Much like the current regime change unfolding in Cleveland, there is no questioning who is in charge at Bengals camp. From the interns to the ball boys to position coaches and across the roster of 100 million dollar superstars to the undersized rookie free agent safeties, one person reigns supreme in Georgetown, KY. However, considering the weight of a fragile, traditionally underachieving franchise squarely resting on his shoulders, you wouldn't know that the ultra-professional and rather unassuming Marvin Lewis is the defacto owner and operator of an NFL franchise.
According to some local beat writers in attendance, any mention of long embattled owner Mike Brown is usually followed by this familiar caveat.
"This is Marvin's team."
For a franchise that claims the unfortunate notoriety of having only one team scout, no general manager and a long history of financial frugality, which was made evident by a series of Who Dey Revolution sponsored flyovers, the fortunes of the Bengals are safely in the hands of the calm and steady seventh year head coach.
Watching Lewis work throughout camp was intriguing, as despite the omnipresent battery of HBO cameras, and inclusion of several larger than life personalities, such as Chad Ochocinco, Chris Henry, Carson Palmer, Tank Johnson, Roy Williams and Rey Maualuga, the direct focus was never on the head coach, but the actions of camp always seemed to revolve around him.
Without ever needing to do so, Lewis rarely even raised his voice above a whisper. With the exception of chastising his units for not hustling back to the line, "Why are we wasting time?!", Lewis preferred to pull individual players away from the action for a private talk. Despite his largely quiet demeanor, the conversations were largely one-sided in Lewis' favor, as the coach repeatedly demonstrated that he is the unquestioned boss of Cincinnati, yet is still a teacher of the game above all.
Since many reporters in camp seemed to view the Bengals 2009 prospects as a "race for third place" in the AFC North, I wanted to get Lewis' take on the prospects of facing another team straddling the delicate brink of rebuilding and revamping...the Eric Mangini led Browns.
I was struck by Lewis' professionalism and I quickly realized that he is a veteran of media affairs, as he calmly and carefully chose his words.
That is of course, after this hilarious initial exchange.
"Hey, coach. I'm from Cleveland and I was hoping to....
"I'm sorry to hear that."
Such are the luxuries of being the best NFL team in Ohio...by a half game.
As for what the Browns have in Eric Mangini, Lewis spoke highly of our new coach.
"I have a great respect for Mangini. I've known him for a quite a bit. In Baltimore, I used to work side by side with him. We had offices close by. He is always well-prepared and thorough."
We talked about the unique history of the Bengals and Browns series in recent years, which included two of the highest scoring games in NFL history, a 58-48 loss in late 2004 and the Browns 51-45 offensive explosion early in 2007. Using these games as a marker of Browns history, both have become turning points in the franchise's direction. The 2004 loss eventually led to the sudden departure of Butch Davis, while the 2007 win helped to announce the emergence of Derek Anderson and Braylon Edwards as dynamic, yet inconsistent players in the league.
As for what Lewis expects from this year's matchups with their interstate rival, the Bengals coach admits that the Browns are going to become much more physical and focused.
"Cleveland hired a very good coach."
Coming from a coach who has seen his fair share of adversity, yet has delivered the most consistency and success to a traditionally weak Bengal franchise, let's hope his words ring true in the coming seasons.
Cleveland Reboot is a blog which can be found at www.clevelandreboot.com. All blog entries reprinted with permission.