Lewis' new day dawns

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Marvin Lewis introduced the bulk of his coaching staff Tuesday and make no mistake about it. This is not Mike Brown's staff, or his father's staff. Or Dick LeBeau's staff or any third generation Super Bowl XVI staff.

And you can tell this is Marvin Lewis' staff because offensive line coach Paul Alexander has been promoted to assistant head coach, former Bengals' No. 1 draft pick Ricky Hunley ended his 19-year holdout as the new linebackers coach, and eight new coaches have arrived from five different NFL teams in the biggest house cleaning in franchise history.

With the last slot, tight ends coach, figured to be filled Wednesday from the college ranks, that makes 10 new coaches, including Lewis, from seven different programs.

Lewis keeps saying it's a new day. Tuesday may have been dawn.

"There's not as much a tie to the past as you think," Alexander said.

Alexander, who was so frustrated at the end of the season that he wanted to leave if he saw no hope, has seen a light at the end of the tunnel and it is Lewis holding the lantern.

"He's made changes in many areas of the staff and I think his tolerance level of some of the antics that our players get away with will be much lower," Alexander said. "I think he's a blue-collar guy, a strong willed guy. I don't think there'll be screwing around with this guy and that's important."

As for Hunley, who jokingly asked Bengals President Mike Brown this week if he wanted to move the furniture so they could fight out the terms of the elusive contract once and for all, only Peter King of "Sports Illustrated," could sum up the irony. It was King who covered the daily soap opera of Hunley's ugly holdout for "The Cincinnati Enquirer," in a dateline that ended in his trade to Denver on the eve of the 1984 season without ever playing a snap for Cincinnati.

"It's one of the strangest and most bizarre stories I've ever covered and it continues to be with this twist of fate," said King from the site of Super Bowl XXXVII. "Either Mike Brown has forgiven and forgotten, or he's letting Marvin do exactly what he said he was going to do. It sounds like more of the latter than the former."

At Lewis' direction, Brown, the NFL's most loyal owner, has now

said good-bye to five coaches with a combined 98 years as Bengals players or coaches in head coach Dick LeBeau, strength and conditioning coach Kim Wood, quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson, defensive coordinator Mark Duffner and defensive line coach Tim Krumrie.

"We reflected on the past when we sat down and there was never a problem with Mike and I," said Hunley of his meeting this week with Brown, their first in-depth visit ever.

"I was 22 years old and I had an agent (Howard Slusher) who set the tone from the beginning when he went in and dropped a wish list about an inch thick on Mike's desk. When you're 22, they tell you your agent is doing the best thing for you. I think he was playing both of us. But I'm 41 years old now. It's so long ago."

So long ago that Hunley probably signed Tuesday for darn near the same annual average salary (between $100,000-200,000) he couldn't get from the Bengals.

Still, the biggest eye-raiser of the day was probably Alexander's elevation to assistant head coach. Alexander admittedly didn't want to come back at the end of last season even though he had a year left on his contract. His hometown Buffalo Bills wanted to talk to him about a job, but the Bengals felt there weren't enough quality line coaches out there to let him go.

It was an awkward time as Alexander wasn't sure he wanted to stay. The Bengals made a run at about the only guy they thought could replace Alexander in Jacksonville's Mike Maser, but they got the sense Maser was headed to Carolina.

So Lewis reportedly made a last-ditch effort to keep Alexander knowing he would some day like to be a coordinator or head coach. After meeting with Alexander, Lewis went to Brown to recommend promoting him to assistant head coach.

Alexander, who turns 43 next month and is heading into his 10th season here, knows what's in a name.

"To me the title means Marvin wanted me to be back and not Mike that wanted me back and I think that's an important distinction right now," Alexander said. "Marvin is putting his staff together. He gave out the titles, he orchestrated it the way he wanted it, and that's important."

But Alexander signed on mainly because he sees Lewis changing things.

"I could have done a number of things," Alexander said. "One thing I could have done was play out the year because I've got a year left. But I waited. I saw the changes that were being made and some of the things that Marvin was doing and in my mind I felt I could stay.

"I'd been in so many losing years, I told my guys the last week of the year that if it was not any different, I'm not coming back. I see it changing and I'm excited about that. I think we have good players. I think they need to be led the right way and I think Marvin is going about that."

After playing linebacker for three teams in seven seasons in the NFL, Hunley finally returns to coach his position. He coached under Lewis in Washington last year as a defensive line coach after 10 seasons coaching in college. As an associate head coach for Bengals defensive end Justin Smith's Missouri team from 1998-2000, he coached the linebackers.

"I wanted a guy who knows how I coach defense and knows what I want from players," said Lewis of Hunley, the only defensive coach who has worked under him.

"This is extremely exciting for me," Hunley said. "The upside is tremendous. I can't think of a better guy to take a defense to another level in this league than Marvin Lewis. We've got talented linebackers who are fast and powerful like Takeo (Spikes) and (Brian) Simmons and they'll fit right into Marvin's scheme. It's all about speed."

Hunley talks passionately about coaching. He took a year off from playing and then went right to it as a graduate assistant at USC. Like Lewis, he climbed the ladder. He met him in 1992 at Pittsburgh when he did the first of his three stints in the NFL's Minority Fellowship Program.

"I had a chance to make a lot of money with some of my friends in business, but I wanted to coach," Hunley said. "You've got to have a passion for it and for playing. They say you've got to be about half crazy to play football. With Marvin, you have to do the little things."

This week was the first time Hunley had a chance to visit with Brown, and each probably discovered the other didn't have three eyes.

Trivia. Who did the Bengals get in exchange for Hunley when they unloaded him on Denver for a first-round pick in 1986, a third-rounder in 1986, and a fifth-rounder in 1987? Wide receiver Tim McGee, strong safety David Fulcher, and punter Greg Horne. Horne punted just 19 times in one season and was gone, but Fulcher went to three Pro Bowls and McGee is the club's 10th all-time leading receiver.

"I know they got some good players for me," Hunley said.

Brown, who continues not to talk to the media to underscore Lewis' power to assemble his own staff, seemed to be good-natured, according to Hunley.

"I asked him if he wanted to clear out the furniture and we'd duke it out and he laughed pretty hard," Hunley said. "I told him maybe I ought to drop a wish list on his desk and he laughed about that, so I think it's all done. We're moving."

SI's King thinks that's pretty remarkable given the tension of the holdout. King remembers returning from Arizona after writing a story about Hunley's plight and walking back into Bengals training camp only to be greeted by the uncharacteristically frosty Brown saying, "Let me tell you a few things, counselor."

But King thinks the Bengals have found a good coach 20 years later.

"The irony, too, is that this guy is a top-flight coach," King said. "I like what he did with Washington. He had some high-priced guys and some free agents and he proved to be a good motivator."

The Hunley Gag at "The Enquirer," is still fresh even though King is long gone. Legend is King once did a story count on a guy who never played a down for the Bengals and came up with something like 300.

"Do you think I overwrote Hunley?" is King's line that still gets a good laugh.

Hunley laughed, too, on Tuesday.

"I want a copy of every one of those stories," he said.

Ricky Hunley a Bengal?

Marvin Lewis looks to be right.

It is a new day.

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