Mike waits on Mike

1-10-03, 7:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Mr. Lewis went back to Washington Friday morning after a breakfast tour of Cincinnati.

Marvin Lewis also had two solid interviews under his belt, a briefcase strapped over his shoulder, and a winning smile on top of it all. He had everything as he boarded the plane at Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport but the Bengals' head coaching job because the Bengals are still mulling the three outside candidates.

Yet Lewis is satisfied he would have what he needs from Bengals President Mike Brown to take the job. Indications are he is looking to institute changes, as evidenced by his hope to lessen the scouting burden of his coaching staff, and that he feels he can work with Brown to make them happen. He has also said he thinks Brown gives his head coach plenty of say.

Asked if Brown would give him enough say to control the locker room, Lewis smiled and said, "Yes, that's what he's looking for. A head coach."

Brown probably won't get that ninth coach in franchise history until Monday, which looks to be the earliest the Bengals will name him as they wait for the Mike Mularkey situation to play out. With Lewis and Tom Coughlin leaving town after their second interviews, all indications are they want one more sitdown with Mularkey, the Steelers offensive coordinator they can't interview a second time until Pittsburgh is eliminated from the playoffs.

If the Steelers lose in Tennessee Saturday, the Bengals figure to meet Mularkey in Mobile, Ala., at the Senior Bowl on Monday. If Pittsburgh wins, the Bengals have to regroup and decide if they want to wait another week and risk losing Lewis and Coughlin because of the time frame. And did they believe Jacksonville owner Wayne Weaver when he said Thursday that NFL coordinators such as Lewis and Mularkey aren't on his A list because he seeks a guy with head coaching experience?

Coughlin is apparently still interested in the job despite a series of news reports that

pictured his interview Thursday as a futile attempt to get the Bengals to expand their coaching and support staff and turn over much of the power to him. But in an interview with Jacksonville TV station WTLV after he returned from Cincinnati Thursday, Coughlin didn't take himself out of the running and said the sides were still trying to et through the issue of sharing power.

There were indications that Coughlin didn't go into the meeting as heavy-handed as reported, but just the size of his renovation apparently took the Bengals aback. The Bengals don't want to start from scratch circa Jacksonville 1995 because they think they can compete for the playoffs next season, but indications are the Bengals haven't eliminated him.

Yet the national media has anointed the 44-year-old Lewis as the frontrunner and Coughlin running third behind Mularkey. In some quarters, Lewis is looked at as a moderate Coughlin. A veteran of three different organizations, Lewis has learned the art of asking for things in a way that won't upset the power structure and still get things done in a different, gradual way that would be more appealing to Brown. He is viewed as a guy who won't take a head job unless he is comfortable with the parameters and he looks comfortable.

The new coach is apparently going to be able to bring in whatever assistants he wants and that was made clear Friday when long-time defensive line coach Tim Krumrie was given permission to get out of his contract and go to Buffalo.

The new coach, no matter who he is, is also apparently going to get more scouts. Lewis indicated last week he didn't think coaches should be on the road scouting after the season and Brown said during last season he was looking to reduce the coaches' role in scouting. The extra scouts they are talking about could come from the Dick LeBeau assistants who won't be retained.

Lewis sounded like he was on the same page Thursday night.

"They have to prepare for the next season," Lewis said of his coaches. "There has to be a plan. I know Mike understands that. 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."

But Mularkey, 41, shouldn't be underestimated. Brown prefers his head coaches to be offensive minds and the organization is very aware of what a sharp offensive scheme means to a franchise. They look at Mike Holmgren, Andy Reid, Steve Mariucci, Jon Gruden and see a pattern, and they don't want to miss out if they think Mularkey is the next generation. But observers handicapping the field give Lewis the edge because of his two sitdowns with the family.

Mularkey would no doubt retain his good friend, Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. But it's believed Lewis is also comfortable with Bratkowski. They go back to their days recruiting against each other in the early '80s when Lewis was at Idaho State and Bratkowski at Weber State.

Lewis figures to turn over more than half the staff, Mularkey about half, and Coughlin would change most of it.

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