Mike Nolan, Gregg Williams, Jim Haslett, Romeo Crennel, Rod Marinelli. Those five all have experience as NFL defensive coordinators and head coaches.
Today, Packer Report introduces you to some of the position coaches who could be candidates in Green Bay to replace the ousted Bob Sanders. We continue with our fifth assistant, Carolina Panthers defensive backs coach Tim Lewis.
Lewis, a first-round draft pick by the Packers in 1983, was on his way to becoming one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL until sustaining a career-ending neck injury while making a tackle against the Chicago Bears early in the 1986 season.
Now, almost a quarter-century later, might Lewis be returning to the Packers as defensive coordinator?
Lewis, who had 16 interceptions in three-plus seasons in Green Bay, has spent the last two seasons in Carolina. But he made his name in Pittsburgh, first during a five-year stint as defensive backs coach, followed by four years as defensive coordinator.
As coordinator from 2000 through 2003, he guided top-10 defenses all four seasons. In 2001, the Steelers boasted the league's No. 1 defense, and in 2003, they allowed an average of 9 points over the final four games. He was fired, however, when he interviewed to be Atlanta's head coach.
Lewis landed in New York as the Giants' defensive coordinator from 2004 to 2006. The Giants' defense surged from 28th in 2004 to 12th in 2005 but fell back in 2006, when starters LaVar Arrington, Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Brandon Short and Carlos Emmons missed a combined 35 games because of injuries. With coach Tom Coughlin on the hot seat, he fired Lewis as well as his offensive coordinator.
Lewis' strong credentials are backed by former Packers safety Eugene Robinson, who is the color commentator on Carolina's radio broadcasts.
Robinson, speaking with Packer Report on Monday, recalls talking shop with Lewis. Robinson asked Lewis whether he prefers his defensive backs use an inside or outside jam. Lewis' answer made an impact on Robinson.
"He said, ‘Gene, I prefer the easiest way for the defensive player to get that done, I prefer that he does it that way,'" Robinson recalled. "‘I want them to do it the best way possible for that player to get it done. Whatever is the easiest way for you to get it done, get it done, because I want to cater to your strengths, not try to make you do something that you can't do.'
"I thought that was telling in how he coaches, because he's teaching you proper technique but he's allowing for your individual personality so he doesn't stifle you as a coach. He gave you flexibility in that game plan to let your personality come through."
Robinson says Lewis' "thoughtful, cerebral" personality is similar to just-retired Indianapolis Colts Tony Dungy's. He also sees some similarities between Lewis and Robinson's defensive coordinator in Green Bay, Fritz Shurmur.
"Fritz Shurmur wasn't a super-duper yeller on the sideline at all," Robinson said. "Even though in practice he would seem to be a little bit more stern, but he wasn't a guy that was a yeller. And he allowed you to do what was best for you. What makes you more comfortable."
Lewis, who has worked under big-time defensive minds like Bill Cowher, Dick LeBeau, Marvin Lewis, Coughlin and John Fox, thinks fondly of his time in Green Bay.
"When it's all said and done and my career is over," Lewis said after being hired by Carolina, "to say that I played for the Green Bay Packers, one of the storied franchises in NFL history, got a chance to coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers, a dynasty with four Super Bowls and the Rooney family, and the New York Football Giants ... to get an opportunity to say that the Packers, Steelers and Giants are a part of my past and history is just fantastic, so I can't complain."
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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