Bengals, seeking defensive coordinator, interview Atlanta's Zimmer

ATLANTA -- The Cincinnati Bengals on Friday began the process of identifying potential candidates to fill their defensive coordinator vacancy by interviewing Mike Zimmer, who currently holds the same position with the Atlanta Falcons, but who has been granted permission to explore other options.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis earlier this week fired Chuck Bresnahan, his defensive coordinator for the past three seasons, along with linebackers coach Ricky Hunley. Lewis will be working with his third different coordinator in six years, having previously fired Leslie Frazier following the 2004 campaign.

In Bresnahan's three seasons as coordinator, Cincinnati statistically ranked 28th (2005), 30th (2006) and 27th (2007) in total defense. There was speculation at the outset of the season that Bresnahan might be coaching for his job this year. The Bengals have struggled on defensive all five years under Lewis, who originally earned his stripes in the league as a defensive coordinator.

Zimmer, 51, has been an assistant in the league since 1994, when he joined the Dallas Cowboys staff as a defensive aide. He moved into the role of secondary coach in 1995 and then was named coordinator in 2000. This season was his first as the Atlanta coordinator. He remains under contract to the Falcons even after the resignation of coach Bobby Petrino last month, but his future with the Falcons is uncertain as the team seeks a new head coach.

The Falcons statistically ranked 29th in overall defense in 2007, but players agreed that Zimmer did a good job with the talent available, and seemed to like playing for him.

Lewis is expected to interview other candidates for the job as well. Among them could be former New York Jets and Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson, who served as a Cincinnati consultant this season; Carolina secondary coach Tim Lewis, who is a former New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers coordinator; Rex Ryan, who was recently dismissed as the Baltimore coordinator, but who is a head coach candidate with the Ravens, Falcons and Miami Dolphins; and current Bengals secondary coach Kevin Coyle.

Although there are plenty of viable candidates, sources said that Cincinnati management would like to move fairly quickly to fill the vacancy.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.