|Wednesday, January 15
Updated: March 26, 4:41 PM ET
Bengals decide on Lewis over Mularkey
By Len Pasquarelli
The Cincinnati Bengals ended their two-week search for a new head coach on Tuesday, reaching an agreement with Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis to succeed the deposed Dick LeBeau.
Details of the contract were not immediately available, but sources indicated earlier in the week the deal would likely be for five years and with salaries in the $1.5 million range. Cincinnati officials, who are in Mobile, Ala., for the annual Senior Bowl all-star game, introduced Lewis in a news conference Tuesday night at a hotel near Point Clear, Ala.
"This is the most unusual place to hold a press conference about a Cincinnati Bengals head coach, 740 miles from Cincinnati,'' owner Mike Brown said. "Yet, this is where the process ended up.''
The highly-regarded Lewis is the ninth head coach in franchise history. Far more important, though, is the fact he becomes the third African-American head coach in the league, joining Tony Dungy of Indianapolis and Herm Edwards of the New York Jets.
"It's a big step in the right direction for the franchise, as well as for the Brown family,'' Pro Bowl fullback Lorenzo Neal told The Associated Press. "It's good for morale.''
In part because of threatened litigation by activists Johnnie Cochran and Cyrus Mehri, the NFL has become more proactive in recent months in attempting to identify and interview minority candidates for head coaching and front office positions. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue for the workplace diversity committee, chaired by Steelers owner Dan Rooney, to address the problem. The league also deemed that any team with a head coach vacancy must interview minority candidates.
And Bengals players have certainly taken notice of that development, according to an AP report.
"In the 35 years of the franchise, there haven't been a lot of blacks in there,'' offensive tackle Willie Anderson said. "For one of the first blacks in the front office to be the head coach, that's a gigantic move. Cincinnati is a place where you wouldn't think that would happen.''
Said Cochran and Mehri, in a statement: "The Bengals' organization deserves a great deal of credit, especially Mike Brown.
"We will continue to monitor the NFL and its teams to ensure they act in good faith and we look forward to seeing the NFL embrace the power of diversity among its head coaching ranks and front office personnel.''
Lewis has interviewed in recent offseasons for other head coach positions -- in Buffalo, Carolina and Tampa Bay -- and has long been considered ready to step up to the top job. He came close to landing the Buccaneers job last year, and had begun assembling a staff, when Tampa Bay ownership vetoed a deal brokered by team president Rich McKay.
"In my mind, I'm ready to go, more than ready," Lewis said recently. "But I won't just accept a (head coaching) job for the sake of taking a job. It has to be the right situation."
One of the league's best defensive minds, Lewis turned down an offer to be the Michigan State coach three weeks ago, but told ESPN.com at the time that he planned to be very selective in pursuing NFL positions. Momentum had swung toward Lewis in recent days but Cincinnati officials were so impressed by an interview with Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey on Monday night they spent much of Tuesday deliberating their choice. Sources indicated their was unanimity in the choice, debunking reports that owner Mike Brown preferred former Jacksonville Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin, while his daughter, team vice president Katie Blackburn, had championed Lewis' cause.
"I think we've turned over a new leaf for the Bengals,'' Brown said. "We are starting fresh. He has the respect of people throughout the National Football League. He sold us, and I think he will sell the people in Cincinnati.''
The only other candidate outside the organization who interviewed for the job was Coughlin. But Coughlin did not hear back from the Bengals after last Thursday's second interview with Brown, and has assumed for days he was out of the running.
Two of the LeBeau staffers, defensive coordinator Mark Duffner and longtime running backs coach Jim Anderson, were interviewed as well but were never serious contenders for the job.
Lewis, 44, served just the '02 season as the Redskins defensive coordinator, and was one of the NFL's highest paid assistant coaches. He was also the coordinator in Baltimore, and played a huge part in the Ravens' league title two years ago. Prior to joining the Baltimore staff in 1999, he was with the Pittsburgh Steelers for four seasons.
The defense he coached at Baltimore in 2000 established the league record for fewest points allowed (165) in a 16-game schedule. The Ravens unit ranked No. 2 statistically three straight seasons under Lewis' stewardship, and his Redskins defense was No. 6 this year.
A native of McDonald, Pa., he played linebacker at Idaho State but never played in the professional ranks. Lewis had stints at four colleges, including the University of Pittsburgh staff, before moving to the pro ranks in 1992.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.