the phone call from his son.
"He told me, 'Dad, you go into that mill every day to go to work and you know how that is. I want to go to a job every day that I really love,'" his father said. "He works hard. He's always been a hard worker. He's always done well in everything he's done and he'll do well now."
FRIDAY INTRODUCTIONS:** Still riding the emotional lift of Lewis' hiring, at least two players expect to be on hand when he makes his first Cincinnati appearance at Friday's 11 a.m. news conference at Paul Brown Stadium. Right tackle Willie Anderson and quarterback Jon Kitna are making plans to visit, with Anderson flying in from Atlanta and Kitna making one last PBS stop before heading back to Tacoma, Wash., for the offseason.
Both are enthused by speculation that Lewis is going to retain Bob Bratkowski as offensive coordinator. Kitna was thrilled that when someone gave Lewis his phone number shortly after Tuesday night's announcement, the coach returned the call that night.
"That was awesome. It was very exciting just to talk to him and he sounded excited
himself," Kitna said. "I don't want to get into what we talked about, but it was very positive."
Kitna and Anderson advocated change throughout the 2-14 season just past and it looks like they're getting their wish as Lewis re-makes the coaching staff.
"You hate to see people lose their jobs. I just hate that because there are families involved," Kitna said. "But at the same time, a coach has to have people around him that he feels comfortable with. There have to be changes with 12 years of losing. I'm just thankful we got off to such a great start on the phone."
Kitna told Lewis he knows it's the responsibility of the quarterback to help set the tone of what the coach wants, "and he told me he would give me whatever help I needed and that it's important that everybody be on the same page."
Anderson thinks keeping Bratkowski doesn't exactly mean the status quo since the coach didn't arrive until 2001.
"Brat's not part of that old regime," Anderson said. "He's a guy that had his hands tied when it came to disciplining guys. He wanted to sit guys down for showing up late to meetings, but his hands were tied. When we talked with each other, we hoped Brat would come back. He can relate to players. One thing I always appreciate after every game, no matter what, he comes to your locker, shakes your hand, and says, 'Thanks for keep fighting and battling.' He never hid his face. And if you look at it, he was the guy who wanted to stick with Kitna at the beginning of the season."
Anderson, heading into his eighth season under his fourth head coach, sounds like a new man after going public last month with his frustration of not having any hope of 2003. He's looking for Lewis to change all that.
"It had to be an outside guy," Anderson said. "The leaders of this team needed an energy boost. We need to hear something different. Not the same stuff for the last 12 years that never worked. We need to develop guys. I know I've been here seven years, but you can always get better, always improve by learning new ways to do things."