Perhaps nothing illustrates Cincinnati Bengals owner and president Mike Brown’s aversion to change better than the annual pre-training camp luncheon, where the menu is one of the few things around Paul Brown Stadium that predates Marvin Lewis.
As Lewis prepared to dip into his 16th bowl of mock turtle soup, Brown attempted to explain why he remains confident enough in his coach to award him a two-year extension despite back-to-back losing seasons and no playoff victories since arriving in Cincinnati in 2003.
“I know the call was controversial,” Brown said. “I’m sticking with it. I believe still that it’s the right thing. It’s a very sturdy relationship. We’ve been through a lot together. We’re comfortable with each other. I have confidence in him. I think we can right our ship this year and go forward the way we want.”
Lewis, who is 125-119-3 in 15 seasons, enters his 16th season as the second longest tenured coach in the league behind Bill Belichick.
His 240 games coached rank 24th in NFL history. And if Lewis finishes his current two-year deal, he will move into at least a tie with Mike Holmgren for 16th with 272.
Asked if he’s proud of such a long run, Lewis said he feels fortunate.
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“I think a lot of people talk about it quite a bit,” he said. “I know coaches do because everyone aspires to do that. Most importantly I’ve been blessed to have — from Jon Kitna to Carson (Palmer) to Andy (Dalton) — these quarterbacks that allow you to do that.
“They’re the lifeblood of your football team, how they play and how they carry the football team that gives you as the head coach the opportunity,” Lewis added. “Because when you’re changing quarterbacks all the time, you’re probably changing head coaches as well.”
While Brown and Lewis found a way to get on the same page and avoid a coaching change in January, they had noticeably varying outlooks on the 2018 season in terms of all the changes taking place outside of the biggest offices in the building.
With Bill Lazor (offense) and Teryl Austin (defense) heading into their first full season as Bengals coordinators, the players spent the offseason learning new systems on both sides of the ball.
“We have had a dramatic change with our team,” Brown said. “It isn’t fully understood. We have changed our whole offensive system. We have changed our defensive system. Usually, that is associated with hiring a new coach. We did it a little bit differently. We brought in new coordinators and let them have their chance at it. This will make us look different.
“It will be a challenge to digest for our players,” he continued. “It usually takes a little time. I will be holding my breath some as we start out with it. There will certainly be a few ups and downs with it. It should produce real change with the football team and we are trying to have.”
Lewis downplayed the changes, especially on offense.
“Football’s football,” he said. “Everybody keeps saying about a playbook. That’s just lines on a paper. What we need to do is consistent with what I’ve tried to do since I’ve been here. We have to control the football by running the football and then making explosive plays and don’t turn the ball over. That hasn’t changed.”
But both men are hoping the end result produces significant change.
“My goal is the goal that every team, every player, every coach, every fan has,” Brown said. “I want us to win the Super Bowl. I’m realistic. I know there are 32 teams that all want to win the Super Bowl. If you have a horse race and come in somewhere other than first place, well, how acceptable is that? Not totally acceptable.”