Initial comments ...
Lewis: "Good afternoon. Obviously I'm excited to be here in front of you today. I thank Mike (Bengals owner Mike Brown), his family, and the organization for the opportunity to come back here and, frankly, to get back to work at what I came here and set out here to do back in 2003 — it seems like it was a while back. I am obviously a much better football coach now than I was back then, and we have to get the team back, better and improved, and back to the brand of football and the way I've perceived football and how we needed to play year after year. We have to be back, be more physical, be more attentive to the details of our job, and, frankly, get after it when the time comes. I'm excited.
"We have (offensive coordinator) Bill Lazor here, who will continue now and have his opportunity to put his stamp on the offense from the onset (of the offseason), with how everything is laid out and how we do it day-to-day.
"Also on the offensive side of the ball, Paul Alexander, our former offensive line coach, is going to move on and pursue another opportunity. Darrin Simmons, our special teams coordinator, will be back in his same capacity and possibly take on some more things for me as we move forward. As everybody can read on the ticker at the bottom of their (TV screen), Paul Guenther will have — possibly — an opportunity to interview with the Raiders at some point, but that will be done very expediently. Hopefully we will have an opportunity to get Paul back, but if not, we will have to move forward. Obviously where our season finished is not where we wanted, and we've got to get back at it."
Marvin, do you believe that ownership here is in business to win a championship?
Lewis: "No doubt in my mind. That is (Bengals president) Mike Brown's goal — to be World Champions. We've spent the last two days spending time — three or four times through those days — talking about the things we felt we needed to get better at. The 'why,' 'what,' and 'how?' That's the only thing the man thinks about (laughs) — is having a championship organization."
What makes you believe that things will be different in Years 16 and 17 for you, after not having accomplished that goal of winning a World Championship in your previous 15 years?
Lewis: "Well, I'm not going to worry about year 17 (laughs)."
Year 16, then ...
Lewis: "(Laughs) That's the thing — I have to go in and make it different, you know what I mean? You're talking about a nebulous situation, but that's my job and that's my goal — to make it better, and they gave us the opportunity. First off, (we have to) get to the top of this division, and move forward from there."
How can you be different? Do you need to change the way you do things?
Lewis: "As coaches, we change continually. But, we have to be better than we've been. We have to put together a staff that will be ... I told our players as I stood in front of them on Monday morning, that regardless of who was standing in front of them when they got back together, they had to be ready to be a better football team. Internally, each of them, they have to be ready to press themselves, do more and be better, regardless of who was standing in the front of that room when they got back together. That was going to be important."
You mentioned that from 2003 to now, you're a much better football coach. In what ways?
Lewis: "No. 1, you're able to deal with the ebb and flow of the season and what happens — the ups and downs, and so forth. (You can) smooth those things out. That's important. The emotional things that happen with the football team — overcome it, so everyone understands and no one goes into a panic mode. We are going to move on, we are going to have prepared the next guy better. Let's move on, let's get better, and let's get after it. That's the way I was brought through coaching. That's the only way I know. It has to be done through the work and the toil that it takes to get it done."
Did you ask anything of ownership in this process, whether it be staff changes or facility upgrades or anything like that?
Lewis: "All that stuff is nebulous — whether that (results in) wins or not. I've coached three teams — actually, all four teams — in this division, and believe me, that has nothing to do with winning. Winning and losing is done out there in those classrooms, meeting rooms, the field, practice, and out there in games on Sunday. The rest of that stuff can help, and we do everything we can to aide our players in that way, and I feel good about that — the things that we do, and will continue to do, and get better with and make sure we do change, because everything changes all of the time with these athletes. We have to continue to do that. They learn differently than they learned in 1992, when I started in the NFL, and in 1981 when I started coaching. They learn differently. We have to have the best teachers we can have, day in and day out. And as a teacher, you have to be able to reach each individual in your room, and that's important. We've got to keep pulling more out of (the players) that way."
I've been talking to a lot of fans, and player discipline is a major issue is among the fan base. A fan we spoke with wants to know, would you be willing to embrace the concept of adding a clause to a player's contract that would let the team fine that player for showing a lack of discipline during a game? These are words from fans ...
