The Cincinnati Bengals’ locker room at Paul Brown Stadium cleared out pretty quickly after Marvin Lewis addressed the players one last time Monday morning to inform them he would not be back in 2019.
Lewis and the Bengals mutually decided to part ways after 16 years, and the few players who remained at the stadium long enough to discuss the news with the media all expressed disappointment over losing a mentor and well-respected coach.
“It’s a different experience,” said running back Giovani Bernard, who has only played for Lewis in his six-year NFL career. “When a lot of the guys were saying, ‘Bye,’ you could see the tears in his eyes, but it’s one of those things where we feel for him. We understand the situation, we understand this is a business, but when you have a guy like Coach Lewis around that long and the type of guy he is to each and every single person in here, he’s not only a coach but he is a father mentor for a lot of these players, including myself, so we appreciate all that he’s done.”
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Linebacker Preston Brown, a Cincinnati native who was in his first season with the Bengals, said he was “shocked” by the news. He went through many changes in his first four seasons with the Buffalo Bills but has only associated the Bengals with Lewis since he was a kid.
“I was shocked,” Brown said. “Everybody’s phones were going off in the locker room but you don’t believe it until you hear it from coach’s mouth, so once we heard it, it was a surreal feeling to hear that the only head coach I’ve really known in Cincinnati growing up is finally gone, and that’s something I didn’t want to have happen. To see it happen and hear it out of his mouth was shocking.”
Brown said he loved playing for Lewis, and that was just with one season in Cincinnati.
Others who had been around longer, like Bernard and linebacker Nick Vigil, felt they owed Lewis for where they are now.
“He’s been here for so long,” Vigil said. “He gave us all a chance. He’s the one that picked us. He’s the one that wanted us to be here, so bummer deal.
“He’s a teacher of the game. He taught me a lot. He played linebacker so he knows a lot about my position. He is one of those coaches that always coached the linebackers hard, all through practice, all through meetings. He’s the guy that gave me a chance, drafted me, brought me in here and I am forever grateful to him.”
Despite his age, the 60-year-old Lewis still had a way of connecting with young players.
He hadn’t changed much about his ways over 16 years with the Bengals but did try some new things this season when he took over the defense in Week 10 with the firing of defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. He also became noticeably more aggressive on fourth down this season.
Players said they had a deep respect for Lewis and the knowledge he brought to the team.
“Any time a guy has been a head coach for… when I came in it was 14 years, obviously he knows football in and out and he knows how to win at a high level and sustain that, so there is nothing but respect,” wide receiver Alex Erickson said. “He obviously has been doing this, and he was a great leader and we are going to miss him.”
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No one wanted to say a change was needed, but the Bengals can only remain optimistic that a new coach will be able to turn things around after three straight losing seasons.
“I’ve got nothing but respect for coach Lewis, and everything he’s done for this organization and me personally,” Erickson said. “I loved playing for him, and I have nothing but respect for him, but sometimes the way this league works is if we don’t produce as players, sometimes you lose your job and it’s the same for everybody. Obviously, (owner) Mr. (Mike) Brown and the Bengals organization felt there needed to be changes, so we need to trust in that and know everything happens for a reason and they will find someone that’s going to lead us and get us on track to be a championship caliber football team.”