The torch has been passed

4:15 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

POINT CLEAR, Ala. - He is the first outsider ever to be named head coach of Paul Brown's Bengals.

The first of the nine who didn't play for him. Or whose father didn't play for him. Or who was never hired by him. Or wasn't him, period.

He is just the second Bengals head coach born in the '50s (1958) and the second born after the last of Paul Brown's NFL titles, but the first one who ever won a ring in that festival of the '60s called the Super Bowl as a coach.

Mike Brown passed the torch to a new generation of Bengals on Tuesday night. Marvin Lewis's only connection to the Bengals is the nickname of his college at Idaho State.

"This is a sea change for us," said Brown, flopping back in a chair in his hotel room, drained by his franchise's first extensive outside search for a head coach. "We've never done this before. We're going in a new direction and this is the guy we want to lead us. He's new, he's fresh, he's got the kind of presence we're looking for where this team is at now. He is the face of our franchise for the future."

His players noticed.

"There are some things people can no longer say about Mr. Brown," said cornerback Artrell Hawkins. "This was a big move. Here we are, the laughingstock of the league, and we get a coach who has won a Super Bowl and been a coach on successful teams."

The changes look to just be beginning as Lewis, who is also the team's first $1 million per year coach (figure in the $1.5 million range) in history, is poised to oversee the most turbulent offseason in club history when most of the coaching staff figures to get overturned at the head coach's behest.

On Wednesday morning, running backs coach Jim Anderson said he had been retained for a 21st season and indications are offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski is staying put. But some of the casualties that could happen are long-time assistant

coaches Kim Wood in the weight room and Ken Anderson at quarterbacks. Defensive line coach Tim Krumrie went to Buffalo, special teams coach Al Roberts was terminated, and it looks like receivers coach Steve Mooshagian is leaving to become the head coach at Sacramento State, where he has been offered the job.

Plus, Lewis and Brown indicated that there will be efforts to expand the personnel department in order to relieve the scouting burdens of the coaches.

Ask not what you can do for your players, but ask ...

"I could feel their enthusiasm for winning," said Lewis, when asked why he would take over the Brown family's team that hasn't had a winning season in 12 years. "Where they were headed and why it was important to get the right coach in place in order to win. I think as a football team we have a lot of players at that point in their careers where winning is so important to them. What we've got to get changed around is realizing as some times players are a part of the problem, but right now we have to make them part of the solution. We have to transition that in their minds.

"Before you win, you have to learn how to win, or more importantly, how not to lose," Lewis said. "It's about hard work. I don't think places win or lose. I have a plan to do these things. To get the little things done, to bring the professionalism of our team up. To cultivate the guys we have."

Before embarking on this "sea change," Brown tried to find his sea legs. As he usually does before a major decision, he went for a jog after the Tuesday morning practice to clear his head. With Lewis set to leave here Wednesday, it's believed the decision came down to the wire Tuesday just before the afternoon practice after Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey delivered a strong interview Monday night.

Jacksonville head coach Tom Coughlin supposedly took himself out of the running last week when his plan included too many massive changes for an owner who prefers gradual change, if any.

"It came down to all three guys," Brown insisted. "He was the right guy for where we are. He's a proven coach in this league."

Lewis was clearly relieved after two offseasons in which he has come close to getting jobs in Buffalo and Tampa Bay and turning down the Michigan State job last month.

"For my family, there is relief, for my friends, hopefully, they have a sense of relief," Lewis said, "because they've gone through this more emotionally than I have. I'm glad it's over for them."

Lewis is wasting no time. He was to meet with offensive line coach Paul Alexander Tuesday night to resolve his situation in which Alexander may end up going to the Bills or staying.

But most spots look to turn over, especially on defense, where he could bring in Ravens secondary coach Donnie Henderson as coordinator, and current Redskins defensive line coach Ricky Hunley.

Lewis wouldn't confirm any names, but he smiled when someone said it might take 19 years for the Bengals to finally get Hunley's name on a contract after Cincinnati drafted him in the first round and he sat out his rookie year before going to Denver.

