Lewis facing end of his tenure as Bengals’ head coach

Published 2:15 am Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Associated Press

CINCINNATI — A weathered banner on the side of a downtown sports bar proclaims the area “Marvin-nati.” Time to start considering another name.

One of the longest Bengals coaching careers could be ending Sunday. Marvin Lewis declined an extension last season, when the Bengals won the AFC North and Lewis won Coach of the Year. He wanted to see if the organization made some changes before agreeing to stay.

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A year later, his contract is running out and it’s looking unlikely that he’ll be back, though given the way owner Mike Brown operates, nothing can be ruled out.

“My focus is really the Baltimore Ravens, and we’ll cross that bridge when it comes to that time,” Lewis said Wednesday. “I don’t think much about it.”

A decision is likely right after the Bengals (4-11) wrap up one of the worst seasons in franchise history. The coach meets with Brown the day after the final game to talk about the future.

The last coaching change came fast. Dick LeBeau finished the final year on his contract with a 2-14 record in 2002. Brown informed him during a brief meeting the following morning that he wouldn’t be coming back. Then, Brown did something totally out of character, going outside the organization to hire Lewis.

In other NFL cities, Lewis would have been fired by now. The Bengals had only two winning records and lost their two playoff appearances during his eight seasons. He has a 60-66-1 record heading into the game against Baltimore (11-4).

His final year under contract is ending in circumstances much like those that led to his hiring.

Lewis arrived when fan interest was at a low. The Bengals couldn’t come close to filling Paul Brown Stadium, prompting Brown to bring in a new face for the franchise.

Lewis got more clout than his predecessors and turned the Bengals into an average NFL team — quite an accomplishment. They’d gone 15 years between winning records when he led them to the division title in 2005. They won it again last year, and splurged on the payroll to try to win their first back-to-back division titles in franchise history.

Instead, Lewis has presided over perhaps the franchise’s biggest disappointment. The Bengals tied the club record by losing 10 in a row, and receiver Terrell Owens blamed the coaching staff for the offense’s troubles. Cincinnati failed to sell out the last four home games.

The first indication that Lewis might leave came during the scouting combine in the offseason, when he said he’d declined a contract extension because he wanted to see more changes in how the front office operates.

“There were things when I started in this job in 2003 that were important and we can’t change those,” Lewis said in February. “They have to stay on track and I have to make sure we’re continuing to progress that way. Those are the things that are more important to me as anything.

“I’m talking about structure, decisions and how we do things and how I have the ability to do things that give us an opportunity to win football games.”

The Bengals don’t have a general manager. Brown functions as one, making personnel decisions. He and Lewis have disagreed on moves, most notably the decision to bring back receiver Chris Henry after letting him go for repeatedly getting into trouble. Questions also have arisen over the team’s scouting and medical staffs.

Lewis has repeatedly lobbied for a covered practice field. The Bengals had to get on buses and make a 45-minute trip to an indoor soccer facility to prepare for a playoff loss to the Jets last year. The team can cover one of the practice fields adjacent to Paul Brown Stadium, but would have to pay the entire cost.

So far, Brown has declined to pay for a covered field, leaving the Bengals as the only northern NFL team without one. Even the University of Cincinnati has a practice bubble.

Players said Lewis hasn’t given any indication of his fate, leaving them to wonder what comes next.

“We definitely have some young talent,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “I don’t think talent is the issue on this team at all. I just think we’ve got to get to where we play and execute at a high level. That’s what we haven’t been able to do this year is execute it. Sometimes you can’t put a finger on why that is.”