Reports: Mularkey trip set

12-31-02, 6:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, a Sam Wyche student of attack offense, is going to prep for his club's playoff game with the Browns in a job interview with the Bengals. Tuesday's various media reports said that the meeting is scheduled for Saturday.

That comes after the club received permission to speak with Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis for the head coaching job that has been open less than 36 hours.

"I think there is a lot of talent there and it's going to be a good opportunity for someone," Lewis said Tuesday night from Washington. Asked if it would be a good opportunity for him, Lewis said, "I'd rather not comment."

Both are high-profile coordinators with post-season experience. Lewis, 44, is architect of the Ravens' record- setting defense that won the Super Bowl two years ago, and Mularkey, 41, has led the Pittsburgh offense to back-to-back top five finishes in the rankings and playoff berths in his two seasons as coordinator.

Mularkey couldn't be reached for comment and the Bengals won't confirm the reports or talk

about who else is on their list. Former Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin and Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith apparently had yet to be contacted as the old year began to turn into the new around dinnertime.

Bengals President Mike Brown and his family are apparently headed to Pittsburgh Saturday for the visit with Mularkey. The NFL prefers candidates who are still in the playoffs to be interviewed in their city.

It's an ironic interview of sorts. After nine seasons as a tight end in the NFL, Mularkey got his start in coaching from Wyche when the former Bengals head coach moved on to Tampa Bay. It was Wyche's departure from Cincinnati 11 years ago this week that started a row of dominoes leading to this coaching search after missing the playoffs in 12 straight seasons.

With Mularkey, the Bengals would be getting a descendant of Wyche's creative theory of offense that he learned at the knee when Wyche hired him with the Buccaneers as quality control coach in 1994 before making him tight ends coach in 1995.

""Sam was always trying to attack people,'' Mularkey told "The Pittsburgh Post Gazette," when he first became the Steelers' coordinator last year. "If you're trying to substitute, he'd snap the ball. He was trying to attack you between plays. It wasn't just when the ball was snapped. A team would try to defend you by sending out better personnel but he'd try to hurry-up with the offense before they could do that. I have tapes of 15, 16 [defensive] guys on the field when the ball's being snapped."

This isn't the first time the Bengals have looked at Mularkey. In their search for an offensive coordinator two years ago, they had him on their list until Steelers head coach Bill Cowher promoted him to coordinator from tight ends coach. One of Mularkey's close friends, Bob Bratkowski, then the Steelers receivers coach, got the Bengals job. Which is why a Mularkey hire would probably keep much of the offense intact.

Wyche, who couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday, has always spoken highly of Mularkey and has been an admirer of his work in Pittsburgh. One of his specialties is the Statue of Liberty play for quarterback Kordell Stewart, just one of the many tricks Mularkey has been able to pull off in his two years there calling plays

"When he was with us, Mike was coming up with those ideas," Wyche told the "Post-Gazette." "I encouraged that when I could; you don't just get that from every coach."

What Wyche also liked about him is that Mularkey wrote letters to every NFL team and every college that fielded a football team, Division I through NAIA in an effort to get a job. He got one job offer, NAIA Concordia in St. Paul, Minn. It paid just about five figures and, at the same time, he went to the University of Minnesota and worked as a software salesman for IBM.

He heard Wyche might be interested after reading one of his annual letters, so Mularkey paid his own way to the '94 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., borrowed a pass off his old Vikings line coach for the nightly cocktail/schmoozing hour, and introduced himself to everyone in the ballroom instead of standing with the knot of unemployed coaches.

"He walked up to me on the field at the Senior Bowl and immediately it felt just right,'' Wyche said. "He was eager and hungry, trying to break in. He had the background. Mike was prepared."

The Bengals are going to send their assistant coaches to the week leading up to the Jan. 17 Senior Bowl, whether the Bengals have a new head coach or not. It's a sign of goodwill by Brown because it is also a big job fair as well as a college all-star game.

But since the staff is in transition, the Bengals won't coach in the game, a job that goes to the two teams with the NFL's worst records. With coach Marty Mornhinweg retained in Detroit, the game will probably be coached by the staffs of the Lions and Texans.

Brown has reportedly given at least two assistants permission to pursue other opportunities.

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