Marvin Lewis signs two-year deal to return as Bengals coach

CINCINNATI -- Some Bengals fans are cheering, and some are booing.

How about you?

Marvin Lewis, a lightning rod for fan criticism despite being the winningest coach in Bengals history, will return as head coach under a two-year contract, the team announced Tuesday.

The team released the following comment from President Mike Brown:

"Marvin Lewis has been an important member of the Cincinnati community and the Bengals family for the past 15 years, and we are happy to have reached this agreement.

“Marvin has made significant contributions during his time here. While recently we have fallen short of our expectations, we have full confidence in Marvin to re-establish winning football in 2018.”

This is Lewis's comment released by the team:

“My family and I are very grateful for the opportunity to stay in Cincinnati and continue my career with the Bengals.

"My job is to win a World Championship. We have a talented roster full of veteran leaders and emerging young stars, and I am committed to making the necessary improvements to put this team in the best position to win.”

Lewis will be available to the media on Wednesday, the release said.

The news seemed to catch a lot of non-Bengals fans by surprise. But team followers have seen Brown's aversion to change before - with Lewis and previous coaches.

Lewis addressed his hot-cold relationship with Bengals fans Monday during his end-of-the-season news conference. There’s no question Brown is taking a chance of a huge drop in season ticket sales. Attendance has fallen since the playoff meltdown and 18-16 loss to the Steelers that ended the 2015 season.

Asked what he would say to fans if he returned, Lewis said:

"Well, I think if you're a real fan then you stay the course and understand we're not happy with what transpired this season and we're going to do everything — if I'm here, I'm going to do everything in my power to get us to be world champions."

The Bengals now have to sell tickets by convincing fans that things are changing, even if the head coach is the same.

REACTION to the Bengals' announcement

For now, there’s no telling what held up the Bengals in announcing a decision following Sunday’s season-ending victory over the Ravens.

From the outside, it looks like Lewis demanded more control over personnel decisions and Brown originally balked. Lewis suggested that was a stumbling block at a Monday news conference after meeting with Brown.

Lewis said they only discussed the state of the team, not his own status or contract, but he indicated they were not on the same page.

"The one thing that we've been consistent on since I began here is being on the same page," Lewis said Monday. "I think that's important. There's a direction the owner wants to have and there's a direction he's hired me to do a job and we've got to make sure we stay aligned in that, and if his direction is different than my direction, then that's probably not good."

Lewis also said his goal was to win championships and suggested that his hands were tied in building a team that could do that – or even get past the Steelers in the AFC North. Think of the recent free-agent losses of tackle Andrew Whitworth, guard Kevin Zeitler and receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu.

"We have to build better," Lewis said. "We've got to build a team that can win in this division, and we're not there obviously. So that's the first step."

It would seem Lewis and Brown got back on the same page in the meantime.

Lewis obviously gained some bargaining power with victories in the last two games, and NFL insider Ian Rapoport said other teams had shown interest in hiring Lewis, possibly putting more pressure on Brown.

Lewis (125-117-3 including playoffs) has presided over some of the team’s greatest successes and most disappointing failures.

The good:

Lewis pulled the team out of the Lost Decade of the 90s (which included 12 consecutive non-winning seasons and a record of 55-137) and made it a contender.

Lewis’ Bengals won four division titles in 15 years and made the playoffs seven times – including five straight. Seven is the same number of playoff appearances the Bengals made in 35 years before Lewis took over.

The bad:

The Bengals have gone 0-7 in playoff games under Lewis, the worst postseason record in NFL history, and never advanced past their first game much less reach the Super Bowl.

His teams are 8-24 against the Steelers (0-2 in the playoffs) and 9-23 in prime-time games.

Brown and Lewis have built a deep respect over the years, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Brown didn’t release him after a second straight losing season.

In 2003 Brown, coaxed by his daughter Katie Blackburn, broke family tradition and went outside the Bengals organization for a new head coach. The team had a 19-61 record in the previous five years and they recognized something drastic had to be done.

Lewis, now 59, was a young coach on the rise. He nearly got his first head coaching job at Tampa Bay the year before until the owner outranked the general manager and hired Jon Gruden. Lewis spent six seasons (1996-2001) as defensive coordinator with the Ravens. He won a Super Bowl ring in 2000 as director of one of the NFL’s greatest defenses. In 2002, Lewis was DC and assistant head coach of the Redskins.

Brown and his father Paul Brown, who founded the franchise and was its first coach, have always been incredibly loyal to their coaches – often to a fault. But the Lewis era could have ended differently.

Although Lewis had guided the team into the playoffs from 2011-2015, Brown broke tradition and did not offer him a contract extension last year after the Bengals finished 6-9-1 in 2016. Brown said that amounted to a challenge.

When the Bengals started 0-3 in 2017 and lost a late-season showdown with the Steelers – blowing a 17-0 lead – it looked like the end of the line for Lewis here.

Lewis, though, denied reports following that game that he wanted to leave and coach elsewhere. He repeated after Sunday’s game that he wanted to keep coaching the Bengals, but he also said it was “complicated” and he wouldn’t just say yes if Brown asked.

Still, if it weren’t for that fact that the Bengals won their last two games, knocking the Ravens and Lions out of playoff contention, the Lewis era might have ended right there.

Lewis may already have commitments from his assistants to stay on his coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, though, may have other plans.

There are six head coaching jobs open, and Guenther has been mentioned as a candidate. He's also considered the leading candidate to become DC at Oakland if Jon Gruden lands the head coaching job there.

KEN BROO: Lewis gets another chance to right some wrongs.

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