Hobson's Choice: Coping with character

Q: Marvin Lewis has backed every player they have drafted with "background issues." He has made each player's incidents from college seem as if they weren't that bad. Now, these players with "background issues" are making the organization look really bad, including Marvin Lewis. Is he losing his integrity with the community? Are we turning into the East Coast Raiders? **--NICK

NICK:**
No question the club is going to have to re-think how it deals with acquiring players red-flagged with character problems. You can have only so many case-by-case picks.

The offseason has truly been miserable that way, but the ensuing anger shouldn't escalate into rhetoric that erases the extraordinary good works Marvin Lewis has done for this community in three years or blurs how the Bengals make decisions.

Frankly, Lewis hasn't said much of anything about the character issue so it's a little unfair to say that he has blown it off. Obviously he and Bengals president Mike Brown have to address the problem in some fashion at the July 26 training camp news conference, but don't put words in his mouth just yet.

As for Lewis losing integrity or standing with the community? Come on. Can we get a grip amid the hysteria?

Here's a guy whose foundation in the past six months raised $450,000 at the Marvin Lewis Golf Classic, awarded four scholarships to college-bound students for $20,000 each, honored more than 250 youth football players for academic excellence, and ran a clinic for 250 youth and high school coaches.

And that's just in the past six months. Multiply all the money and all the goodwill he has personally generated for the good and the right things here since 2003, and it's going to take a lot more than questionable draft picks to reduce the guy to the Al Davis of the Ohio River Valley.

Sure, Lewis is at a critical point in his coaching career. Certainly it appears he has to be harder on those questionable kids, the Chris Henrys and Odell Thurmans. If he's going to take them, he has to make sure he has them for the long haul. Either change his approach with those guys to make them reliable and responsible, or don't take them.

But Lewis isn't a Belichickian dictator, although he certainly has far-reaching Parcellian power and influence in the halls of Bengaldom. Much like what Bill Cowher exerts in Pittsburgh. Even Bill Parcells shares power in Dallas.

The Bengals made the playoffs, but they are still run by consensus. You can't just praise or bang Lewis for acquisitions; you have to praise or bang everybody who has input. From coaches and scouts all the way up to Lewis and Brown.

One of the myths of the Bengals' 27-21 turnaround since Lewis arrived is that Brown has been bound and gagged and thrown into the trunk of his Chevy.

Lewis has close to carte blanche on player moves and the football operations, not much different than what previous Bengals coaches have had under Brown. You could make the argument that Lewis has a clearer vision, a firmer grasp of personnel, and a better quarterback than his predecessors, and he's got more say because he's had more success.

Plus, Lewis had the very big advantage previous coaches didn't when he came in after a 2-14 season. Changes weren't only needed, but welcomed.

Brown still has the final say in the draft room and on player moves. If Lewis adroitly brought along Carson Palmer, it was Brown's front office that extended Palmer to 2014. If Lewis' success and charisma lured attractive free agents like Tory James, Sam Adams, and Dexter Jackson, it was Brown's money that signed them. If bench sitters T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Rudi Johnson flourished under Lewis' staff, Brown's front office kept them.

If you want to excoriate Brown for the '90s, you must also tip your hat to him at the turn of the century.

So if they felt Thurman and Henry were good value picks in the draft, or someone did, we can assume those picks also weren't made in a one-man Lewis vacuum.

Much has been written on various web sites about who made the call on last week's selection of Virginia linebacker Ahmad Brooks in the supplemental draft. It's been published that Brown made the call over Lewis, but when they are asked next week they will no doubt say they made the call as a team. That's the way Lewis said he wanted it when he arrived. Not a "Marvin Guy," or a "Mike Guy," but a "Bengals Guy."

Now they have to deal with the character issue, and these two have a track record tough to argue with so far. A division title. Five Pro Bowlers. A top 10 offense. Lewis has a new five-year deal and Brown has a streak of 19 straight sellouts soon to be 27.

Together, they changed the culture of losing. Now they have to deal with the culture of winning.

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