Marvin Lewis becomes Ravens' rival

OWINGS MILLS - The football wasteland of Cincinnati has summoned Marvin Lewis. Now, the former Baltimore Ravens and Washington Redskins defensive coordinator faces the considerable challenge of reviving the Cincinnati Bengals as their new head coach.

Chief among the causes to be fought by a current Finksburg resident who becomes the third African-American coach in the NFL is improving the outlook for an AFC North franchise so synonymous with losing that it's regularly lampooned in monologues by comedian Jay Leno.

Often referred to as "The Bungles," even Cincinnati football players acknowledge that they deserve their status as the laughingstock of the league.

The Bengals finished 2-14 last season despite standouts like linebacker Takeo Spikes, defensive end Justin Smith and running back Corey Dillon. Shifting from trusted confidante to rival, Lewis is being wished well by his former employers, the Ravens, Redskins and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Collectively, the wisdom is that the positive-thinking Lewis, regarded highly for his innovation and intelligence, is the ideal choice to fix the Bengals.

"Marvin is so deserving of his opportunity," Ravens owner Art Modell said. "I have been active for several years on his behalf for him to get a head coaching job in the NFL. He is a great teacher of the game, and I would bet on him succeeding in Cincinnati."

Lewis is the son of a Western Pennsylvania steel worker, and he'll need that example of work ethic to rebuild a team that hasn't had a winning record since the 1990 campaign.

The Bengals have a tiny scouting department.

Lewis is known for teaching an assignment-oriented brand of football and for not accepting much freelancing. Not even from his most talented athletes, which occasionally caused disagreements with Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington.

"In my opinion, Marvin is one of the best defensive minds in the game," Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister said. "He thrives on discipline, and I think he will bring that to Cincinnati."

At a news conference in Mobile, Ala., the site of the Senior Bowl, Lewis said that people win, not places. He indicated that while Mike Brown won't surrender much power that the Bengals owner is willing to shed some of his mom-and pop-philosophy toward modernizing his organization.

"I think the Bengals will be very different, because of the kind of teacher he is," Ravens outside linebacker Peter Boulware said. "They will be a sharp, hard-nosed team, and it is going to be very interesting to see them twice a year."

Lewis, 44, isn't only being asked to revive the fortunes of a downtrodden football team.

Civil rights leaders in Cincinnati, a splintered city that has experienced race riots in recent years, hope that Lewis' hiring will help bridge that division. Lewis joins the Indianapolis Colts' Tony Dungy and the New York Jets' Herman Edwards as the NFL's third minority coach.

Lewis will reportedly be paid $1.5 million per season on a five-year contract, the reward that had eluded him since helping the Ravens set defensive records in winning the Super Bowl two years ago. The Ravens' 2000 defense set the mark for fewest points allowed in a 16-game regular season by surrendering just 165 points along with the record for fewest rushing yards allowed.

"Marvin is a close friend, and I am definitely happy for him" Ravens All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "Coaches have come and gone in Cincinnati for years, but I really think Marvin can bring a winning attitude to the Bengals and make them into a good team.

"He just needs to do what he does best, and that is not to let teams score. I honestly believe that I would not be the player I am today without him."

In the past, Lewis had unsuccessfully sought positions with the Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers, turning down an opportunity last month to become the head coach at Michigan State.

"This is long overdue," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I've said it for the last couple of years, if some team is interested in winning, they should hire Marvin. It's going to be great competing against him, but we do have some concerns because he will take them to a higher level.

"They've got to create an environment, and may well be doing this with Marvin Lewis, that is different than what they've had. It'll be Marvin's challenge to change that sense of environment."

By virtue of the Bengals' terrible record, Cincinnati has the top overall pick in the April draft. Already, there is heavy speculation that the Bengals will spend that selection on Southern California quarterback Carson Palmer, the Heisman Trophy Award winner.

The rumor mill also says Lewis is trying to convince Ravens secondary coach Donnie Henderson to join his staff as defensive coordinator along with Eldersburg resident and linebackers coach Mike Smith.

By league mandate, any Ravens staffer would have to receive a promotion to change jobs. Lewis reportedly won't begin interviewing candidates for his staff until Friday after a brief return to Finksburg to pack for his move to Ohio.

"Marvin has served his apprenticeship," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "I don't have any doubts that he will have success."

NOTE: The Ravens still face the prospect of possibly losing director of college scouting Phil Savage or director of pro personnel James Harris to the Jacksonville Jaguars for their vacant general manager/personnel boss opening.

Both have interviewed with Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver. Weaver is also mulling over the head coaching candidacies of two former Ravens assistants in Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz along with Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey.

Even if Savage or Harris aren't hired by Jacksonville, which has also interviewed Buffalo Bills' Tom Modrak and Jaguars director of pro personnel Rick Reiprish, the two Ravens' executives have already been linked with the Seattle Seahawks.

The Seahawks reportedly have received permission from Baltimore to make inquiries about Savage and Harris regarding an opening created when Mike Holmgren gave up his dual role as coach and general manager.

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