Mike Preston: Marvin Lewis' coaching career might end where it really all started

Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has created the chuck-and-duck defense.

Reports of this being his last season in Cincinnati have been surfacing for the past three weeks, but Lewis has given no indication about his future with the Bengals.

“I don’t know where they are sending me to. They want to send themselves out with a high note,” said Lewis, 59, when asked if the players wanted to win Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Ravens for him.

Oh Marvin, please.

It’s no secret that Lewis wanted to get out of coaching at the end of last season, but decided to come back for his 15th year after a 6-9-1 finish. There is a good chance Lewis could move into Cincinnati’s front office after the season.

It’s great to have his coaching career possibly end in Baltimore.

“A lot of fond memories in Baltimore,” Lewis said.

This city is where Lewis earned his name in the NFL. He had been Pittsburgh’s linebackers coach from 1990 through 1995, and then became the Ravens’ defensive coordinator from 1996 until 2001. It was during the Ravens 2000-01 Super Bowl season in which he built one of the league’s best defenses ever.

There are a few names synonymous with the Ravens’ popular “Play Like A Raven” mantra: Ted Marchibroda, Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta, Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden.

And, of course, Marvin Lewis.

“To last 15 years in one place as a head coach is incredible, but to do that in Cincinnati is even more remarkable,” said former Ravens Pro Bowl outside linebacker Peter Boulware. “I never had any doubt Marvin would succeed because he was a great coach and great leader here. He turned that franchise from a laughing stock into respectability.

“We had to buy into his system; one built on intensity, attention to detail and being very unselfish. Marvin had a great impact.”

Lewis brought the Ravens into the modern world. The Browns came to Baltimore with the old Bill Belichick philosophy of building a front wall with the front-seven and then read and react. Instead of being attacked, Lewis wanted to attack.

He brought Dick LeBeau’s defense here with an assortment of blitzes and zone pressures. But before there was total acceptance, Lewis had to win over veterans — defensive ends Rob Burnett and Anthony Pleasant and safeties Stevon Moore and Eric Turner.

He also had to tutor young players such as Boulware, Lewis and fellow linebacker Jamie Sharper. Newsome gets a lot of credit, and rightfully so, for selecting those players, but Marvin Lewis worked a lot of them out personally before the draft.

Others, such as cornerbacks Duane Starks and Chris McAlister, played like a Raven, too.

“Bill didn’t play defense like Marvin,” said Bennie Thompson, a former Ravens safety who played and then coached under Marvin Lewis in Baltimore. “Marvin brought in fire zones, pressure zones, had linemen dropping into pass coverages, all kinds of good stuff. And if everybody remained disciplined and did their jobs we were invincible. That was the mind set.

“But he also brought camaraderie. When we first got to Baltimore we would practice and then everybody would go home. Marvin would say, ‘Hey Goose [Tony Siragusa], take out the d-linemen.’ Linebackers started hanging out with linebackers and so forth. Eventually, families started hanging out together. Marvin promoted that kind of togetherness. Then once we got guys like Sam Adams and Michael McCrary, oh, watch out.”

Lewis has had a lot of great years in Cincinnati as well. He’ll be criticized for not having won any of seven playoff games during his tenure, but some things were beyond his control, such as interceptions thrown by Carson Palmer, an injury to starting quarterback Andy Dalton and meltdowns by players such as linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Adam “Pac Man” Jones.

Some Bengals fans have short memories. Before Lewis, the Bengals had eight seasons in which they didn’t win five games or more in what is commonly referred to as “The Lost Decade.”

Lewis has won four AFC North titles and finished second four times. He has a 123-112 career record with the Bengals, which is better than any of his predecessors.

“When you think of Cincinnati coaches Marvin’s name has to be up there with Paul Brown,” said Wally Williams, a Ravens guard-center in the mid-1990s. “The Bengals used to be more erratic than the Browns, but he gave them credibility. It didn’t always translate into playoff wins, but Marvin just had some bad luck in the playoffs. But 15 years in one place, unbelievable.”

But it wasn’t just about wins and losses and Xs & Os for Lewis. He was one of those front-running assistant coaches looking to get a head coaching position at a time when NFL owners were still reluctant to hire African-Americans. Some times Lewis was the token interview, but he learned from those, often sharing thoughts with then-Ravens coach Brian Billick, who served as a mentor.

Lewis always had a soft spot for players which is something he picked up from the Rooney family in Pittsburgh, and the Modells, as well as Newsome, in Baltimore. There were times when Lewis probably should have cut players, but he believed in second chances, like the Ravens did with Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis and Bam Morris.

“Marvin had a different way about him,” Williams said. “He approached players differently because he could relate. Guys wanted to play hard for him.”

It will be interesting to see how the Bengals handle Lewis’ possible farewell Sunday. When the Ravens had no chance of making the playoffs in the final game last season against the Bengals, they turned in a low-energy performance.

“I’ve seen guys that have played 10 years and all they want to do is be respectable and not get hurt,” Williams said. “The Bengals might play hard for a half and if they are down by 14 turn it in immediately. That team is as crazy as the stripes on their helmets. They might come in and put 35 on the Ravens. Who knows?”

Thompson already knows Lewis’s pregame speech, though.

“He will tell them that they are playing for next year and if they go out and lay down like dogs they won’t be back,” Thompson said. “Even though he might not return he has still told them they are playing for jobs and will be evaluated. Marvin won’t let them quit.”

That’s vintage Marvin Lewis. And if his coaching career is over there might not have been a better place for it to end than in Baltimore.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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