ORLANDO – He is Lazarus among them here at the NFL’s annual meeting, the head coach thought to be DOA when last season’s final whistle blew.
But not only is Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis back, he is strolling through these meetings with that familiar, distinct air of confidence and pragmatism that have marked his 15 Bengals seasons.
Get ready for 16.
“Everyone in today’s coverage wants to speculate and be first and I kept telling people that we would sit down after the season, that I would make a decision, that the Bengals would make a decision, that we would make a decision,” Lewis said. “There were a lot of people involved, including my wife (Peggy). I not only had to make sure I wanted to do it, the Bengals and (owner) Mike (Brown) and his family wanted to make sure I wanted to do it. They wanted to know what was my vision to get us on top. And if they were in agreement with that.
“I knew if I walked away I was leaving a lot of people who count on me. A lot of players, staff and others. I think we’ve done a few things to get back to a championship level. Winning is why we do this.”
The Bengals have won more under Lewis than any coach in franchise history.
But after five straight winning, playoff seasons from 2011 through 2015 including a 12-4 record in ’15, the Bengals were 6-9-1 two seasons ago and 7-9 last season.
His Bengals are 0-7 in playoff games.
Brown decided continuity was better than an explosion. Brown knows and trusts Marvin Lewis. Brown knows not any coach can flourish under the Bengals’ deep family directions and franchise philosophies. And Brown saw the finish last year, a string of three consecutive losses to Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Minnesota followed by stirring victories over Detroit and Baltimore, shocking playoff-killing defeats for both.
Would Lewis be back if not for that finale?
“I have no idea,” he answered. “I think Mike might have understood. I think we might have the same result. But if the finish was different, he might have understood, but it might not have been good for his business model.”
Lewis said his vision for the Bengals includes seven new assistant coaches, including star new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin in from the Detroit Lions. Tight end Tyler Eifert has been retained. Left tackle Cordy Glenn and middle linebacker Preston Brown are exciting additions. This year’s draft brings fresh hope. Beyond the personnel, Lewis will emphasize to his team in 2018 that it must score more points on offense and become better on third-down defense and at closing out games.
He preaches that 40 percent of NFL games are decided by six or fewer points and that 30 percent are by three or fewer points. These are the games, the situations, he said, where his team must rise.
“We’ve been through a lot, new players, new quarterbacks, big moments, disappointing moments in 16 years,” Lewis said. “My job is to bring this team and this city a championship. I don’t need love from Cincinnati to do that. But continual support would be great. There are not many undefeated teams in the National Football League. The NFL is ups and downs and peaks and valleys.”