Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis returned home yesterday from a two-day trip to Cincinnati still close to becoming the Bengals' next head coach, but without a deal completed. The Bengals told Lewis that they were leaving open the possibility of conducting a second interview this weekend with Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, sources familiar with the situation said.
But the Bengals still appeared likely to hire Lewis by the end of the weekend, and sources said that Lewis was beginning to ponder what his coaching staff in Cincinnati might look like. Concern that Hue Jackson, the Redskins' newly appointed offensive coordinator, could be a candidate to join Lewis in Cincinnati led Redskins officials to get Jackson to agree to a contract extension yesterday.
Jackson confirmed that he had agreed to an extension, and said, "I'm here to help the Redskins and to help us get back to where we need to be."
Lewis emerged as the Bengals' top candidate after his second interview with team president Mike Brown and other club officials on Thursday in Cincinnati. Sources said that Lewis pulled ahead of former Jacksonville Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin, who had met with Bengals officials earlier Thursday. Lewis stayed overnight and continued his deliberations before returning home.
Lewis was not available to comment yesterday, but said late Thursday night he would continue to negotiate with the Bengals. He said he did not expect the matter to be resolved yesterday because the Bengals had informed him that they would wait until the weekend to see if they would have another chance to speak to Mularkey.
The Steelers are scheduled to play an AFC semifinal today at Tennessee. Under NFL rules, the Bengals are prohibited from talking to Mularkey again until after Pittsburgh is eliminated from the playoffs. The Bengals, as the rules permit, conducted one interview with Mularkey, huddling with him in Pittsburgh last Saturday, the day before the Steelers rallied to beat the Cleveland Browns in a first-round playoff game.
Mularkey said after that game he probably did not leave a favorable impression during the meeting because he'd spent his week preparing for the game, not the interview. The Bengals apparently wanted to give Mularkey a chance for a second interview, just as they'd done with Lewis and Coughlin.
If the Steelers beat the Titans and Mularkey remains off limits for at least another week, Cincinnati probably would waste no time in completing a deal with Lewis. The Bengals want to have their coaches in Mobile, Ala., on Monday for the practices for the Senior Bowl, a key scouting opportunity for NFL teams. The Bengals have the top overall choice in the draft in April after their 2-14 season, and they have the league's smallest coaching staff.
According to sources, Jackson's contract was set to expire next month and he had not signed an extension despite Coach Steve Spurrier's proclamation late this season that he would serve as offensive coordinator next season. But the Redskins got Jackson to agree to an extension yesterday.
Lewis and Jackson are close, and sources said that Jackson might consider any offer to join Lewis in Cincinnati. When Lewis was in line to become the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' head coach last offseason before being passed over by that team's owners, he apparently planned to have former Redskins assistant Terry Robiskie -- now on Cleveland's coaching staff -- serve as his offensive coordinator.
NFL sources said that Mularkey could become a leading candidate for Jacksonville's head-coaching vacancy, particularly if the Jaguars hire Buffalo Bills assistant general manager Tom Modrak as their top front-office executive. Former Minnesota Vikings coach Dennis Green reportedly withdrew from consideration yesterday after interviewing with Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver this week. The Jaguars also could hire a college coach. Weaver reportedly has interviewed Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, and apparently also is interested in LSU's Nick Saban. Oklahoma's Bob Stoops reportedly has told the Jaguars he's not interested.