Lewis: "(Laughs) That's not doable in a player's contract, frankly. And again, discipline is a big word, but if you look at it, this team has been one of the lowest penalized teams in the National Football League."
Fair point. But that's what the perception is ...
Lewis: "I know, but you have the chance to change perception. That's the thing. It's easy to point to one or two things, but over time ... That's important. Our guys know walking into this building — if you ask any of them what's asked of them — the discipline is what's asked of them all of the time. We're also training and growing young players, and that's important as well."
Did you feel the need to alter the amount of time coaches spend in the draft process? Or are you OK with where that is at right now?
Lewis: "I'm very happy with ... As I've said, I've been involved in the (draft) process from Pittsburgh, when I started in the league, to Baltimore. And I'm very happy with our (coaches) having a chance to have input. Some places, you have no input. Here, you have a voice. The decision has to be made, and an order is set. But I'm comfortable with that. If you're going to spend some time looking at players, you want to make sure that you have an opportunity to have a voice. But, at some point, there has to be an order to that. Ultimately we get a chance to — through Duke (Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin) — help out as well."
Your rolodex of coaches is probably as big as anyone's in the league. Does the fact that no head coaching vacancies have been filled help as you put your staff together?
Lewis: "I hope it does (laughs). We're going to work hard at it. I hope it (helps). It's obviously a time of the year with a lot of moving parts."
You must have won something in this negotiation over the last few days. Can you articulate at all with any specificity what it is that you won?
Lewis: "Paul, I didn't ... I don't think I went into (the negotiations) thinking I was trying to win anything. This is a partnership, and I've been entrusted to do a job, and they believe in me. I think they had to come out of the meetings with me and feel that, No. 1, I wanted to do the job, and No. 2, I would get the job done for them. I think that was important, because that's what you all are here for today. You want to know that I can do this job for them, because you guys want to keep working just like I do. I don't want to sit here and look at you guys (the media), you know (laughs)? I'd rather be talking about something more important than this. I think that's important. There was no 'win' or 'lose' that way, other than the fact that the group of men — coaches and players alike — I want to help lead them to a championship."
What are you going to change to get that job done?
Lewis: "I can't tell you that (laughs). We have to change. I've gone through it — we need to be better at what we do. We're going to have changes on our staff. We're going to have to gain some better players. We're going to have to look to augment what we do with what we have right now on the football team, and we're going to have to do a little better and do a better job of maybe adding some guys from other clubs. And then, we have to look at that as we go into the draft and make sure that, if this draft isn't strong in this area, then we have to take care of it prior to the draft. That's important as well. Again, at the end of the day, it comes down to us coaching better and our players going out and playing better."
So is being more active in free agency something that you discussed?
Lewis: "Well, I don't know that it means 'more active.' I don't know how many (free agents) we added last year, but just make sure that if we can add someone that helps, we add them."
How much did winning the last two games and finishing well change the conversations and perception with ownership?
Lewis: "I can't tell you that."
It didn't seem to have any weight on the situation?
Lewis: "I don't know that — might have changed my perspective (laughs)."
What changed between Dec. 17, when the report leaked that you were leaving, and now, as you sit here with a two-year extension?
Lewis: "I don't know that anything changed. As I told you guys, I had made no decision that way, and hopefully nobody in this building had made those decisions."
Was the two-year element of your contract important?
Lewis: "It's very important. We're going to go out and have some change on this staff, and I think it's very important for a coach, if he is currently employed, that he has the chance to be here for at least two football seasons."
You mentioned that Paul Alexander is moving on. The new offensive line coach will be an important hire. Will you and Bill Lazor work together on that hire?
Lewis: "Yes, we will. It's important for the coordinators on both sides of the football, as we fill positions, that they have some input on that."
You said that Mike Brown had to be convinced that you wanted to come back. Was there ever a point where you wavered on coming back?
Lewis: "No. His thing is, 'Are you still driven to do what you set out to do?' (It was) that more than anything."
How did this experience affect you, not knowing if they wanted you back? How did you go through the negotiations with that?
Lewis: "I don't know if it had an effect. I told you, it's part of the process. I've been through it before, and our players go through it. I tell them, 'Don't let it affect you. Just do your job, and good things will happen.' Then, they get to make a decision, like the decision I was able to make. (I feel) excited about yesterday. I'm glad it's behind us, and I look forward to April, when we can get back to work on football."
