PITTSBURGH – Marvin Lewis turned Cincinnati's Bungles into the sharp-toothed Bengals in only three years. In the three previous years, the Bengals were 12-36.
The coach during those lean years – the coach who's being portrayed as the fool by circumstance -- provided a solid base. He drafted the AFC's No. 1 receiver in Chad Johnson, the No. 9 receiver in T.J. Houshmandzadeh and the AFC's No. 4 rusher in Rudi Johnson.
The former coach selected those players in 2001, and then he drafted left tackle Levi Jones in 2002.
Dick LeBeau also would've drafted quarterback Carson Palmer with the first pick in the 2003 draft, since it was a no-brainer.
"I think I would've," LeBeau said. "But it wasn't up to me."
LeBeau was gone by then, fired as a matter of course in Cincinnati. He gave them their building blocks and now he's staying up late devising a way to stop them as the defensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Does LeBeau find irony in the situation?
"Oh, I think that happens a lot in this league doesn't it?" he said. "I think coaches in this league are used to coaching the team that they may have been with before. That happens a lot."
But this is no ordinary former team for LeBeau. He's a native of southwest Ohio and became the Bengals' defensive coordinator in 1984. He helped them reach the Super Bowl before moving on to Pittsburgh in 1992.
LeBeau coordinated the Steelers' Super Bowl defense before returning to Cincinnati as the defensive coordinator in 1997. He became the Bengals' interim head coach after three games in 2000 and was signed to a long-term deal the following season. That's when he headed up the draft team that established the foundation for the 2005 AFC North Division champions.
Of course, all of the credit for the revived Bengals is being heaped upon Lewis; not that it bothers LeBeau.
"I don't read the papers," he said. "I think Marvin is to be credited with doing a great job. He's done a great job. He's a great coach."
Steelers defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen played under LeBeau for three seasons in Cincinnati. He was asked if LeBeau deserves any of the credit Lewis is receiving.
"I couldn't say. I know Marvin's a helluva coach though," von Oelhoffen said. "I've played against him my whole career and I've seen what he's done with players as far confidence, work ethic. He's a great motivator.
"LeBeau's a helluva coach and so is Marvin. And you know what? Marvin has players. They didn't have players before. They've got the best wide receiving corps in the NFL. They've got one of the best quarterbacks now. They didn't have that before. They've got an offensive line that is SOLID."
So, let's run down the checklist:
• Receiving corps? LeBeau.
• Quarterback? Anyone with a film projector.
• Offensive line? LeBeau drafted the left tackle they'd lacked.
LeBeau also drafted leading pass-rusher Justin Smith and hired offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. So, does LeBeau view the Bengals as his baby in any way, shape or form?
"No," he said. "I look at them as a bunch of guys we've got to stop."
The key will be stopping Chad Johnson. While the Steelers normally enter a game looking to shut down opposing runners, they've made exceptions for Johnson in the past. LeBeau goes way back with him.
"I liked him at Indianapolis (combine)," he said. "He showed speed and the ability to catch the ball. You could see he maybe had potential to become an All-Pro player. I guess he turned out pretty good."
But LeBeau has managed to control the wide receiver. Johnson averaged 104.3 receiving yards per start against the Steelers prior to LeBeau's arrival. Against LeBeau's Steelers, Johnson averages 70.5 receiving yards per game.
The trade-off has been the rushing of Rudi Johnson, who's averaged 87 yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry against the Steelers the last two years. The Steelers have allowed all other opposing teams an average of 83 yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry during that same span.
So the Bengals are explosive and balanced. And the guy who created this monster must now find a way to kill it.