Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis was scheduled to travel to Cincinnati yesterday for a final set of deliberations with Bengals officials, who apparently were poised to choose between Lewis and Tom Coughlin as their next head coach.
Redskins officials were uncertain whether Lewis would get the job but were prepared to lose him. They were planning to elevate linebackers coach George Edwards to defensive coordinator if Lewis leaves, and continue running a system similar to the one that Lewis used to produce the league's fifth-ranked defense this season.
Coughlin, the former Jacksonville Jaguars coach, met with Bengals officials earlier yesterday. He arrived in Cincinnati in the morning and left town in the afternoon without having been offered the job, according to a source. It appeared that Lewis's meeting was to take place last night or today.
Lewis told associates that he would be in Cincinnati for a meeting with the Bengals but he did not know whether he would be offered the job. Lewis and Coughlin emerged as the front-runners this week from among a group of five candidates interviewed by the Bengals, who fired Dick LeBeau last week after a 2-14 season.
The Bengals also interviewed Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and two Cincinnati assistants, defensive coordinator Mark Duffner and running backs coach Jim Anderson.
NFL sources said the Bengals hoped to make a decision by today. They wanted to have at least a partial coaching staff in place by next week's college Senior Bowl practices in Mobile, Ala. Under NFL rules, the Bengals cannot talk to Mularkey again or hire him until after Pittsburgh is eliminated from the playoffs. The Steelers will play an AFC semifinal on Saturday at Tennessee.
Coughlin arrived in Cincinnati yesterday needing to work out some control issues to end up with the job. He had the final say over player-related decisions in Jacksonville, but would have to share that authority in Cincinnati with Bengals President Mike Brown, who serves as the team's general manager.
According to sources, Coughlin arrived for the meeting with a detailed plan of his vision for the Bengals' organization, and wanted the team to commit to adding staff members. The Bengals have the league's smallest scouting department, and many executives around the NFL believe that has been a major reason for Cincinnati's inability to have a winning season since 1990.
Brown said recently he saw no reason for the Bengals to change, however, and sources said the only way the club planned to add scouts was if the new head coach didn't want to retain a certain assistant. If that assistant is under contract for next season, the sources said, he would serve as a scout.
Brown seemed to want to hire a coach with a no-nonsense approach, and Coughlin has a reputation as one of the league's strictest disciplinarians. Money was not a stumbling block with Coughlin, who is owed his $2.4 million salary by the Jaguars for two more seasons. Any team hiring him simply has to pay him a market-value salary, and the Jaguars would owe Coughlin the difference between that salary and $2.4 million.
Entering his meeting, Lewis apparently had the support of some key members of the Bengals' family-run front office, including executive vice president Katie Blackburn -- Brown's daughter -- and her husband Troy, the club's director of business development.
Lewis has been one of the league's most sought-after assistants since his defense set a single-season NFL scoring record and carried the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl title two seasons ago. But he failed to land a head coaching job despite interviewing in Buffalo, Carolina and Tampa Bay, getting passed over by the Buccaneers' owners despite being the choice of General Manager Rich McKay.
Lewis left the Ravens in the aftermath of the Tampa Bay setback and signed a three-year, $2.7 million contract with the Redskins that made him the NFL's highest-paid assistant coach. He recently passed up a chance to be the head coach at Michigan State University.