Posted: 11:30 a.m.
When Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis found out earlier this week he had been named the NFL Coach of the Year by the Associated Press, he went one-on-one with Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com.
GH: Congratulations. A lot of great of names are on that trophy.ML: They get fired the next year? (Laughs).
GH: Maybe not the next year.ML: It's flattering to me personally, but I think it's in recognition of our coaches, our team, our organization. I appreciate the honor, but it really is in response to what our team has done and what our entire staff has done, and our players. They should take their hat off and be proud.
GH: Some pretty serious candidates there with Sean Payton and Jim Caldwell.ML: No question there was probably more deserving people.
GH: What is the best thing that happened this year besides winning the division?ML: It didn't matter your pedigree. Pedigrees didn't matter. How you got here didn't matter. What mattered is what you did when you got here.
GH: I would imagine you're trying to find more guys like that.ML: I hope that we could. Keep wanting to try because that fits well with the guys that are here. It doesn't matter how they got here. What matters is what you do day-to-day here.
GH: For people who don't know but hear you say it, can you explain Jones Junior High for them? It's kind of like every and any coaching job, right?ML: Right, it's every opportunity you have. You coach to coach, you coach to teach. There's a Jones Junior High in every city in America and that's what we're doing. People think we're doing something different here in the NFL and we're not. I probably learned that when I first got into the NFL. Coaching and teaching is still the same whether we're coaching 28-year-olds or eighth-graders. It's all the same.
GH: Is there any difference between the NFL Coach of the Year and the guy at Jones Junior High?ML: There's not much difference, probably.
GH: Although you would prefer to be the help-out coach at Jones and not the volunteer coach.ML: That's right. Because the volunteer has to show up. He has responsibility. Help out is just helping out.
GH: But the help-out guy and the NFL coach are still teaching.ML: That's right. You've got to find your niche. Even that day. Where are you helping out that day? You might be helping the left guard. You might be helping out at the right cornerback spot. Or the right gunner. You've got to be the best guy you can be that day helping out. Every day it's a different spot.
GH: Is that what a head coach does? ML: That's what this job entails because that's what I get to do. I miss coaching, so that's the coaching I get to do. Whatever it is that day. It's watching all the practice tape again at night by myself, so the next morning I can go to the guys I need to go to and reinforce. That's what it is about.
GH: The big job you have is the management. The orchestration. Literally, when the buses leave. But it's also the little stuff.ML: It's making sure the little stuff doesn't go unnoticed or uncorrected, or reinforced. We're conscious of the little things. The players are conscious of the little things. We're making sure the details are being focused and coached.
GH: Is there any one thing you've gotten better at? Detail or big picture?ML: I hope I've gotten better at all of it. I think the best part of everything is (reacting). 'It's going to be OK. We'll figure out a way to do it and we'll figure out who to do it with,' and that's what we have to do. From that standpoint, that's a growth the football team had to go through. That we suffered through in '08 and the loss of Carson (Palmer). I think we're better served after that situation. There is a stronger belief that one player is not going to make as big a difference than it used to be. There is no woe is me.
GH: As far as a coach, are you a better big picture guy or better detail guy now?ML: I don't know.
GH: What you went through in '08 with Carson and then what you had to go through this year with deaths in the family, that had to test all your skills.ML: We just had to make sure we gave people space. We talk about it all the time. Faith, family and football. We kept those priorities straight. Putting it all together helped us through those tragic moments. Different things that players individually and collectively faced.
GH: You are known as a people person. It seemed like you were able to draw on that.ML: It's easier to be a people person when you are a people person than if you're putting on airs to be a people person when tragedy strikes. Then you're a phony and people see through you. It's easier when you know the players to that extent already. We lose babies during the season. We have babies. We lose parents. We lose aunts. We lose uncles. There is a lot of unfortunate loss during the season and then we had what we had on top of those things. You just can't turn that on when those things occur if it's not there.
GH: What is the number one priority in the offseason?ML: Do a very good job of self-analysis and point to some new directions.
GH: The one thread with your teams that have contended is they haven't finished strong. The common denominator in '03, '05, '06, and '09 is that you didn't score points at the end of the year.ML: They thought they had arrived, but I don't think this year they (felt that way) at all. I do think this year there is too much self-satisfaction with getting to this level, than to this (higher) level.
GH: Did that feeling still seep in? Even though you didn't celebrate the division by wearing the hats and T-shirts?ML: It had to. Because I had too many people ask me questions Thursday and Friday (before the regular-season finale in New York) about, well, what are we doing? (Would we rest starters?) It was after practice Friday. It was the whole topic of the network (production meetings). So obviously it's too much of a topic. I think that's an issue. We have not shown the maturity or professionalism to get through that.
Or the playmaking to get through that. That was true of (losing) the game in Denver (in 2006), for instance. Plain and simple. (Losing) the game here against Pittsburgh (in 2006). It comes down to being productive and making plays. That's something you look at.
GH: Do you need more playmakers?ML: I think we do. You always want more playmakers on both sides of the ball.
GH: It seems offensively you're lacking a little bit there.ML: They're the same guys that were making plays against Pittsburgh and Baltimore in that stretch of games.
GH: You've got one year left on your contract. Is that a concern for you? Is it a concern for Mike (Brown)?ML: My situation is not a situation. It's got nothing to do with anything. I'm not talking about my situation. Let's let it all go by. My situation is not a situation.
GH: This is the first time I can remember where we've sat down at the end of the year and one of the first three questions isn't about chemistry or foundation. It's got to be nice going into an offseason like that.ML: I'm sure we'll find some new ones shortly, but we don't start out that way.
GH: You seem comfortable with the foundation set this year.ML: Yeah, I think people realize if you don't ever have a foundation you're always going to waver. You're never going to build anything very solid. It won't stay very long. You build a house of cards.
GH: How good to have Mike Zimmer back in that?ML: Very. No. 1, obviously, from a coaching standpoint, but also from a stability standpoint. Lack of change. Just the ability to move forward and not change the big picture. Or the little picture. Just refine and get better and do things different and be able to study right away. What do you want to do different and what do we add, what do we subtract? For him, what players can he zero in on to get better?
GH: Obviously you have questions offensively. But it sounds like you think you've got the quarterback and you've got the running back. You've got two-thirds of the puzzle.ML: I think we have more than two-thirds of the puzzle. We just have to be more efficient with every third of what we've got. People forget the 45-yard pass interference penalty (to wide receiver Chad Ochocinco in the Wild Card game). Let's have three 45-yard pass interference penalties every game. At least attempts. Then I'll feel better. We've got to throw it down the field. We have to put fear in them. If you don t put fear in them, then you keep seeing some of the things you see. That's why we've gotten the long runs because we're running the ball against eight-man fronts. Once we block them up, get guys on guys, we got longer runs. And you saw it happen throughout the season.