Along those lines, I talked to another fan from Kennedy Heights who would like to see you be more aggressive as a coach. I'm not sure how a fan would define 'aggressive,' but for you personally as you move forward and reflect on the unrest of the fan base, what are the things you could do differently on the sidelines, and how do you communicate that to the fans?
Lewis: "If I act like an idiot on the sideline, losing my head, how do they think the guys on the field will (act)? One of the things that I think is important to us all of the time, if you ask any of our players what we talk about, is the detail of your job. How, for instance, a diamond cutter or a jeweler does their job. He has to do it with a calmness. We spend a lot of time with military people — a lot of time, talking to special operators and guys like that. They talk about their heart rate when they go into battle and about how they monitor that. In order to do your job with the freedom and care-free that you do, you can't be up and down. You have to be (calm). That's important.
"That's what people don't understand — (head coaches) that scream and yell all the time, they don't stay in these positions for a long time, because their team reacts that way. It's hard to win that way. There's no consistency that way. They will, frankly, shut you out. I don't know if that's ever a winning style for anyone. I don't know how (they define) the word 'aggressive,' but we are very aggressive actually, if these guys would tell you my theory of football. We try to be as aggressive with football and try to make sure we can do the things that we do, and I think that's important.
"We have to be better on offense — no doubt about it. We have to get back to being a vertical-threat team. We have to start the football season being able to run the football, and that's got to be more consistent. We have to do a great job of that, and that means we have to go into the offseason and look at those things. We have to be more physical every opportunity we get, so that we can control the football game that way. We have an amazing group of threats at wide receiver, and we have to capitalize on that. We have to get our quarterback to be the guy that we expect him to be day in and day out, and lead the football team that way. That means we have to keep him from getting jostled around, and when he does, he has to be able to move and make throws on the move like we've all seen him do. We're excited — I'm excited about that.
"When we flip it over to defense, we have to be better on third down than we were this season. That's a key element. We allowed that to be an issue. We had our (defensive) guys out there too long, which exposed them to more injuries. And then, we had chances to finish out games that we didn't finish out. All of those things. So, if that's what aggressive is, then that's what we have to be better at. But believe me, you can ask Darrin every week, if we have an opportunity to do something on special teams, or if I tell Bill that I want to make sure we throw it over their heads this week, that's what we're going to do. Or (on defense), pressure the football. That's the way we're going to start every Monday as we look at the opponent — how can we pressure the football?"
Bill, you'll now have full offseason as the offensive coordinator. How different will the offense look?
Lazor: "Well apparently we're going to throw the ball over their heads (laughs)."
Lewis: "After we run it (laughs)."
Lazor: "I'm grateful for Coach Lewis and Mike Brown for the opportunity to do this, really, in the way that this job should be done. When Coach Lewis and Mr. Brown came to me and asked if I would take over the offensive coordinator duties two weeks into the season, I think I knew what most of the challenges were. Every place has its obstacles, and I think I knew what they were. When I decided to do it, I was determined to serve them — serve the players — not to count the costs for me, or heed the wounds that would come, as you know, or to ask for the reward. Just to serve. Certainly there are things I would've done differently and that we would've liked to do better, but I think we are in a position where we can go forward and start from the beginning in a way that we think takes full advantage of the talent that we have. And I think there is talent here — that's why I was excited when I had the opportunity to come back and help and join the staff, and stay full-time. There are players here that have proven that they can be successful in this league."
What are you looking for in an offensive line coach, Bill? Paul Alexander was here for so long, and there was a certain way he did things. What are you looking for?
Lazor: "For a coach at any position, especially with the offensive line, you have to have the right mix of scheme, technique, teaching, and also — specifically with the line — there's kind of an attitude. Let's face it: You're asking those guys to do something that's different than a quarterback. With a quarterback, I think they typically really enjoy going to training camp — there's a lot of seven-on-seven (time at practice). With an offensive lineman, you're asking them to go out there every day with pads on, and you have practice, and it hurts. It's hard. That's part of being the coach for that position — not only finding the guys that are going to enjoy doing that with you, but fostering that attitude. So, I think you have to mix those things, and certainly you like someone who has proven they can do it."
