Marvin Lewis: players remember.
When the report came out Sunday morning, it didn't take Willie Anderson and Brian Simmons by surprise. After all, 15 years coaching one NFL team in this century is virtually unheard of so it figured that Marvin Lewis, the old head coach who revived their Bengals team back in the day, would be moving on sooner rather than later.
Lewis has since denied the report but what can't be denied is that it stirred a bit of nostalgia from his old players if Sunday's Paul Brown Stadium season finale (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 19) against the Lions is indeed Lewis' last home appearance in his 239th regular-season game.
"He changed the national perception. He took the Bengals from a team known just for Chad (Johnson) celebrating touchdowns to winning games," says Anderson, the club's all-time right tackle who blocked for Boomer Esiason's last NFL touchdown pass against a Marvin Lewis defense from Baltimore
Simmons, who lost nine straight as a rookie, hung around long enough to miss the birth of his youngest child to help deliver that first division title with that 2005 win in Detroit.
"You look at 15 years and (Bill) Belichick is the only guy that's been with a team longer," Simmons says. "There was a time we were just trying to make the playoffs. Then they became a team that made the playoffs every year. That says something right there. I'm not saying the Brown family and Marvin shouldn't want more than that. They have to figure that out. But it shows you how far it's come."
Anderson cobbled together a few words via text as he reacted Sunday morning:
"He changed the culture, the smell and Mindset when all of us didn't even realize how bad we smelled! He came in and showed ALL OF US that what (we) were doing was Below average and Bad. By showing us that then giving us a blueprint to get out of it we were able to get the Bungle stigma off us. This way of thinking eventually lead them to be 1 of the most talented teams in the NFL and playoff appearances."
After a few days to reflect, his mind floated back to the bottom and the first few days after the 2-14 season of 2002 and the departure of head coach Dick LeBeau. He agrees. Lewis was the perfect hire at the perfect time.
It's funny how the mind works. Anderson remembers talking to the media and not remembering Lewis' name. He thinks he referred to him as "the black guy from Baltimore." But he knew exactly who Lewis was. A bright young guy that helped lead the Ravens to the Super Bowl.
"I remember saying it would be great if they hired an African-American coach and Mike Brown gave him an opportunity and allowed him to make mistakes," Anderson says. "He didn't have the quick trigger and allowed Marvin to re-set it after Carson (Palmer) and Chad (Johnson) left. Look how it worked out. We didn't know what he was doing early. What's this guy doing? (Linebacker) Takeo Spikes didn't stay. But look how it worked out. Yeah, you'd have to say perfect hire. Perfect storm. Looked how it turned out."
It didn't matter, of course, if Lewis were black, white, orange, or whatever. What hit home immediately is that Lewis is the first Bengals head coach not first brought in to the organization with Paul Brown as president. Go back to Colts wide receiver David Shula's two punt returns against the 1981 Bengals, and Lewis is the first Bengals head coach who didn't either coach or play under or against a Paul Brown-formed team.
"Mike and the Browns did it the right way when you go out and hire somebody," Simmons says. "You cast a wide net. We had talent here. Guys were hungry to win and they were looking for something new and different."
Anderson thinks Lewis brought a little bit of everything with him even though he was a linebackers coach who became a defensive coordinator. Xs and Os along with Ps and Qs.
"We pretty much had the entire offensive staff back," Anderson says of that first season. "Same coordinator, line coach, running backs coach. But I told him, 'Look, we were 2-14 over there, too. Make sure you go in our room, too.' And he did. I think his presence just helped.
"We started practicing faster and more intense. I remember he would tell the second and third cornerbacks to trash talk Chad to get him going."
Simmons, their most versatile linebacker ever just when defenses need to respond to 21st century offenses, made the big defensive plays in the back-to-back home wins over Baltimore and Seattle in Lewis' first season of 2003 that turned the tide to 8-8. He remembers him as much for the chalkboard as he does for the new regimens for nutrition and conditioning.
"He taught me to watch film. I mean, I knew how to watch film and I did watch film," Simmons says. "But he really drilled you on it every day. He'd ask you about formations and keys and techniques and you wanted to make sure that you weren't going to be wrong in the meetings."
Whether Lewis is back or not, Anderson figures his legacy is in place.
"I'd like to have had some of those rosters in the '90s," he says.
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