"I don't know if Mike's ready for that yet," said Lewis with a laugh.

Lewis was scheduled to have minor knee surgery Friday to remove some loose bodies, but instead that will probably be his first day of work in Cincinnati and when he will most likely be introduced to the local media.

His rebuilding theme is simple.

"We want to play with great enthusiasm, with a discipline, and effort and finish everything we do," Lewis said. "In the NFL, it's how you finish things. We want to start fast but you have to finish things. Our effort, how we practice, we have to uplift our team at a high energy level at all times."

But along with the changes are the constants. Lewis said he plans to reach out and phone such core players as three-time Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon as soon as possible.

One of the reasons the Bengals chose him is because he has been on successful teams in their division, breaking in under head coach Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh in 1992 and moving on to Brian Billick in Baltimore before moving to Washington last year under Steve Spurrier. On Tuesday night, Lewis saluted his mentors, including the man he succeeds, Dick LeBeau, his defensive coordinator for two years in Pittsburgh when he coached linebackers.

"He taught me how to deal with players on an every day basis in the NFL and for that I'm appreciative," Lewis said.

Lost, but probably shouldn't be in all the firsts is that Lewis is the club's first African-American head coach and just the third in the NFL. Bengals cornerback Artrell Hawkins, also an African-American, had been thinking about it all day.

"I've been playing football since I was 10 years old and he's the first black head coach or coordinator I've ever had," Hawkins said. "That shows you how overlooked they are for jobs. I'm 26 now and been in the league five years, and he's the first one even going back to little league. It says something. It's really a great move for a lot of reasons. It's about time for him. Very deserving. Every year it seems like he just didn't get a job."

Quarterback Jon Kitna noticed, too.

"You can't get around the fact that an African-American head coach named to coach an NFL team doesn't happen every day," Kitna said. "I think it's tremendous for the community and the city of Cincinnati."

But color wasn't the first thing on Kitna's mind.

"Of the three guys they were talking to, he was the best choice," Kitna said. "Guys know what Mike Mularkey has done with the Pittsburgh offense, but the defensive guys might have felt slighted. Guys were worried that Coach Coughlin might have come in with too much of an iron fist.

"But everyone is aware of Coach Lewis and what he's done with his defenses since 1997," Kitna said. "Guys in our locker room are going to respect him right away."

Hawkins thinks the Lewis hiring has already cleared the cloud of negativity that has hung over this team and suffocated it.

"I think it's good it went to an outsider," Hawkins said. "There has to be change. He has nothing to do with the failure of the past and guys can look to him and not see that, but see only him. He'll leave his own signature on it."

Lewis knows the social significance of his hiring, but he prefers to see it as the triumph of a guy who began coaching as a graduate assistant at his alma mater and working his way to three more colleges (Long Beach State, New Mexico, Pittsburgh) on both coasts before making it to the pros. His friend, Falcons executive Ray Anderson, said the fans will love him because he did it the blue-collar way.

"Whatever color you are, it's hard work," Lewis said. "I think I'm representative of the coaches that have come up as I have through the ranks."

Lewis is mildly aware of the racial strife in Cincinnati and that there are still some civil rights groups running a boycott of downtown. But he said he doesn't know a lot about the situation.

"We're going to be working hard and I think people would be appreciative of that, and hopefully that will change some things," Lewis said.

Two big football questions following him: Will Brown give him enough power to have command in the locker room and is he the disciplinarian this team needs?

He said he believes Brown has given him the ability to run the football side of his team and is being allowed to set the tone. He also said perception isn't always reality when it comes to power sharing in the Bengals' organization.

As for being a disciplinarian, Lewis said his past players will tell you he is.

"They know a right way and a wrong way and we're going to keep reinforcing the right way," Lewis said. "You have to be fair. You can't coach 53 guys the same way, but I think you have to have to coach all 53 guys and we're going to coach 53 guys from sun up and sun down and they will realize that right away."

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