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Full Circle

Sunday is one of those grassroots games for Marvin Lewis when the odd-shaped ball comes full circle.

Calling the plays against him is a guy stepping out of the family photo album in the form of Jaguars offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and turning this Bengals game into an Idaho State Bengals reunion.

Koetter is the high school senior who watched the freshman Lewis quarterback at those 1976 Idaho State practices and a lifetime bond was formed starting with Thanksgiving dinners at the Koetters' Pocatello home.

Koetter became Lewis's teammate the next year, when Lewis moved to the other side of the ball. Lewis fell under the spell of Dirk's father, Jim Koetter, a high school coach who later joined the Idaho State staff and taught the graduate assistant Lewis everything he knew about scouting and recruiting.

They were in each other's wedding and Lewis's two-year-old daughter Whitney served as flower girl when Kim and Dirk walked down the aisle.

"I introduced them," Lewis claims. "Dirk was giving out awards at some kind of luncheon and Kim won for cross country or track. He pointed her out to me and said, 'She's cute.' I said, 'She works in the cafeteria. I'll say something to her.' "

Now four kids and head coaching stints at Arizona State and Boise State later, Koetter laughs from Jacksonville one night this week and confirms the story.

"Marvin was the mayor of Pocatello; he knew everybody," Koetter says. "We just hit it off. I don't think there's anybody that doesn't like Marvin. What you see is what you get. Still so down to earth. A fun guy to be around."

There will be another dinner Saturday night, where Lewis hosts about a dozen Idaho State Bengals. Also in the house is Lewis's current receivers coach, Mike Sheppard, Koetter's position coach at Idaho State his senior year, the year the Bengals won the Division 1-AA national title when Lewis was a graduate assistant coach.

"Marvin eventually moved to linebacker, but it wasn't because of me," Koetter says. "I couldn't have done that and he not only switched but he was all-conference. He was what you'd think he was: A tough and intelligent player."

There will be a lot of stories Saturday night and Koetter has told some of them for the benefit of the media in the six seasons Lewis has been an NFL head coach.

"There were times during a game I'd look over before the snap and Marvin would lift up his facemask and throw up three times," Koetter says. "That's how he played. He brought it all the time."

The major bond between the two friends are that they were groomed to coach. Jim Koetter won a state championship at Pocatello's Highland High School and by the time he arrived to coach at the college, Lewis was a G.A. and "Big Jim" would point to Lewis at the Friday morning staff meetings and say, "You're coming with me" that night to recruit and scout.

"They call him 'Big Jim,' or 'The American,' " Lewis says, "because he didn't take any crap."

Dirk Koetter ended up leading Highland to a state title himself at age 25 and they were off. While Lewis made his mark with NFL defenses, Koetter ushered the Boise program into national prominence and then led Arizona State to four bowl games.

"We talk every couple of weeks. Maybe not as much this year because we're playing," Koetter says. "Sometimes we'll hook up during the summer, but it's tough because I usually go back to Idaho. This will be a nice thing to see everybody, but there is a game to play."

If you're a coach, you play against close friends all the time. Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio was Lewis's linebackers coach in Baltimore for three years and won a Super Bowl ring with him. No doubt Lewis had some input when Del Rio hired Koetter before the '07 season.

"There are great matchups every week all over with guys that have either worked together or know each other," Koetter says. "It's part of the job. You get so wrapped up in what you're doing and your season; you just don't think about it that much."

Koetter knows that Lewis must be dying inside at 0-8. But since they are coaches, he won't ask and he knows Lewis won't tell.

"I don't think you talk about things that are really deep inside. Maybe you tell your wife, but that's it," Koetter says. "Marvin isn't a whiner. He knows he was hired to do a job and that all you can do is look in the mirror and go from there. He's old school. Tough. Smart. He won't talk about it, he'll just keep working."  

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