Marvin, staying the course is fine to tell to your players and to the guys underneath you, but how do you communicate that to the fan base that has kind of gone away in droves this year?
Lewis: "Well, you're going to have to start from scratch regardless, so you might as well start from scratch with someone you understand and you know. We have, as we said, a group of fine players here, and we've got to go forward and coach them better and do better with it. Everybody can always look at what's negative, but the only way we can go about it and do it positively is to go back to work and go about it and do it. There are no magic words that way. We didn't meet our expectations at all, so frankly, I understand that. But, if you're a fan, you're a fan, and let's get on and let's go. That's part of it."
Marvin, it seems that the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers are at the top of the AFC annually. What would you say is the separation between where you are now and being one of those teams?
Lewis: "I think the conviction that you have to win a close football game. Everybody has to understand that. Your great players, you have to put the football team on their back and make the game-winning plays when the time comes. That's important. That's part of it. There has to be a belief, throughout the building, that that's going to occur — and throughout that huddle, and throughout that sideline. And then, go about it and get it done."
How do you give your players that belief?
Lewis: "The continuity of things and continually doing it. Every time you get that opportunity, you make good on it and everybody believes in it and that it's going to happen. When you're the guy at the point of attack, get it. It's either you win or I win, and I'm going to beat you most of the time. That's the way it's going to be."
You talk about everyone doing a better job, and you talked about the details of the jobs. What's a detail of your job that you're going to focus on to do better?
Lewis: "The thing I would say is to make sure everyone understands (what) my vision is and the way (things) should look at all time, and don't (fall) short of that."
You said you hope to have Paul Guenther back. Can you afford to wait to see how that plays out?
Lewis: "We're not going to wait. Things are going to happen fast or you move on. That's part of this business."
How important would it be to stay as a 4-3?
Lewis: "We have the ability to do what we want to do."
Do you have a timeline in mind of when you would like to have your staff finalized? How soon does that have to happen?
Lewis: "Hopefully (it will be) done today, but I know that's not realistic."
Coach, one more question from a fan. You talked about free agency a little earlier, maybe acquiring some different players. A woman named Betty Lou I met at the Gold Star in Newport, in her words, she wants to know if can get team owner Mike Brown to loosen up some money to invest in the team. You know that sentiment is out there ...
Lewis: "Well, that sentiment is not true, and I think you guys can help with that. As far as the National Football League and the cap (goes), this organization has spent well within the top-five (teams) each and every season since I've set foot in Cincinnati. That's the point (to make). You can help with that. Don't keep fanning the fire. Go ahead and put the fire out. Tell her we are going to do that, and that we (have been doing) it on a (continuous) basis. There is an investment in our guys. We do like to grow guys from the ground up, which is important because you (can) instill in them correct habits — you're not trying to break habits — (but) I do think that we all understand that, when we have a hole, we have another avenue to fill that hole with a better player, it it's (a good fit), through free agency."
Bill, you have built a staff before. How do you feel about the guys here? Where are you at in your comfort level, and would you like some freedom to find people that you are comfortable with?
Lazor: "Well, I'm very comfortable with the talks that coach Lewis and I have already had. If I wasn't comfortable working for coach, I wouldn't be here. That's a big part of why I am here — part of why I wanted to come here two years ago. There wasn't a lot that I knew about the organization, but I knew coach Lewis. One of the opportunities I've had, for some of the guys that are going to remain on the staff, is that I've been with them and we've been under fire together. None of us expected to be in the situation we were in these last 14 weeks. As I told them, I understood that none of them signed up to do that for me, and I appreciated that they were professionals — they got the job done — and that's probably why coach Lewis had them here in the first place. It's not just resumes when you're trying to build a staff. You have to have people who are willing to be open-minded and at the same time are willing and able to give their opinion and not get their feelings hurt when that opinion isn't chosen as the best one — guys who aren't afraid to disagree, but then be able to be OK to go and sit down and have lunch together, because, at the end of the day, when we walk out of the room, we've got to do it together. The players have to get a united front. You need team players, and I'm pretty confident we will get the right guys."
