Marvin Lewis is in his third season as Bengals head coach, following two campaigns during which he has re-established the team as a playoff contender while attracting fan support in record numbers.
Lewis has led the Bengals to consecutive 8-8 records. In his rookie head coaching season of 2003, Cincinnati was the NFL’s most improved team, and he finished second behind Bill Belichick of New England in Associated Press voting for NFL Coach of the Year. In 2004, Lewis guided the Bengals to a .500 finish while QB Carson Palmer was seeing his first NFL action, and also while adjusting to injuries that sent 18 players to season-ending medical reserve lists.
The Bengals have set regular-season home attendance records each of the past two years, last year topping the half-million mark for the first time with a total of 524,248. All eight games were sellouts, marking the franchise’s first such sellout sweep since 1992 at Riverfront Stadium.
The first seven games on the 2004 schedule drew the seven largest crowds in team history, including a record 65,806 for the Oct. 25 Monday night contest vs. Denver. The Bengals enter the 2005 season with a streak of 11 straight regular season sellouts, dating back through the last three games of 2003.
On Feb. 14, 2005, it was announced that Lewis and the team agreed on a one-year extension of Lewis’s contract, which now covers the next four seasons (through 2008). And in a move unprecedented for the franchise in regard to coaching staff stability, it was announced that all of Lewis’s assistants have been signed through 2006.
“Marvin has done an excellent job,” said Bengals president Mike Brown. “He has established himself with the Bengals and the community. We feel good about the future of our team being in his hands.”
“My family and I are very grateful for the faith this shows in the direction of our program. I’m excited about the opportunity afforded me to build our team to a championship level. Just as important is the commitment by the organization to keeping our coaching staff intact. It’s a great endorsement of our future and direction.”
The Bengals future starts at quarterback, where Carson Palmer, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, survived anticipated growing pains in ’04 and finished with a 96.9 passer rating over his last six games. Well before season’s end, there was consensus agreement in Cincinnati and beyond that Lewis had made the right move by naming Palmer as his starter in March, when offseason workouts first began. The decision had sparked discussion at the time, as veteran Jon Kitna was coming off a career-best season in 2003.
“Carson did an outstanding job of growing into the position,” says Lewis. “He expanded our options with his abilities.”
Defensively in 2004, the Bengals boasted a bumper crop of promising rookies. S Madieu Williams and CB Keiwan Ratliff identified themselves as future stars with heady play and hard hits. LB Landon Johnson went on a late-season tackle binge, and DE Robert Geathers showed superb big-play potential. LB Caleb Miller had his moments before being slowed by injuries, and DT Langston Moore, who was seeing his first NFL action, proved a capable starter when pressed into service by injuries to veterans.
“I really feel this club is going in the right direction in every area,” says Kitna, who has stayed on as Palmer’s backup at quarterback. “Moreso even than at the end of 2003, you can see the foundation we’re building on.”
Lewis has been demanding of Bengals players, stressing punctuality, accountability and attention to detail. But while demanding more, he has given more. With support from team ownership, he has upgraded the weight room, brought more amenities to the locker room and improved team meal service.
“He has treated guys like pros, and we’ve acted more like pros,” said offensive tackle Willie Anderson, one of four Bengals selected for the Pro Bowl after the 2004 season.
In addition to bringing the football team more confidence and unity, Lewis has reached out to strengthen the franchise’s ties to the community, making more than 100 appearances in his first two years.
A partial list of causes and organizations he has supported includes the YWCA, Cincinnati Public Library, FreeStore/Food- Bank, Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Procter & Gamble’s “A.D.O.P.T.” program, the NAACP, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati.
In October 2003, Lewis and wife Peggy launched the Marvin Lewis Community Fund to “empower, educate, and inspire children while enriching inner-city communities.” In its short existence, the Fund has donated more than $600,000 to its recipients and programs.
