Updated: 1-3-08, 2 p.m.
The Bengals said Thursday in the wake of Wednesday's moves that their remaining coaches are in place, working, and under contract for the 2008 season.
Some could leave for better jobs, but it looks like Bengals defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan and linebackers coach Ricky Hunley are the only assistants that won't return.
Also Thursday there are indications from Carolina that the Bengals have not asked the Panthers for permission to talk to secondary coach Tim Lewis, a possible candidate for coordinator. For the third time under head coach Marvin Lewis the Bengals are looking for a defensive coordinator with another of the candidates possibly former Jets and Lions coordinator Donnie Henderson.
The Bengals released a statement Wednesday night from Lewis announcing that Bresnahan and Hunley won't return in 2008.
"These are very difficult decisions that affect the lives of coaches and their families," Lewis said in the release. "But after meeting with all our coaches, I determined that it was necessary to make these changes. Both Chuck and Ricky worked extremely hard this past year, and I wish them and their families the best as they move on in their careers."
The Bengals' release confirmed reports that hit ProFootballTalk.com and ESPN earlier Wednesday.
Bresnahan, 47, led the defense to finishes of 28, 30, and 27 in the NFL rankings the past three seasons. In the first year Bresnahan replaced Leslie Frazier, the defense helped fuel the run to the 2005 AFC North title with a league-leading 44 turnovers. The 74 they forced in '05 and '06 were second only to the Bears.
But a devastating set of circumstances at linebacker this season doomed the defense as soon as training camp opened. David Pollack, the team's No. 1 pick in 2005, sat out '07 with a broken neck. Middle linebacker Odell Thurman was denied reinstatement from a drug suspension. And four others went on season-ending injured reserve after playing a total of eight games.
Hunley, 46, bore the brunt of the injuries. Free-agent middle linebacker Nate Webster ended up playing just three games for the Bengals before blowing out the patella tendon in his kneecap in the '04 season.
While Webster surfaced in Denver this past year, Hunley was working with the eighth different starting middle linebacker of his five Bengals seasons in Anthony Schlegel, a second-year player picked up on waivers from the Jets just before the season. Thurman, Webster, Kevin Hardy, Landon Johnson, Brian Simmons, Caleb Miller and Ahmad Brooks were the others.
Still, the defense closed with a strong second half this season. In the last eight games the Bengals gave up an average of 300 yards per game, 93 on the ground and 17.6 points compared to 397, 133 and 27.3, respectively, in the first eight games.
The popular, outgoing Hunley, one of Lewis' first hires, proved you can go home again even if you were never there to begin with. The Bengals took him with the seventh pick in the 1984 draft, but he never reported and the contract dispute led to his trade to the Broncos in one of Bengals president Mike Brown's more famous negotiations.
After playing linebacker for three teams during seven NFL seasons, Hunley embarked on a coaching career that overlapped with Lewis in the early '90s when Lewis was the linebackers coach in Pittsburgh and Hunley was an intern in the NFL's minority coaching program.
It seemed to be fate that he would finally sign with Brown when Lewis took him from the Redskins staff they both served in 2002.
"I've got no bitterness toward Marvin. He remains a friend. He was good to me while I was there," Hunley said. "I've got the deepest gratitude and appreciation for the entire Brown family. They're great people to work for. Mike brought me back. I don't care what people say about him. He's a very fine man, a loyal employer, and great to his people."
Bresnahan, who couldn't be reached for comment, took the job a season after he joined the club as a defensive assistant under Frazier in 2004. Henderson, who coached Lewis' linebackers when the Ravens won the 2000 Super Bowl, arrived at training camp as a consultant and observer and already has knowledge of the Bengals personnel.
Henderson, 50, was the Jets defensive coordinator in 2004 and '05 before moving to the Lions for a year in 2006. Lions head coach Rod Marinelli said when he let Henderson go after a 3-13 season that it was more about systems and Henderson didn't have any background in the Tampa 2 that Marinelli brought to Detroit.
Henderson's first NFL game as a coordinator came against the Bengals' Carson Palmer in his first NFL start and the Jets won that one, 31-24, with Palmer throwing a late interception at The Meadowlands. The Jets went on to finish seventh in defense in the league for 10-6 team that won a playoff game in overtime and lost one in overtime. In '05 the defense finished 12th, but the Jets went 4-12 and head coach Herm Edwards moved on to Kansas City.
Other potential candidates with Lewis ties are former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan and former Steelers and Giants defensive coordinator Tim Lewis. Ryan is up for the head job in Baltimore and possibly Atlanta. An inside candidate could be secondary coach Kevin Coyle, a coordinator at Holy Cross, Syracuse and Fresno State for 15 seasons before joining the Bengals in 2001.
Tim Lewis, 46, a former cornerback with the Packers, broke into NFL coaching on the Steelers' Super Bowl staff in which Marvin Lewis coached the linebackers in 1995. During his four seasons as the Steelers defensive coordinator from 2000-2003, Pittsburgh finished in the top 10 all four years and led the NFL in 2001.
He moved to the Giants in 2004, where he developed the Pro Bowl pass rush combo of Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyioro and oversaw 15 consecutive scoreless quarters in 2005. But with head coach Tom Coughlin taking heat, some say Lewis took the fall for the '06 late-season collapse.
Lewis moved to Carolina to coach the secondary this past season and despite the sudden retirement of safety Mike Minter, the Panthers finished 17th against the pass on a defense that finished 16th,
Hunley, a Petersburg, Va., native recently named to the Virginia Hall of Fame, served in an executive position in the NFL Players Association and on the board of the Black Coaches Association.
"College or pro, wherever the next chance is," said Hunley, who spent 10 years in the college game before joining the Redskins. "When we got fired at Missouri with Larry Smith (in 2000) I got a great book. 'Who Moved My Cheese?' This cheese is gone. I'm moving on to find another one."