How difficult of a challenge was it when you took over at offensive coordinator two weeks into the season?
Lazor: "I think, at the time, you don't look at it in the big picture because the clock is ticking — you've got a game. So you just focus on the Green Bay Packers, then the Cleveland Browns, and you just go. It wasn't the ideal way to do it, but I accepted it, so there are no complaints."
Do you think there will be some major tweaking?
Lazor: "If I look at the call sheet of what the plays are called here, I'd probably see things that were brought from three different coordinators. I think, over time, when you have the same players and some continuity on the staff, things evolve. ... There will be some things that probably will be needed to be done differently — totally differently. And there will be some things that you may say today are our strengths that should be built upon. I think there will be some of both. There are times when each of us, in order to grow, need to be pushed and need to be uncomfortable. Andy (Dalton) wants to be great, so he'll accept that challenge if we make him uncomfortable at times."
How do you feel about the components of the offensive line right now?
Lazor: "As we went through the season, we felt better and better. Maybe a part of it was I did a better job, as we went (along), of deciding what they could do well. I think a big part of coaching is evaluating yourself and what your players do well. When it comes to the run game, certainly you go in with a philosophy of how you like to run the ball — what do your backs do well and what can your line and your tight ends block well? If you look at five of the last six games, our average per rush was really more in the area where we think it should be to be a successful team on offense. Probably part of it was that we evaluated the guys better. There is no perfect set of players anywhere. We all have players with strengths and weaknesses. Can we improve their weaknesses and play their strengths?"
For the run game, is it about the structure or more of a philosophical thing?
Lazor: "I don't know if I understand your question. I think, as you get together as a staff — and I've started this the last two days — you evaluate the backs and the line, what they do well and how it fits with where we'd like to be. If it's a perfect match, great. If it's not, then you have to make some decisions. I've been in places that have led the league in rushing, and I've been places where we've struggled to make a first down, and some of them ran the same schemes. But its got to fit who your players are and then there's got to be, in practice, a commitment from everyone that you're going to run the ball and get good at it."
You obviously have a defensive philosophy that has been pretty successful. With a new defensive coordinator, are you looking to get a guy who is aligned with what you've done in the past?
Lewis: "How about we don't speculate on what happens. We can cross that bridge when we come to it. I'd probably be more comfortable with that. Lets not run Paul (Guenther) out of town just yet, OK (laughs)? Lets keep a hold on Pauley."
A lot of general managers and owners decided to stick with their head coaches. Does that surprise you, how this all played out?
Lewis: "I think that's perfect (laughs)."
Is that reflective of something bigger in the league this year?
Lewis: "This is what I believe: I believe that people who own teams in the National Football League are going to do what they think is going to help their football team become a championship team. I believe that. I think that's the way they choose their coach. I think that's the way they make their decisions, day in and day out. They don't care about anything else (except whether) their football team is going to be a championship team. I believe that. I tell people, when they go to a car lot, you know what you are looking for, and they are not going to sway you one way or another — that's what you are going to do. And I believe that about them. I've been involved from the other side of it, with three or four different teams, and I watch it happen all the time. I think they have a certain belief and that's why they make the decisions they make. I just believe that."
Do you think the lack of change elsewhere made it easier for you and Mike Brown to come together here?
Lewis: "I can't tell you that. I do think there comes a point (where you ask yourself) if you feel excited about starting fresh somewhere else, from my own standpoint. I can't tell you from Mike's standpoint."
Do you think some ownerships are more savvy about building championships than other ownerships?
Lewis: "What's the word 'savvy' mean?"
Lewis: "I think sometimes there is a tendency to think that the grass is greener, and it doesn't necessarily end up that way very often. If they feel good about the relationship they have and where they're headed, I think it's a little different. One of the people who I think is one of the savviest owners in the National Football League is Jerry Jones (of the Dallas Cowboys). They didn't have the season that they wanted this year with (Cowboys head coach) Jason (Garrett), but Jason is a fine football coach. And last year they got to the playoffs, they were a great team, and we saw firsthand how good they were. But it took Jason a bit to get them to that point, and yet, each year, they kept building with Jason. That's great. I've been in the NFL for 27 years, so I've seen a lot of different things — a lot of change. There are (different) ways to do it, and for the people who have been in the business longer, I think they have a good vision of it."