Lewis was hired as the ninth head coach in Bengals history on Jan. 14, 2003. He brought credentials as a record-setting NFL defensive coordinator with a Super Bowl championship ring.
In 2002, the season before he joined the Bengals, Lewis led the Washington Redskins to a No. 5 NFL defensive ranking, serving as assistant head coach as well as defensive coordinator. He came to the Redskins after six seasons (1996-2001) as defensive coordinator with the Baltimore Ravens, a tenure that included a Super Bowl victory in the 2000 season.
In the 2000 regular season, Lewis’s Baltimore defense set the NFL record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game campaign (165), clipping 22 points off the previous mark.
Lewis’s 2000 defensive unit is regularly included when football people engage in conjecture about the best NFL defense of all time. The 2000 Ravens finished first in the NFL in fewest rushing yards allowed (970), rushing average allowed (2.7), total takeaways (49), fumble recoveries (26) and shutouts (4).
The 970 rushing yards allowed were the fewest in NFL history for a 16-game season. And in four postseason contests, the Ravens defense allowed only one TD.
Lewis had his first NFL assignment from 1992-95, as linebackers coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The opportunity came after 11 years in college coaching.
Lewis helped the Steelers defense rank among the top three in the NFL each season, and he guided the careers of some of the NFL’s best linebackers, including Pro Bowl selections Kevin Greene, Chad Brown, Levon Kirkland and Greg Lloyd. Of Pittsburgh’s 97 sacks over Lewis’s last two seasons, the linebackers were credited with 63.5.
Lewis began his coaching career working with the linebackers at his alma mater, Idaho State, from 1981- 84. Also nicknamed the Bengals, ISU finished 12-1 during Lewis’s first season and won the NCAA Division 1-AA championship. In 1985-86, Lewis was linebackers coach at Long Beach State, and he held the same post at New Mexico from ’87-89. In 1990, he accepted a position coaching outside linebackers at the University of Pittsburgh.
Lewis earned All-Big Sky Conference honors as a linebacker at Idaho State for three consecutive years (1978-80), and he also saw action at quarterback and free safety during his college career. He received his bachelor’s degree in physical education from Idaho State in 1981, and earned his master’s in athletic administration in ’82. He was inducted into Idaho State’s Hall of Fame in 2001.
Born Sept. 23, 1958, Lewis attended Fort Cherry High School in McDonald, Pa. (near Pittsburgh), where he was an all-conference quarterback and safety. He also earned high school letters in wrestling and baseball. He and his wife, Peggy, have a daughter, Whitney, and a son, Marcus.
Upon his hiring in 2003, Lewis was the eighth African-American to be named to an NFL head coaching position. The first seven were Fritz Pollard (Akron 1921; Milwaukee 1925), Art Shell (L.A. Raiders 1989-94), Dennis Green (Minnesota 1992-2001), Ray Rhodes (Philadelphia 1995-98; Green Bay 1999), Tony Dungy (Tampa Bay 1996-2001; Indianapolis 2002-present), Terry Robiskie (Washington 2000; Cleveland 2004), and Herman Edwards (N.Y. Jets 2001-present).
Since Lewis’s hiring, three more teams have named African-Americans to head coaching jobs. Following the 2003 season, Dennis Green returned to the ranks as head coach at Arizona, and Lovie Smith was hired to lead the Chicago Bears. Following the 2004 campaign, the Cleveland Browns tabbed Romeo Crennel.
PLAYING AND COACHING HISTORY — 1978-80: Played linebacker, quarterback and safety at Idaho State. 1981-84: Assistant coach (AC), Idaho State. 1985-86: AC, Long Beach State. 1987-89: AC, New Mexico. 1990-91: AC, Univ. of Pittsburgh. 1992-95: AC, Pittsburgh Steelers. 1996-2001: Defensive coordinator, Baltimore Ravens. 2002: Assistant head coach/defensive coordinator, Washington Redskins. 2003-present: Bengals head coach.