1-8-04, 2 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Suddenly, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis finds himself coaching next season against the NFL's version of Mount Rushmore.
Joe Gibbs of Washington. Bill Parcells of Dallas. Tom Coughlin of the Giants.
Yes, Lewis has Gibbs' book, "Racing to Win," on his bookshelf.
"(Gibbs) is already in Canton. Parcells is obviously going, and Coughlin has a chance," said Lewis Thursday of the 2004 Hall-of-Fame lineup. "These guys have been Super Bowl coaches, they've got rings, and they've got a lot of experience. It's a great challenge for us because the level of expertise of coaching for those teams is going to be extremely high."
Parcells and his disciple, Coughlin, bring their teams to Paul Brown Stadium, while the Bengals face Gibbs' 21st century Hogs on the road. Lewis sees those matchups as a reality check for the Bengals' rebuilding project that is trying to emulate many of the qualities those coaches have brought to their teams.
"It's a great chance for us to see how we stack up. That's for sure," Lewis said. "All three men are tough men. Their teams play tough, disciplined, aggressive football. They're very similar teams to what we play in our division. The running game being
sound and big for them. That's why those people have been successful. That's been the model for the NFL for many years. The Rams somewhat bucked the trend, but when they're going best, they're running the football."
It's the kind of team Lewis wants the Bengals to become because coaches like Gibbs and Parcells won with the running game-defense-clock ball formula before free agency, and a coach like Coughlin reached two conference championship games with it in the free-agency era.
"It's the model that works," Lewis said. "It has better staying power, and it also helps the other side of the football. It creates an atmosphere that the other side of the football can win with."
With the re-surfacing of Coughlin, who interviewed with the Bengals last year before Lewis got the job, and the resurrection of Gibbs, Lewis sees where his attempt to create a similar mindset and structure have again been validated. He has always admired Gibbs as an organizer who preached unity, which is obvious as many of his old players and coaches emerge from the cobwebs to surround him again.
"He was able to keep guys for a long time and to keep a dynasty, and they still live in Washington and they will all be coming out of the woodwork," Lewis said. "A lot of his guys are coming back (to coach)."
During the 2002 season Lewis spent as the Redskins' defensive coordinator, he bumped into Gibbs at some events around Washington D.C., and got to know him. When the Redskins traveled to Carolina in the preseason, some of the coaches visited Gibbs' racing shop near Charlotte, and after making that pitstop, Lewis thinks Gibbs has a chance to succeed again.
"He's very detailed and that's the way his shop is set up," Lewis said. "It's set up just like a football team. Theater meeting rooms. A weight room. Training room. It's very organized. His system is being used in places around the league. Like what Dan Henning (a Gibbs' assistant for four years) is doing in Carolina. And he's bringing back guys like Joe Bugel who haven't been out of the game. It's going to be interesting."