'It's time to blow the whole thing up'
Saturday, December 29, 2007 3:06 AM
By Bill Rabinowitz

The Columbus Dispatch

CINCINNATI -- Little rides on the Bengals' season finale Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, a huge disappointment for a team that entered 2007 with lofty expectations.

One person had a feeling from the start that the Bengals had problems that could doom them. That person, coach Marvin Lewis, sat down for an exclusive interview to discuss what went wrong this season and what needs to change to prevent continuing disappointment.

Question: Was there a sense even before training camp that things weren't looking good?

Answer: It's been (that way) all the time. We've struggled with guys who are too much worried about what they make or what the next guy makes. That's hard to overcome, and we've had to deal with it for two years now. Until they get it figured out that that's not the way winning teams operate…

When you sign a contract, you sign a contract. You sign to play. You have two choices -- either to play or not to play. When you get in the way of other people as you are constantly talking about that and not moving on professionally, (it's harmful).

When you sign a contract, the next deal signed after yours makes yours somewhat outdated. That's the way it is.

Q: Has that really pulled this team apart?

A: It weighs on players because they can't get above that. Guys who are not -- how do I want to say that? -- people who aren't mentally strong enough to understand and deal with that, it's always an underlying factor in everything, instead of moving forward and trying to figure out how you become a champion. You're too worried about, "Am I putting myself out there? Am I putting myself at risk?"

Q: I haven't gotten the sense that many players have whined publicly about contracts.

A: They do it within the confines of their groups. Instead of spending extra time on trying to figure out how to be the very, very best and how to know the opponent the very, very best, they worry about petty things, things that don't really matter. There should not be a concern of, "How quickly can I get out of here (today)?" or, "Am I the last guy in here?" (They should think), "I should be the first guy in and the last to leave every night."

In the steps of building a football team, that's where you've got to be. At some point, you have to swallow and understand that this is about knowledge and understanding and being on the same page constantly. The inability to make critical plays comes from that, not doing the one or two things extra just when it's easy and convenient, but all the time.

Q: Are the injuries you've had a legitimate reason for your struggles or a convenient excuse?

A: It's an excuse. Your good players have to get you over the hump. You have to find a way to win the game at Cleveland, win the game at Seattle, win the game at Kansas City. Then you suck it up and regroup and find a way to win the next one until you get the guys back and healthy, which happened.

Q: Is there anything about your own coaching that you haven't handled very well?

A: Oh, we haven't handled anything very good. We're not good enough. We haven't coached anything very good. We've turned the football over too many times. We've allowed explosive plays early on defense. We haven't played good enough on third down on either side of the football. We've had receivers drop passes. We haven't run the football effectively enough. We haven't handled anything very well.

Q: Five years as coach probably puts you in the top half of the league in terms of longevity. Are you as energized as ever?

A: Oh yeah, I am. Every year is a new year and provides new chal-lenges. They all become the history of the last one. You've got to use it and move forward and move on. It's time for us to blow the whole thing up and start from scratch. We need to empty these shelves, empty these offices and start from scratch.

Q: Really?

A: Yeah, because we haven't been good enough. We're not going to sit here and be complacent with it, and guys have to understand that. It hasn't been good enough.

Q: When you say blow it up…

A: We've got to start from scratch. We have to blow it up and empty everything. Just like new people walking in this door and go from there. That's the only way we're going to shake away from the cobwebs. We've established a certain plateau or work ethic and we've got to move beyond that.

Q: But an outsider would look at this team and say this is not a roster devoid of talent.

A: Every NFL team has talent.

Q: Do you even want to come back next year?

A: Yeah. I'm excited about next year. I'm excited about our young players. I'm excited about the players who've shown they can play productive and winning NFL football, and I think they are. I think there'll be a changing and a new breeze, a refreshing breeze blow through. We'll have an opportunity through the draft and we'll probably pick and choose some other guys through our attrition to help retool.

But we've got to move forward and move out any malcontent that's still here or (giving) just average effort. Guys who can't make productive plays on and off the field we have to move (beyond).

Q: How much do you have to change the culture?

A: It's not a culture. It's just making sure nobody can hide behind the door. As the broom comes through and sweeps, you have to make sure guys don't hide behind the door a little bit and you miss them. When you don't win all the time, you're able to take a hard look at guys and know who's really on your side. That's the one thing that's helpful. You kind of knew who your fighters are.

Q: There's been much speculation about the Bengals having a general manager to oversee player acquisitions. How would you feel about that?

A: Those decisions aren't my responsibility. None of the speculations you refer to have been spurred by anything I've ever said.

Q: How likely are the two coordinators (Bob Bratkowski on offense and Chuck Bresnahan on defense) to be back?

A: I'm not going to talk about stuff like this.

Q: About some of the players. Obviously, the franchise guy is Carson Palmer, and he hasn't been the Pro Bowler he was last year.

A: I don't know that. He's had some games when he hasn't played quite as well, but he's also had to deal with some guys around him who haven't played as well.

Q: Is right tackle Willie Anderson definitely going to be back next year?

A: Willie has a contract for next year, yes.

Q: That's not what I asked you.

A: Nobody's definitely anywhere.

Q: But based on your endorsement of his play against the Browns on Sunday…

A: He played well. But we've got to see where the football team is. Part of being an NFL player is it's the whole thing. It's not one guy.

Q: Rudi Johnson is averaging 2.9 yards per carry. Sunday against the Browns, it looked like Kenny Watson made yards that Rudi hasn't made.

A: I don't know that. There was a lot more opportunity there to make yards on Sunday. Many guys would have made a lot of yards on Sunday. Running backs make yardage because you block folks.

Q: Do you have any regrets about giving Rudi as many carries as you gave him?

A: No, not at all.

Q: Much has been made of Chad Johnson supposedly being a distraction. Is it legitimate or is it outsiders making things up?

A: It's outsiders making up things. They like to have fun.

Q: So you have no issues with him?

A: It's an issue every time we drop a pass. Every time we don't run a route at the right depth, I have an issue. If he's not getting the safety blocked when he's supposed to get the safety blocked, then we've got an issue.

Q: Are you concerned about Chad's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, pulling shenanigans in the offseason?

A: Chad has a contract for a long time. (The club has an option through 2011.) That's all I'm saying. Longer than mine.

Q: You have several other guys whose contracts are up -- defensive end Justin Smith, safety Madieu Williams, linebacker Landon Johnson and guard Stacy Andrews, among others. How much of a priority is getting them re-signed?

A: Some of them will get re-signed. Some of them won't. That's part of the business.

Q: Where does Chris Henry fit in next year, or does he?

A: I don't know.

Q: Have you seen enough maturity and development in him to think he has turned the page?

A: He has been fine off the field, but I'm not sure he's done enough on the field as a football player. In his attention to detail in meetings, in his attention to detail on the field, he's not where he needs to be.

Q: You could do no wrong in this town for a couple of years. Now the honeymoon is over, as you're aware. How do you deal with that?

A: That's part of human nature. I don't have to worry about that. The only person I have to please is the person I work for. That's really all that matters.

Everybody wants to win. We're better now than when we started. The only way we can go and do it is when next season rolls around.