It’s a new era in Cincinnati Bengals football. Coach Zac Taylor is calling the shots, and No. 1 NFL Draft pick Joe Burrow is soon expected to execute them.
The future appears bright.
However, it’s difficult to look ahead without peeking behind. You don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been, after all.
Marvin Lewis once led the Bengals into a new era. In 2003, he was handed not just the keys to the franchise but also the city.
Those days – 16 seasons in all – are now past.
From his office on the campus at Arizona State University, where he’s now the Sun Devils' co-defensive coordinator, Lewis looked at his past, present and future.
“It’s been great. I missed coaching,” Lewis said.
He spent the 2019 season in Tempe, Arizona, as a special adviser, where he evaluated ASU and its weekly opponents but couldn’t participate in any on-field coaching. He added coordinator duties this season.
It may seem odd that a former NFL head coach is sharing the job running Arizona State’s defense. It isn’t. Lewis considers his job at ASU as a year-by-year position.
He said he would like to get back into the NFL – he interviewed for the Dallas Cowboys coaching job – but it doesn’t keep him up at night.
“It doesn't claw at me. Didn't claw at me last year, doesn't claw at me this year,” Lewis said. “We'll just see what happens. If someone approaches and I feel good about it, right about it, then we'll likely look into it. We'll see. It's a decision bigger than myself, too.”
Lewis made big news last week when he told the Baltimore Sun the NFL’s now-tabled idea of incentivizing franchises that hire non-white coaches was “like having Jim Crow laws.”
He also spoke with WCPO about what he would like to see changed in the Rooney Rule process.
"There is offensive and defensive coordinator, you’re unable to block someone from ascending into those spots right now. [I'd] think that would possibly give more minorities the opportunity to matriculate into those positions," he said.
"Talked to my good buddy Ozzie [Newsome] this week ... We know why it got changed, some people were manipulating it a bit, they were calling some a coordinator to get them from another staff, but yet the responsibilities weren’t changing for whoever had been the coordinator. That’s the inner side working in the NFL they have to figure out. I think that would give more minorities the chance to move into more decision-making responsibilities."
The Bengals failed to win a playoff game in seven chances while Lewis was head coach, but he doesn’t shirk from his winless postseason record.
“Doesn't bother me because that's what I earned. You know what I mean?” Lewis said. “Can't sugarcoat it. We didn't win. And the job is to win. It's not just to get there.”
The era before Lewis arrived was error-filled. From the 1991 through 2004 seasons, the Bengals failed to reach the postseason and finished .500 only once.
“[You] want to leave something better than you found it. We left (the Bengals) in very good shape,” Lewis said. “People knew when they played the Cincinnati Bengals it was going to be a 60-minute game.”
Sticking around for a 60-minute game at Paul Brown Stadium is not something in Lewis' plans anytime soon, though.
“[I'm] not sure about going to an NFL game. Don’t like crowds. I’m one of those bad fans that leaves early,” Lewis said. “I’d be on that damn escalator. Trying to keep people off that escalator. I’d be on it.”