Marvin Lewis' deep friendships around league have helped him through the tough times

CINCINNATI -- It's no secret how close Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and Browns counterpart Hue Jackson have remained since Jackson left Cincinnati to take the position in Cleveland. Except for the two weeks their teams play, the longtime friends usually have a weekly phone appointment.

"That's my guy. You know that," Jackson said during a conference call Wednesday. "I have a lot of respect for him, and he's a tremendous football coach, person, brother. He's a good dude."

Conversations with Jackson are normal for Lewis, but he maintains a number of deep friendships throughout the coaching community. Some, such as his friendship with Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter, date back to their college playing days at Idaho State. Lewis spent all of his college Thanksgivings at the Koetter household.

Others stem from the Lewis coaching tree, which has grown extensive over the years. Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, Denver Broncos coach Vance Joseph, Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden and Jackson all coached under Lewis.

Lewis and Joseph met prior to the Bengals' victory over the Broncos on Sunday; they talked for 30 minutes before anyone was in the stadium. Lewis remembered how much calls from Bill Parcells and Dick Vermeil meant to him when he was a rookie coach. At the time, he barely even knew them, but he thinks they understood the somewhat isolated nature of a coach's life.

"In their minds, they’ve been there, too," Lewis said. "They think [new coaches] are somewhat lonely."

Now he tries to pay it forward. Sometimes it's as simple as the text messages of congratulations he received from Zimmer and Koetter after the Bengals beat the Broncos. At other times it's a pregame meeting or a quick chat at midfield.

"There’s a lot of that, and I try to do that," Lewis said.

It could be considered a little unusual that so many coaches speak to their competition on a regular basis, but Lewis said those conversations help because of the coaches' unique ability to relate to each other.

"I think, the mountain, you're trying to look up and you’re trying to get the mountain off of you. And you realize that everyone has a mountain on them," Lewis said as the Bengals (4-6) prepared for Sunday's visit from the 0-10 Browns. "It really doesn’t change, whether you’re in Philadelphia right now or in Cleveland, everyone feels the same way during the week, all of the coaches. People are supposedly at the top or the bottom, but we’re all grinding the same way ... I think that’s what people don’t really understand. Our demeanors don’t change. They can’t. Because [the players] are taking everything they get from us, so we really can’t change. We have to stay the way we are and continue to push forward.”

Lewis recalled getting some phone calls from longtime Steelers coach Bill Cowher after Lewis left Pittsburgh to take a defensive-coordinator position with the Baltimore Ravens.

"We had played Jacksonville, and then we played the Steelers for the second time that year. Before the game, Bill says to me, ‘Yeah, I watched the Jacksonville game. The first time, you sat back and tried to play coverage and they went in and scored, and you lost. The same thing happened the second game, this time you tried to pressure them, and you came in lost again. Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you'" Lewis said, laughing. "That really makes me feel good, Bill"

"You need that from your friends, and it was great. I’ll never forget that. That’s what happens: You put yourself in that situation of how you’re handling it or how it’s being handled. You make them understand."

Jackson still keeps in touch with Zimmer and Joseph on a regular basis in addition to his calls with Lewis.

"Those are people I have a lot of respect for and people I've been around, so we all kind of converse. There are others around the league. We all check on each other. These are good times, sometimes, and tough times, so we all try to lift each other up," Jackson said.

He added: "These times, especially when you've never been through it and you always are looking for an answer or way to see things just a little bit different or just a little clearer so you can get through things. Marvin has been there for me throughout my life so me and his relationship is probably a little bit deeper and the things we talk about are probably a little deeper than others, but there is no question, you have to have a support system and group when you are coaching in the National Football League."