Skip to main content

Top 50 Moments: Marvin Lewis Hired as Bengals Head Coach


As Marvin Lewis steps to the microphones on the night of Jan. 14, 2003 in a hotel in Point Clear, Ala., as the Bengals' ninth head coach, the point is quite clear.

With the franchise in the depths of its worst season ever and a five-year run of just 19 wins, the Bengals have broken nearly all their traditions in turning to the charismatic, intense, and highly-regarded defensive mind.

In some of his last words before yielding the microphone to Lewis as the team's one voice, Bengals president Mike Brown admits he has thrown convention to the wind in an effort to win.

"We've never done this before," Brown says after the most extensive head coaching search in club history ends at the Senior Bowl. "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."

At 44, Lewis becomes the first man named Bengals head coach who never played for or against or was hired by founder Paul Brown. And except for the 45-game interimship of Dick LeBeau that just passed, Lewis is the first defensive coach hired by a franchise weaned on Paul Brown's fire-and-fallback offensive philosophy.

In another sign of generational change it is said that Mike Brown's two top executives, the husband-and-wife team of Katie and Troy Blackburn, exert major influence in the decision that yields a division winner and playoff team in three years.

Lewis, best known for coordinating Baltimore's record-setting defense to the 2000 Super Bowl title, is also the Bengals' first million-dollar-a-year coach.

"There are some things people can no longer say about Mr. Brown," says cornerback Artrell Hawkins on this night. "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."

Lewis arrives at the microphones bloodied but unbowed. The most coveted assistant coach in the NFL, he has been torturously close to the top jobs in Tampa Bay and Cleveland. Indeed, he once had told his father he had the Buccaneers job only to call an hour later with news the decision had been reversed at the upper reaches.

Now on this night from McDonald, Pa., Marvin Lewis Sr., the former steel worker his son calls his role model, proudly recounts how his son worked his way from the bottom of the coaching tree.

The move is greeted with such positive energy that the fact he is the league's eighth African-American head coach becomes, thankfully, an important footnote but a footnote just the same.

It is lost in the whirlwind of Lewis' pronouncement: "Everything is going to be different."

And it is. A new offseason program, a new weight room, new spiritual and physical nutrition, and a new face that quickly becomes entrenched in the city with the Marvin Lewis Community Fund that becomes a hallmark of community giving.

The biggest change, of course, is in the win-loss column. It turns out this high-stakes games of NFL Monopoly the Bengals roll in an Alabama hotel on a January night has paid off.

Paul Brown Stadium is now Marvin Gardens.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content