Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said yesterday he broke off talks late Wednesday night with Michigan State University about becoming the school's head football coach largely because he remains intent upon pursuing a head coaching job in the NFL.
"I've been battling something here in the NFL," Lewis said at Redskins Park. "We've got things left to do here. I'd like to be a head coach. I'm not sure where. But I just felt like that wasn't the time. There are some things left undone I've been battling. Hopefully I don't give in to this. To me, it may have been somewhat settling and going a different direction. I chose to stay here."
The Redskins were relieved to retain Lewis, the NFL's highest-paid assistant coach, as their defensive coordinator, but know he is likely to be a candidate for NFL head coaching vacancies in the coming weeks.
"It's good for our organization," cornerback Champ Bailey said. "That's something we haven't had is for somebody to stay two years, especially a [defensive] coordinator. It's a big plus for us. It's a step in the right direction. . . . [But] I know he's not going to be here forever. He definitely deserves a head coaching job, so he's just waiting on it now."
Lewis did not rule out the possibility of accepting a college head coaching job. He has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the vacant position at UCLA. But Michigan State was willing to sign him to a five-year, $7.5 million contract, and few other schools are likely to be willing to make such a lucrative offer. Lewis has been a top candidate for several NFL head coaching jobs, getting passed over by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last offseason despite being the choice of General Manager Rich McKay, and there probably will be a handful of openings around the league next month.
It is not clear whether Lewis will be a leading candidate for any of those vacancies. But he said he is encouraged by the latest step that the league office -- which is under increasing pressure because of threatened litigation by attorney Johnnie Cochran -- has taken to encourage clubs to consider minority candidates, establishing a committee to address the issue.
"I'm sure it's going to shed light on the whole opportunity in a big way, and it has," Lewis said. "The committee formed by the higher-ups within the NFL . . . that's a real thing. So I think it's been a positive."
Lewis ended his discussions with Michigan State Athletic Director Ron Mason and other school officials late on Wednesday after being intensely recruited for several days. He visited the East Lansing, Mich., school on Monday. He told Redskins officials just after returning from the trip he was virtually certain that he would remain with the team, but he hadn't made a final decision. Michigan State intensified its pursuit, with Spartans basketball coach Tom Izzo taking a leading role, and school officials were optimistic even on Wednesday about completing a deal with Lewis.
"It's a great opportunity, and it was something very intriguing -- the style of life and so forth, and what it can provide for your family," Lewis said.
Mason said no formal offer was made, but sources said it was clear throughout the deliberations that the job was Lewis's if he wanted it. The school wanted the deal to include a $1 million buyout that Lewis would have to pay if he wanted to leave for another coaching job before the contract expired. Lewis said yesterday that "played no role whatsoever" in his decision.
"That's common with anybody's contract at that level, with that degree of value of the contract," Lewis said.
Lewis is about to complete the first season of a three-year contract with the Redskins worth at least $2.7 million. The team has had four defensive coordinators over the past four seasons, and would love to have some continuity at that position to accompany the stability that comes with Coach Steve Spurrier saying he will be back next season.
"He could interview again. We all know that," Spurrier said of Lewis. "If he felt like that was something he really wanted to do, we were prepared to put another guy in charge and go with it. So we don't have to worry about that at this time."
Added veteran linebacker Jessie Armstead: "It's a benefit to keep as many guys as you can together. You get used to each other. . . . You learn with each other. You know what each person can do [and] what he can't do, what to expect out of this person, what to expect out of that person."
But Armstead and other Redskins players said they want to see Lewis become a head coach.
"As long as you keep Marvin on your staff, it'll help your staff out," Armstead said. "But if he gets a head coaching job, we'll all wish him the best. . . . It'd be selfish for me saying I want him to stay here. I want Marvin to be a head coach in the NFL or in college."
Lewis said he tried to keep the routine as normal as possible for his players this week despite what he was going through.
"That's part of what we do here," Lewis said. "Anything that comes my way is because of them, and they realize that. I told them that two weeks ago. So that's part of this business. . . . You move forward and move on. That wasn't an issue for them. The only time it's an issue is when you guys [reporters] ask them a question. They're paid to play. We're paid to coach, and the two of us will get together and we'll win and lose together. Don't make more of it than it is."