During your exchange of dialogue with Mike Brown, when did you get a sense a contract was going to get done?
Lewis: "I don't know how to answer that. I think both of us had obligations we had to take care of throughout Monday, me with the players and coming down to speak with you all."
You mentioned that you wanted to get back to the top of this division again ...
Lewis: "Yeah, we've got to build a better football team. That's important. (The Steelers) are the top of the division. From the beginning, when I started here, that was the thing — build a football team that would compete in this division and have an opportunity to win it. That's important."
Why did that not happen the last couple of seasons?
Lewis: "Sometimes, people have a sense that you are (just a piece or two) away. It's not that way in the NFL — everybody gets better every year. We have to keep getting better. Things happen, with injuries and things like that, that are out of your control. Sometimes it's hard to overcome those if they happen in a run, on a side of a ball, at a position, etc.. Unfortunately we have gone through a little bit of that. Well you can't say you were just this far away — no, you're not. It's always (more) than that, so let's make sure we tend to that all the time."
There had to be a time where you or Mike didn't know if a deal was going to get done. What was that like and how did you prepare your family?
Lewis: "My family ... you wouldn't want to know what they thought of this (laughs). Enough said (laughs)."
You're an organized guy. You had to know at some point that this may not work out. Was what it like when you thought that you might have to move on?
Lewis: "(Smiles) See that smile? I got to do that more often (laughs). These are difficult jobs. You see how I look every (Monday). I look bad. At some point, I am going to feel better about these things and I'll be a real person again. Right now, it's difficult. This is a tough thing. I've talked to a lot of my coaching brethren over the last two or three days, and that's an interesting perspective. Believe me, I am completely fine either way."
Was this your biggest challenge? Was this something you wanted to do again?
Lewis: "I was excited. These guys make me excited. Players make me excited. There's no doubt about it. Monday's meeting with the players, meeting again Tuesday a.m. with the coaches, and yesterday afternoon with the coaches again ... they drive me. A lot of people depend on me, and I appreciate that. I am not going to just leave them hanging. I'm going to work my tail off for them. I'm going to work my tail off for the city of Cincinnati to win a championship. I think that's important. The fans deserve that. We all experience what big thing Opening Day is for the Reds. And doggone it, if the Reds lose a game, then it's like everybody quits on them. Don't quit, just stay the course. You know what I mean? Everybody gets excited that first day. Just hang in there. I think the same thing is true (here). We've got to go to work — that's the only way to do it. There aren't any (magic) words. We'll do it by getting our players better, by adding better players, by coaching our players better. And we'll go out and (play) better on the field. That's what we have to do. I'm excited for the opportunity to do that."
You had some injuries and the younger players stepped into to fill in. What did they show you?
Lewis: "That sometimes, when you play with youth, you've got to hold on to your tail. But there is an exuberance, and there's an experience that comes out of it. I tell you about one thing that happened today ... Had one of our players come upstairs today — I don't know if he's ever come around to my side of the building before — and he felt 12-feet tall. That was Tyler Boyd. And I think that's what is exciting. Here's a guy we brought here because we expected him to do what he did the last two ballgames. And I think Bill (Lazor) has done a great job of allowing him to grow and become what we expected. So he leaves here (this offseason) feeling great about things. Joe Mixon leaves here after coming back to play in that final game where he was feeling pretty sore — his ankle was still pretty sore — and I think he showed his teammates a lot about what kind of guy can be moving forward. So there has been a lot of growth that has (occurred) over the last couple of weeks, and I think that's important. Everybody has mentioned the two young guards (Christian Westerman and Alex Redmond) and what they've done. We've all watched them everyday in practice. Christian Westerman and Alex Redmond work their tails off in practice every day, then they got an opportunity, and they made good with it. Clint Boling sliding out to tackle. Michael Johnson on defense — his unselfishness the entire football season, and what he has done. Jordan Evans, a young guy. Hardy Nickerson, a guy we've cut twice, brought back to the practice squad and brought him back up, then he starts two games at the end of the football season. There are a lot of those (types of stories). Guys fought to play. We're not where want to be yet, but we're going to get there."