After the 32 NFL head coaches stared into the camera earlier this week for the 2010 group photo, one wag at the league's annual meetings credited Bill Parcells with comparing the annual shoot to a picture of bomber pilots.
"You never know who is going to be back next year," Parcells said.
So Marvin Lewis heading into his eighth season as Bengals head coach is a significant number. Only 10 men who were hired after free agency arrived 17 years ago have coached in the NFL that long with the same team. Talk to three of them who have done it and they are impressed at the stability in this Jilted Age of coaching.
"It happens less and less," said Mike Holmgren, now even a Bigger Show than a coach as head of Cleveland's operation. "It's a little more difficult at times with the movement of players to stay consistently good. It just seems like more of a trend in recent years where there is not as much patience from management's side, but Marvin's a good man."
Lewis is the only one of the 10 with a losing record (56-57-1) and without a playoff victory. But he also has a lot of traits the others have. Enough that he and Bengals president Mike Brown have engaged in talks to extend his contract beyond 2010.
They have returned the franchise to respectability by winning more games than the Bengals won in the 12 seasons before Lewis arrived. With the help of quarterback Carson Palmer, Lewis has made Cincinnati an attractive spot for free agents with two division titles in the past five years and two other seasons the Bengals lost a playoff berth on the last Sunday. Lewis has had the same quarterback despite the churning of NFL rosters, and he's stayed in touch with his locker room despite the generation gap.
Plus, he works for an owner whose quest for stability is as old as the club. Brown and his father founded the AFL expansion team on the principles of patience and perseverance and Paul Brown coached the first eight seasons himself before retiring at the age of 67.
Patience is the Bengals' M.O., but as Holmgren suggested, it used to be more in abundance league-wide. Sam Wyche also ran the Bengals for eight seasons after he was hired in 1984, but he was one of 13 men hired between 1980 and the 1993 start of free agency that worked that long with the same team.
"Mike (Brown) has been around a long time. He understands things don't happen overnight," said new Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, back in the game after coaching the Broncos for 14 seasons. "You've got to be lucky with injuries and you better have a good quarterback if you want to hang around awhile."
Shanahan, of course, had John Elway. Holmgren served 10 seasons in Seattle, mostly with Matt Hasselbeck. And look at the four guys ahead of Lewis on the seniority list. Tennessee's Jeff Fisher made Steve McNair his first draft pick in 1995. Philadelphia's Andy Reid made Donovan McNabb his first draft pick in 1999. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have won three Super Bowls in New England and when John Fox said goodbye to Jake Delhomme in Carolina a few weeks ago it was a weep-fest.
Lewis' first pick was Palmer back in 2003 and like he said then and like he says now, they are attached at the hip.
"A little more luck with the quarterback and injuries, and there's no telling how many playoffs they would have been to," said Colts general manager Bill Polian, who knows all about quarterbacks and stability.
Peyton Manning has yet to miss a game in his 12-year career, but even he has had three different head coaches. Holmgren never reached eight seasons in Green Bay even though he had a Hall of Fame quarterback in Brett Favre, but he wanted to get out from underneath general manager Ron Wolf's shadow after that seventh season and call his own shots.
"He's developed a relationship with the powers that be, or the owner in this case, where there's a real trust there clearly," Holmgren said of Lewis. "If you can establish that and put a good product on the field, you've got a chance to last. He has a philosophy, he's consistent. Clearly he's a good football coach. He knows what he's doing there."
Tom Coughlin coached the Jaguars for their first eight seasons of existence in the late '90s and early '00s and he interviewed for the Bengals job when Lewis got the nod. A year later the Giants hired Coughlin and he's headed into his seventh season, which in New York years is like 21. Because Green Bay hired Holmgren the year before free agency started (1992), Coughlin is the only guy on the list close to reaching eight years with two different teams in the free-agency era. He can appreciate longevity.
"Obviously you have to have a talent for the job," Coughlin said. "You have to have the mindset that you're always learning, always looking for ways to improve. You have to be great at managing people and staff. That has become an issue, and, of course, if you don't have success you're not going to be around very long."
Even though it's been just 15 years since that first season in Jacksonville, the 63-year-old Coughlin says players are different. He realized that when he arrived in New York after already coaching 136 NFL games.
"They come from a little different generational thing," he said. "You have to be aware of that. You've got to know how they've been coached. You've got to do a superb job of communicating with these guys. Even when I first came to New York and I would make what I thought was a very straightforward presentation, there would be three different interpretations. How can that be? What are these guys listening to? You have to go about different means of getting your message across."
Lewis, 51, made a concerted effort to listen to his players more last year. He was already known as a guy that spends a lot more time in the locker room than a lot of head coaches, but he also instituted Thursday lunch meetings with the captains in '09 to discuss all sorts of player items, ranging from the personal to practice schedules.
And, like Coughlin, he relies on a core of leaders.
"You've got the four or five guys that are old school or whatever they want to call it, they have the passion and love it," Coughlin said. "Right now, what you really need, I think, is you need those guys that are willing to listen to what you want and share some thoughts with you. But buy into it. They've got to go get these other guys to do that. They have to handle the rest of them. That's what I've come to realize. You need guys that say, 'I'll take care of that. I'll do that.' If you don't like the way practice is going (the coach says), 'If we're going to be successful, you guys need to take care of practice.' "
Like Lewis, Coughlin works the locker room. They don't overdo it, but Coughlin figures he does it more now than when he did in Jacksonville.
"Take care of the locker room," Coughlin said. "Get in there where they are. Listen to what they're saying. Be there so they can see you. See them on a little different basis than when you see them in the meeting room. You've got things to do. You've got to move on. But you go in and talk to them."
COACHES HIRED IN FREE AGENCY ERA WITH SAME TEAM FOR AT LEAST EIGHT SEASONS
Name Team Seasons Division titles
Jeff Fisher Titans 17 3
Mike Shanahan Broncos 14 3
Andy Reid Eagles 12 5
Bill Belichick Patriots 11 7
Mike Holmgren Seahawks 10 5
John Fox Panthers 9 2
Brian Billick Ravens 9 2
Marvin Lewis Bengals 8 2Tom Coughlin Jaguars 8 2
Jack Del Rio Jaguars 8 0
IN-HOUSE: The Bengals are eying an overhaul of the fan experience at Paul Brown Stadium in 2010 and were all ears this week at the NFL meetings when Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered each club 5,000 Kangaroo TV mobile units for fans to buy.
According to the South Florida Business Journal, Kangaroo TV makes devices that show replays, other games, and offers fantasy stats. The NFL's RedZone channel, which goes live when teams are inside the opponent's 20-yard line, is also available.
The Bengals are looking into the proposal but they also want to do their own research on what their crowd wants at PBS and part of that will involve fan polls on Bengals.com.
JEANTY SIGNS: Just in time for Monday's start of the offseason workouts, backup SAM linebacker Rashad Jeanty signed his one-year tender Thursday that took him off the restricted free-agent market to the tune of about $1.2 million. Here's a guy who paid his dues with three seasons in the CFL, four seasons in the NFL, and then suffered a broken lower leg on the opening kickoff of his first playoff game.
"It was shocking, but I'm just thankful it wasn't worse," said Jeanty, who didn't have to have surgery in the days following the Jan. 9 loss to the Jets.
He's still rehabbing and said Thursday he's not sure when he'll get back on the field because he hasn't been given a timetable.