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Education of a coach in a long-ago league

Greg Lloyd, circa 1996

A lot of pictures have come and gone from Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis' office in his 10 seasons.

He's had a high school daughter grow up and get married and a junior high school son go on to play college football, and yet that picture of Greg Lloyd in the heart of the '90s that declares just how bad of a bad so-and-so he was playing for the Steelers has always stayed prominent.

In a way, Lewis is telling you how much of an impact Lloyd had on his NFL coaching career. Lloyd will tell you straight out like he does everything else and like he did over the weekend. Before he showed up for Sunday's Marvin Lewis Golf Classic, another thing he always does, he kibitzed with his former coach at Saturday's pre-party and the stories were flowing.

When Lloyd and Lewis met 20 years ago, the volatile, passionate Lloyd was coming off his first Pro Bowl season and five seasons into a career he was one of the more feared players of his time. Lewis, 33, had spent his entire career in college before joining Bill Cowher's first Steelers staff as his linebackers coach.

It's why Lloyd thinks they've remained close down through the years and why he keeps coming back to Lewis's magnificently successful fundraiser for his community fund.

"Probably because of our rocky start," Lloyd said as the stories started Saturday downtown at Cincy's on Sixth. "When Marvin first got to Pittsburgh, he was a perfectionist. That's probably what this town needed and what he had to do when he came to the Bengals, but we had already been to Pro Bowls and were pretty settled on how we did things.

"When he came in there, he was doing college drills and I was like, 'I'll do this, but I'm not doing that.' "

Truth be told, Lloyd made life miserable for Lewis but it ended up being an education for both. In between the mind games, Lloyd saw a good coach and Lewis learned how to handle pros. Lloyd went to four of his five Pro Bowls under Lewis while Lewis went on to become one of the NFL's more respected coaches.

"After a while he understood it," Lloyd said. "I didn't need all the rah-rah stuff to get lined up. Once he learned that, once he understood that, he grew up. He realized he wasn't in college anymore and they knew what to do. Maybe there was some guy that needed that fuel, but he didn't have to do that with us.

"He understood that when you have players that are leaders on the field, let them go, let them play. It was a hard lesson over the years. We laugh about it."

In another part of the event, Lewis regaled a group with how tough it was that first year and those quick Friday getaways after the early practice so Cowher couldn't ask him what exactly Lloyd was doing.

"About four or five years ago I sincerely apologized to him for being a (bleep) to him," Lloyd said. "I think that made him feel good. Great guy, great coach."

Meanwhile, Lewis was talking about one of his first great NFL moments. After a game, Lloyd introduced him to a friend as "my coach."

"I felt 10 feet tall," Lewis will tell you.

Which is why the picture is still on the office wall and Lloyd keeps showing up the golf tournament.

The conversations also remind you how long ago 1992 is in the rapidly-changing NFL. As can be expected, Lloyd isn't happy with the league's crackdown on hits and what he sees as the double standard for offense and defense. A sixth-round pick in 1987, Lloyd, 46, shook his head.

"These guys today, they couldn't play with us," he said. "When I played under Chuck Noll, we hit on Wednesday and Thursday and we had goal line live on Friday. Unheard of now.

"They don't hit. That's why you see bad tackles. That's why you don't see guys chasing the ball."

Lloyd detests how the defense gets rung up for fines while quarterbacks sit protected in the pocket.

"If an offensive line coach tries to protect his quarterback cutting me all game long and takes out my knee, who is going to report that?" Lloyd asked. "Nobody. Because nobody cares about that. All they care about is the freaking quarterbacks making 100 million a year and breaking the records and nobody can touch them. My job (today) I probably wouldn't have a paycheck. I'm going to hit everyone in the mouth. Period. Hit him in the mouth and at the end of the day they wouldn't be sitting back in the pocket."

Here's the modern defender's dilemma as Lloyd sees it:

"If you watch football today, the running back gets into the open and as soon as he sees himself getting ready to get hit, what's the first thing he does? Ducks his head. What do you want me to do? Take the hit in the chest or duck my head with him? So now if I go and duck my head and I knock him out, they fine me for a hit he initiated."

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