1-17-03, 4:30 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Takeo Spikes, the Bengals' most high-profile free agent, doesn't want to return until he is convinced head coach Marvin Lewis has the power he needs to make them a winner.
On Friday, Lewis flashed that power with a message to Spikes that the organization he wants to flee isn't the same one where he has spent his first five seasons and that he won't put one player above the team.
"He was making a decision based on what had gone on (before)," said Lewis Friday in his first sit down with bengals.com on audio.
I don't think that's probably fair," Lewis said. "Now maybe it is in his mind and if it is, we're going to wish him good luck. Not one guy makes up a football team. He's one hell of a football player and I think he can help us be successful and I think I can help him be successful. So I think the marriage of the two people is something that everybody in this building would feel good about it."
Lewis' introduction to Cincinnati Friday in a Paul Brown Stadium news conference glittered like his Super Bowl ring and came off as crisply as his gray suit. It convinced quarterback Jon Kitna that "the old has gone away," and certainly raised some eyebrows when he said that this team might be able to use some "addition by subtraction."
But Lewis' term began like so many days of his predecessors. Here was one of the team's stars questioning the direction of the organization from coast-to-coast on the Associated Press wire and Spikes reiterated his concerns Friday to bengals.com as he plans to sit back and watch what unfolds.
Spikes admitted that the hiring of Lewis, "made me do a stutter step," as he walks out the door. "But I'm going to have to see a lot more if I'm going to sit down.
"I've got a lot of respect for Coach Lewis and how as a Black coach he worked his
way up through the ranks from I-AA," Spikes said. "He's a tremendous coach. But I just feel like if I spend one more day here where there aren't going to be necessary changes, I'm wasting my career. I've been surprised by some things, but I'm looking to be totally surprised."
Spikes is looking for Bengals President Mike Brown to give up much of his power. But here was at least one change Friday: Lewis indicated he doesn't like players "venting," publicly and said he was going to curb it because it "doesn't help," team chemistry.
"They should be able to give their opinion, but if it's positive," said Lewis, alluding to Spikes' comments. "There s really no reason to jump to conclusions one way or the other."
Spikes didn't say he would hold out of training camp if the Bengals make him a transition free agent next month, which gives the club the right to match any offer because they tender him a one-year contract (figure $5 million) that is the average salary of the top ten paid linebackers in the NFL.
"That's going to be a game-time decision," said Spikes, who made it clear he doesn't envision attending Lewis' three spring camps unless something changes. "If I'm not under contract, I'm not going. But it's early on that. I've got to sit down with my agent and see what happens around training camp."
At the moment, Spikes doesn't plan to come to Cincinnati to talk to Lewis. They have played phone tag, but he's going to wait to see what unfolds. Here is what Lewis is saying on bengals.com audio:
On wearing his Super Bowl ring: "I wore it for a reason because that's why we do this job. To work to win the world championship and have an opportunity to wear one of these."
On not being Bengals President Mike Brown's puppet: "The head coach has to direct the football team and there's a lot of areas and a lot of things that you have a chance to input and be a part of everything to do with the players because that's what makes us successful."
On what he picked up working under Steelers head coach Bill Cowher and Ravens head coach Brian Billick: "Their vibrance, No. 1. The ability to go out on Sunday and have a direction for the football team."
On addition by subtraction: "You only get one chance to make an impression. If we miss that chance, we're right back down the same road."
For the entire interview with Lewis,