1-3-03, 12:45 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Bengals President Mike Brown is looking for a no-nonsense head coach. Marvin Lewis' players on the Washington defense think he makes sense.
"Marvin teaches well. He stays on you if you're not doing it right," linebacker Kevin Mitchell said last month when the Redskins were faced with the question of losing their coordinator. "That right there makes you a good head coach."
Of course, the ultimate authoritarian on the Bengals' outside short list of three is Tom Coughlin, the 55-year-old former Jacksonville coach who one league source outside the Bengals said is interviewing with the club Friday. Coughlin's tight organization bossed the expansion Jaguars into two AFC championship games in the first five years of their existence after he had a successful run as the head man at Boston College.
"They're a talented group, certainly in an excellent position in the draft,'' Coughlin said in an interview with WTEV-TV at the Jacksonville airport that was quoted by the Associated Press. "It will be an interesting meeting."
He got fired Monday after the Jags' third straight losing season at 6-10, with half of the losses by a total of 10 points.
"You put yourselves in position to win those games and who knows?'' Coughlin said. "But it didn't happen. That's reality, and you move forward."
The Bengals met with Coughlin Friday after the all-day summit Tuesday with Lewis and are preparing to meet Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey Saturday in Pittsburgh.
There were also indications that the Bengals interviewed their own defensive coordinator in Mark Duffner Thursday, but he and the club wouldn't confirm a meeting.
The Bengals also didn't confirm their meeting with Lewis, but he said Thursday that he enjoyed the interview and is excited about
the process continuing after meeting with the Brown family at an undisclosed location in Cincinnati.
If there is karma, it's on Lewis' side. He broke into coaching with his alma mater as an assistant for the Idaho State Bengals.
It's fair to say that the while the Cincinnati Bengals have never interviewed a former NFL head coach as successful as Coughlin, they have also never interviewed an assistant coach for their head job with a resume as glittering as the one belonging to Lewis.
Never mind he is the first minority to be interviewed for the Bengals job. Two years ago, Lewis coordinated the Ravens' record-setting defense to a dominating Super Bowl victory and led them to two No. 2 rankings and a No. 1 in his last three years in Baltimore.
This past season in his first year in Washington, he took the NFL's 10th-ranked defense and led it to a No. 5 spot after a slow start melding free-agent veteran linebackers Jessie Armstead and Jeremiah Trotter with young playmakers such as linebacker LaVar Arrington and cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Fred Smoot.
"He had the best defense ever in the NFL, and then he comes in here and has us in the top 10 with a unit that came from all different parts," Armstead said. "So we're hoping he gets a head-coaching job. We hate to lose him, but we can't be selfish about the situation. He has a family, and we hope he gets the things he really wants in life."
What Lewis wants is to know he's being interviewed as a serious candidate. He met with the Bengals 24 hours after Dick LeBeau was dismissed as coach partly because he was impressed with the speed the Bengals showed coming after him.
"I'm excited about it and I look forward to hearing from them again," said Lewis, who said he think there is mutual heavy interest."
The Bengal are interested in Lewis because he has been successful in three different places (Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Washington) with a varied cast and has worked under two head coaches they admire in their own division in the Steelers' Bill Cowher and the Ravens' Brian Billick.
"I've seen Marvin's system at its best in Baltimore two years ago where guys had been in it for years," said defensive lineman Carl Powell. "This year, he's been implementing his style, his scheme for guys that don't know it. He's more of a teacher now. I hope he stays. He's a great guy to play for."
Lewis, 44, said he went in with an open mind and didn't heed the perception that Brown rules head coaches with an iron fist.
"Everybody has their take on everybody with everybody getting their two cents in, but how much of it is true?" Lewis asked. "People have views of Art Modell and Dan Snyder, but that isn't 100 percent of the picture. It usually always ends up somewhere in the middle."
It's believed that all the candidates are going to want to bring in their own coaches and expand the the NFL's scouting staff in some form. Brown has said the new head coach gets the call on his coaches and Lewis said Thursday he felt like he could find common ground on scouting if the talks continue. He agrees with Brown that coaches have to be involved in the draft process.
"I've been fortunate enough to be in places where that has happened," Lewis said. "I think it helps everyone. It helps the scouts get a feel for what the coaches want and it helps the coaches get to know the guys that are going to play for them by not only watching them on the field, but how they interact with people on campus."
But it is probably going to take more than one meeting to hammer out a deal for any of the three as the scope of those issues get worked out. But he did come away certain that Brown and the Bengals want to win.
"I don't think there is any question about that," Lewis said. "I think you're talking about two people that want to win a championship. I know I do and from what I heard, they want to as well."
Duffner, 49, reportedly had this job first back on the morning of Sept. 25, 2000, but deferred to LeBeau because LeBeau was the defensive coordinator as well as assistant head coach when Bruce Coslet resigned.
That report has never been confirmed. But what can be proven is that while the Bengals' defense didn't play as well this year as it did last year, Duffner has overseen the best back-to-back defensive seasons since they finished 15th and seventh, respectively, in 1988 and 1989.
2002 is one of those years where the defense took a lot of abuse from the lack of offense in the first four games and lack of special teams all year. After finishing ninth in 2001, the Bengals slid to 17th, but lost one starter for the whole year (left outside linebacker Steve Foley), one for most of the year (end Vaughn Booker) and one for half the year in tackle Oliver Gibson.
They also gave up the second most points in franchise history with a league-high 456. But 65 came without the defense on the field.
Bengals running backs coach Jim Anderson, dean of the position coaches after 19 seasons here, is the only other member of the current staff who is to be interviewed. He has yet to sit down with the front office.