Lewis: I wanted change

Marvin Lewis admitted he made a mistake. With wounds still fresh from Tampa Bay's rejection, Lewis hustled back to a spot he knew best: Baltimore. He wasn't ready to make another change, or even think about it.

A day later, that all changed. Then the Redskins upped their offer, while Baltimore didn't. Then Lewis started to yearn for another challenge, figuring that would make him a stronger head coaching candidate a year ago. Then he realized he wouldn't have to move his family.

So, by Sunday, Lewis was ready to join the Redskins, thrilling an organization which had craved an experienced defensive coordinator to pair with coach Steve Spurrier.

''It's just the opportunity to work alongside coach Spurrier and learn from someone else,'' Lewis said. ''When you're a defensive coach, you get painted in that corner. Some people don't understand that you have to understand offense, the details of it, to be successful. As a coach you're always ready to face the next challenge.

''I felt this was right. If we're as successful as I want to be here, then I've gone another step. I've gone somewhere else and built another strong defense and we had another strong team. Whether it gives me [a head coaching job] or not, I can't control that. All I can control is how hard we coach.''

In Lewis, the Redskins snagged the NFL's hottest defensive coordinator for the past several seasons. In 2000, Baltimore set an NFL record for fewest points allowed (165) and fewest rushing yards allowed (970).

Lewis received a three-year contract worth $850,000 a year, with incentives that could bump it over $1 million. He's the NFL's highest paid assistant. Which makes sense, considering Spurrier, at $5 million a year, is the league's highest paid coach. And, to Spurrier, it's not suprising that coaches could make so much. After all, he said, look at the players' salaries.

Owner Daniel Snyder isn't worried that other owners are bothered that he's paying coaches so much.

''I don't think I've done anything out of character for what we're trying to build here,'' Snyder said. ''You're talking about one of the finest defensive minds in the game. We're all after one thing and that's victories.''

It appeared Lewis would be named Tampa Bay's head coach on Friday. But after meeting with the Glazer family on Thursday night, Lewis knew that wouldn't happen.

''They had their minds set one way,'' he said.

That set off a chain of events on Friday: Lewis agreed to meet with Spurrier at Redskin Park on Saturday morning. But Lewis phoned Spurrier that morning, cancelling the meeting.

Later that day Lewis told Ravens Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis that he'd be staying. They chatted about next season and hung up. But Lewis continued to ponder his situation. By Saturday night, after talking with his family, he decided to listen once more to Washington's offer.

Also, Marvin Lewis said, Baltimore did not change its offer, staying at approxiimately $500,000. That made his decision a bit easier.

Meanwhile, the Redskins upped their offer slightly.

''Money has got to be a factor,'' Lewis said. ''You love the game and have a great passion for the game. But you do this to take care of your children for the rest of their lives. I work very hard at this and [money] is a part of it. I'll also get a chance to do a lot more here, to influence personnel.''

Lewis also talked with head coaching buddies such as Houston's Dom Capers and Pittsburgh's Bill Cowher, seeking advice. And Lewis spoke with Ravens head coach Brian Billick and Baltimore senior vice president of football operations Ozzie Newsome.

They wanted a decision. They also knew he had to do what was best for him. But Lewis said he never told owner Art Modell he was staying. Modell had said in a statement that he was told by others Lewis would remain.

''Everyone wanted to paint me in a corner there,'' Lewis said. ''It was too quick, there was too much going on in my life on Friday. I didn't have a chance to pull back and look at the future. It would have been easy to stay, maybe a little too easy.

''I made the mistake of telling Spurrier and Snyder that I would come down here Saturday morning. I should have said, 'Let's talk Sunday.' ''

Not that the Redskins are about to quibble with when they talked to him. Nor do they care how he came to Washington. They just like that he did.

For Spurrier, Lewis represents peace of mind. Now Spurrier can concentrate solely on offense, rather than constantly worrying about an unproven coordinator. It's an arrangement similar to when Joe Gibbs coached Washington and rarely questioned coordinator Richie Petitbon.

''This frees me up to do the best I can with the offense,'' Spurrier said. ''That's not something I've always been able to do throughout my college career. I had to peek in on our defense to see what they were doing.''

Lewis brings instant credibility.

''Players work for him because they have so much confidence in what he does,'' Redskins free agent linebacker Shawn Barber said. ''You don't second guess anything. That means you just go out there and play. It allows you to see things that much more quicker because your heart is in it.''

And, Barber, said, the hirings of Spurrier and Lewis should signal success in the free agent market next month. Washington has 17 unrestricted free agents.

''The moves definitely make the organization more appealing to free agents,'' Barber said. ''Any receiver in the world would love to play in this offense, any quarterback, too. [Now] you have one of the top coordinators and everyone wants to be part of this defense. Each year he'll give you the opportunity to be a history-setting defense. That's definitely something that will attract free agents.''

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