With the Bengals signing him to another contract extension Tuesday, head coach Marvin Lewis has gone from lame duck to incumbent with last year's playoff berth produced by the AFC's youngest postseason team turning out to be the referendum.
Lewis, 53, had agreed to what was believed to be a two-year deal following a 4-12 season in 2010. But after watching him direct a team with four Pro Bowlers under the age of 25 to a 9-7 record, Bengals president Mike Brown had apparently seen enough to continue the longest coaching tenure in Bengals history with a deal through 2014.
The core of Brown's philosophy is continuity and stability on the coaching staff and at quarterback. Since rookie quarterback Andy Dalton threw two Pro Bowl touchdown passes back in January, Brown has locked up his head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator beyond this season.
"Mike and I are extremely comfortable working together," Lewis said at his regularly scheduled noon news conference on Tuesday, where news suddenly broke out with Lewis's fifth extension. "We can go in and discuss every morning what's going on and come to a conclusion. And both know the conclusion and feel good about it. There was a lot of confidence gained last year in what we were doing. Both sides.
"There's nobody in Cincinnati that wants to win more than the man upstairs. And that's my job to get him there and that's what I'm committed to doing."
Lewis passed Bengals founder Paul Brown and Sam Wyche last season in his ninth year and assuming he's here through at least 2013, he'll become the 15th head coach since the 1970 NFL merger to be with one team for at least 11 seasons, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Two of those men are still serving as Andy Reid heads into his 14th season in Philadelphia and Bill Belichick starts his 13th in New England.
"Coming off a playoff finish last year, with a solid coaching staff and good young players, continuity at the top gives us our best chance to do well," Bengals president Mike Brown said in a press release. "We are excited about the team's prospects and happy to have completed this process with Marvin before the 2012 preseason schedule begins."
When the Bengals secured a Wild Card berth back in January behind the record-setting rookie combination of Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green, Lewis joined Paul Brown as the only Bengals coaches with three playoff appearances. He's seeking to pass Brown and Wyche with a third division title.
At 69-77-1, Lewis would be the only coach in the 11-year club with a sub-.500 record. Lewis is third on the list for most regular-season games coached without a playoff win (144) behind Jim Mora (231) and Norm Van Brocklin (173), and he talked about how that elusive victory bothers him at last February's NFL scouting combine.
"Frankly, that's where I'm disappointed. I haven't got us to the championship game," Lewis said then. "We haven't won a playoff game. We've won the division twice, but haven't won a playoff game. I was hoping we could get beyond that this year."
On Tuesday, Lewis said that more than people know, Brown takes a lot of the responsibility when things don't go right.
"Mike's more patient than me," Lewis said.
Asked if he'd still be the coach here if he was the owner, Lewis smiled and indicated probably not.
Lewis brought NFL respectability and an AFC North mindset to a franchise just off its worst season ever at 2-14 in 2002. Lewis, who coached in Super Bowls for the Steelers and Ravens, was named NFL Coach of the Year in 2009 for Cincinnati's sweep of the division. His 28-26 record in the North comes after a nine-year stretch the Bengals were 24-60 in the old AFC Central before getting swept in '02 in the first year of the AFC North.
"Obviously we've gotten better since I first walked in this room in January of 2003," Lewis said. "There's been an evolotion and I think everybody who walks out on that prctice field, talking about visiting coaches, that's what they talk about that. This is a very good looking football team, It's big, it's fast...It's something the organization ought to be very, very proud of. We've converted into what an NFL teams looks like in size and girth and speed and length."
The 2012 finale at Paul Brown Stadium against Lewis's old team the Ravens is going to be his 160th regular-season game, passing Dennis Green for the longest tenure by an African-American head coach at one club.
"It's gratifying, obviously to have that opportunity to be in place here now for 12 seasons. But at the end of the line there is one thing that hangs over your head and you've got to do that and that's to win a championship," Lewis said. "That's why we coach. That's why we do this. That's the nugget you keep striving for all the time.
"There are a lot of positives that go along the way, there's highs and lows, it's all positive. But that is the thing that keeps driving you. I am very pleased and flattered to be able to do it. We love being here and living here, we have obviously built a fine, fine thing, the (Marvin Lewis) Community Fund continues to flourish and the things the staff does over there. I get too much credit for all the great work they do, we are very pleased with that as well."
*NFL HEAD COACHES FOR AT LEAST 11 SEASONS WITH SAME TEAM *(Since 1970 merger)
» 26 - Don Shula, Miami, 1970-95
» 22 - Chuck Noll, Pittsburgh, 1969-91
» 19 - Tom Landry, Dallas, 1970-88
» 17 - Jeff Fisher, Tennessee, 1994-2010
» 16 - Joe Gibbs, Washington, 1981-92, 2004-07
» 15 - Bud Grant, Minnesota, 1970-83, 85
» 15 - Bill Cowher, Pittsburgh, 1992-2006
» 14 - Mike Shanahan, Denver, 1995-2008
» 14 - Andy Reid Philadelphia, 1999-present
» 13 - Bill Belichick, New England, 2000-present
» 12 - Marv Levy, Buffalo, 1986-97
» 12 - Dan Reeves, Denver, 1981-92
» 11 - Mike Ditka, Chicago, 1982-92
» 11 - Jim Mora New Orleans, 1986-96