Lewis, Coughlin make last in-person pitch

1-9-03, 6:35 p.m. Updated:
1-10-03, 1 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Marvin Lewis is confident he can make it work working with Bengals President Mike Brown. Which is one of the many reasons why he remains very much in the mix of what continues to look like a three-man race to become the Bengals' ninth head coach.

Lewis was reached late Thursday night after two sources from outside Cincinnati who know him confirmed he met with the team earlier in the evening.

"Like all things, perceptions of people are always different than what they really are," Lewis said. "Everybody has a plan and somewhere you meet on common ground. In the end, Mike is the owner and it's his decision, but he is very receptive to the head coach."

But Lewis had no comment when asked if there had been an offer or if a contract was in the works, although he did reiterate his enthusiasm for the job. He'll finish up his interview Friday morning and there is no sign of a news conference.

While Lewis continues to impress the Bengals with just the right age (44), just the right amount of experience (11 NFL seasons), and the right head start on Super Bowl rings (1), all indications are this is still a three-man race of Lewis, former Jacksonville head coach Tom Coughlin, and Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey.

Because there is no announcement set for Friday despite visits Thursday by Lewis and Coughlin.

At least Lewis isn't aware of an announcement. Which means the Bengals must still be looking at Mularkey even though his age (41) experience (two years as a coordinator), and another possible suitor (Jacksonville) are a concern.

But apparently not enough to stop them from waiting to see how the Steelers do in Saturday's playoff

game against the Titans because they can't get a second interview with Mularkey until Pittsburgh loses.

"That's conceivable that could happen," said Lewis of more waiting. Asked if that timetable might force his withdrawal, Lewis said, "I'd rather not comment on that."

Instead, Lewis, architect of the Ravens' record-setting defense that won the Super Bowl two years ago, was extremely upbeat. After touring the team space at PBS, he said, "the facilities are first rate," and said the job, "is exciting. The team wants to win. I think it can win."

Coughlin, who flew into town in the morning, left Cincinnati mid-afternoon and couldn't be reached for comment. Coughlin's agent had no comment, but reached later he said that it was his impression his client is still in the running.

According to national reports, Coughlin left Brown to digest an aggressive, all-encompassing agenda that was much like the one that built the expansion Jaguars from scratch. Indications are that Coughlin left the ball in the Bengals' court and is waiting to see if they want to play at that level.

How that will play with Brown, a well-known resister of major change, remains to be seen. But for years, Brown has held Coughlin's organizational skills and offensive abilities in high regard and he remains an extremely viable candidate.

Coughlin, who acted as the Jaguars coach and general manager for the past eight seasons before being fired last week, said after Friday's first meeting that he would have to think about a role in which he would be sharing power with Brown.

Brown is thought to be coping with the same dynamic. He is mulling hiring a head coach who has had the kind of sweeping power that no other Bengals' coach has had here. Coughlin may be a tough hire for Brown, who was there when the franchise was founded partly on the premise that the Brown family has the ultimate say.

But Brown has also showed signs that he is willing change some things to get the team out of this dozen-year playoff drought.

And Coughlin is never short of ideas. Several media reports Thursday said that Coughlin wanted to pitch to Brown "an action plan," encompassing all phases of the operation, which includes support staff as well as coaching, detailing "additions and alterations."

One of the biggest issues with both Coughlin and Lewis is no doubt the size of the scouting staff. The Bengals have the smallest personnel staff in the league and rely on their assistant coaches to do the bulk of the post-season scouting leading up to the April draft, which requires such a heavy travel schedule that critics say it takes away from their football planning.

Coming from a personnel department that is more than double the Bengals' size, Coughlin is probably not going to want his coaches on the road that much.

Lewis, now the Redskins defensive coordinator, said Thursday night he agrees with Brown and wants his coaches to have an active role in college scouting. But Lewis is also big on preparation for next year's opponents. Brown has indicated he could add to the personnel department with current assistant coaches who aren't retained.

"They have to prepare for the next season. There has to be a plan. I know Mike understands that," Lewis said. "He's been very open. There can be a middle way where the coaches are still involved, but it reduces the load a little bit. We've talked about that. He's been open to things."

It's believed that Lewis, like Coughlin, needs to work out some issues before a deal can be finalized, but Lewis hasn't been talking about any deal breakers. He said he spent part of Thursday's interview taking a tour of the stadium. His interview back on New Year's Eve day was off site.

The Bengals are keeping a wary eye on Jacksonville. If they hire Bills director of football operations Tom Modrak as general manager, Mularkey is a strong candidate to succeed Coughlin. If the Jags hire Ravens college scouting director Phil Savage, Lewis is a likely candidate.

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