Initial comments …
“I think Emily (Bengals Director of Communications Emily Parker) already sent out the (news) release. I guess it’s bittersweet — this is the last time I get to talk to you. I appreciate the dedication of everybody in this building over the last 16 seasons. I appreciate Mike (Bengals President Mike Brown), his family and their support, all the players, coaches, fans, everything. I didn’t deliver what your No. 1 goal is, and that is to be world champions. We didn’t get that done. There have been a lot of positives, but that’s the one goal as a coach that you look forward to doing. Mike and I both decided that it’s time. It was a tough moment for both of us, but I think we both realized.”
Can you put into words how you’re feeling right now after 16 years? It’s kind of a new identity for you, right?
“Possibly. Or no identity (laughs). I don’t know that. I don’t know what’s ahead. The toughest part was just spending the last 20 minutes with the players, telling them and encouraging them that there’s more there. They have to understand that, and they have to hold that passion of yesterday (against Pittsburgh) and understand every time they finish a rep, every time they want to shortcut something, that’s why you don’t. So when you’re in that situation, you have that feeling you had yesterday in that football game. That’s what it’s all about, that’s why they do that. They know this is their job, but also it’s the competitiveness and the passion of what they do that they have to hold true to. It’s just been about that today.”
Why do you think it was time now? Why did this feel like the time?
“It’s been a lot — this season has been a lot. From Indianapolis (in Week 1) and the ride home on the bus, all the way through. It’s been a lot.”
Do you want to continue coaching?
“I do. We’ll see what happens. I think if the things were correct, yes.”
Did it get harder for you to stay motivated?
“No, it hasn’t actually. I thought the last seven weeks have been as motivating as they could be. But no, that’s the thing I enjoy. Our players got younger this year, as we know, and you enjoy that part of them. I told Emily as we were walking off the field Friday or Saturday, ‘It’s the same thing, they’re kids.’ I wish they were more hardened veteran kids, but they’re kids. They ran around yesterday and played their tails off. I saw one missed tackle, Katherine (ESPN Bengals Reporter Katherine Terrell). I was shocked (laughs). I was impressed, actually, with the tackles and the ferociousness of the tackling in the game.”
The way the players and defense responded to you down the stretch in the last three games, letting up less than 20 points per game, was a dramatic turnaround from earlier in the season. Did that count as fuel to your desire to continue coaching?
The tough decision that we did was hard, but I had to give them (the players) a reason. I had to make sure they knew why. When they came off the field (they were saying), ‘Yeah, OK, we got that, I know that.’ (An issue) doesn’t have to get to me, they took care of it in the huddle. There’s still going to be positive plays and negative plays, but they can fix the negative play right away. They know what happened, and they just play hard. Use their physical tools, play hard, and put them in position to play hard.”
You’ve coached on a Super Bowl-winning team in Baltimore and experienced the pinnacle of this sport. Is that why you still want to coach?
“That’s part of it. You want to do it because you want to see the joy in everybody’s eyes. I’ve said that many times. I just sent an email to the Bengals staff. They have to keep chasing that, you want to chase that. The gleam in their eye for everybody that does all the hard work in this building, to have that opportunity. They don’t necessary have a say so play in and play out on the field, but yet they have to do their job the same way all the time. That’s what it’s all about.”
When did it occur to you that it might be time for a change?
“I don’t want to go into details anymore. I think I’ve already overstated my time here, and I only have one more minute left (laughs).”
Would you like to see Hue Jackson in the mix to take over here as head coach?
“I think Hue should get an opportunity to speak with them. I think he’s more than qualified and has been in a couple of difficult situations. That’s tough, and it hasn’t broken his way. I think he’s an excellent football coach, he’s a great motivator, he’s detailed. So I think he deserves an opportunity — if not here, somewhere else.”
I was talking to former Bengal Brian Simmons about when you came in and took over in 2003. Looking back, what is your biggest accomplishment here?
“I think the first thing you do is you got to have an opportunity to win the division. The first avenue to being world champions is winning the division. That’s what you have to build the football team around — being successful in this division. Moving forward, that’s where the focus has to get back to. I watched a guy yesterday in Sam Hubbard, who is going to win in this division, and that’s awesome. You got to keep putting people in place. Billy Price has to win in this division. Jessie Bates has to win in this division. Just like Carlos (Dunlap) has, and (others). You have to keep putting people in place. Joe Mixon will win in this division. Andy (Dalton) knows how to win in this division. You got to put people in place, (like) A.J. (Green). You have to surround these guys with that. That’s the No. 1 thing.”
Hindsight is 20/20. Do you feel like you were given every chance to win the way you wanted to win here?
"I worked my tail off. Everybody has.”
What would you like your legacy to be in Cincinnati? How do you want to be remembered?
“(Laughs) I don’t know. Again, I’m not nostalgic. I’m a football coach. We worked hard and competed. We played hard. Our guys played hard. That’s it. There’s no doubt the group of players (here now) is better than when we began, and that’s the way it should be all the time. That’s part of it. It’s professional sports.”
It seemed like being defensive coordinator reinvigorated your love to coach. Is that something you would want to do again, and not deal with all the management stuff of being a head coach?
“The media (laughs)? That’s mandatory. It didn’t used to be (laughs).”
Looking back, do you ever think that the team has had bad luck?
“(Laughs) We’ve had some balls bounce the wrong way this year. That’s part of it. We blocked a punt a week ago, and whenever you see a punt you block, it goes backwards, where it doesn’t go forward toward your goal line. Things like that. ... That’s what we do in the NFL — we start out with 53 players, and we have to keep grinding. Guys get injured — go up, go down — you got to keep grinding. You have to make sure the depth is (such) that you can handle (injuries). But when you get devastated position-by-position —it happens —you have to find a way to overcome it and do something different. You have to rely on the wide receivers if you lose your tight ends. Whatever it may be, you have to do things a little differently. You do have to make your own luck. When you get opportunities to make plays on special teams, you have to make them. Some of that comes with the maturity of the group. When you (lose players), and you have more young guys in there, it’s harder. My hat goes off to Darrin (Simmons [special teams coordinator]) — we kept trying to make plays, whether that was returning kicks, or blocked punts, whatever it may be. You have to keep doing that and finding a way. You have to shut them out on defense. If the other team doesn’t score, it’s hard to lose. All those things come into play in my mind, and that’s my history. That’s where I came from. I was brought into the NFL in Pittsburgh, where you played defense and didn’t worry about anything else. And we certainly did it in Baltimore (when I was there). That’s all I know. You don’t worry about the other side of the ball. You just handle your own business — and offense handles theirs, special teams handles theirs ... that’s what it’s about. Don’t worry about (anything) else —it’s what can (you) do to make the football team better. As a coach, it’s my job to put them in position to make plays and have an opportunity for us to win.”
Were you offered another job in the organization and if so, why didn’t you take it?
“(Laughs) That’s out of left field. I guess you’re in right field over there (laughs, regarding where the reporter was sitting). Hobson (Geoff Hobson, Bengals.com writer) is in left field (laughs). No, I wasn’t (offered another job in the organization).”
Ending comments ...
“I appreciate all of you. I know sometimes (when) you’re trying to do your job, it interferes with me trying to do my job. Hopefully, we’ve been fair ... I (appreciate) the legacy we were able to start with the (Marvin Lewis Community Fund) Community Fund —all the support from the community of Cincinnati to put all those kids through college with scholarships, (to help) kids in high schools, and the programs. I appreciate that. I know all of you have been helpful with that as well, because you’ve helped carry (the messages) publicly. I appreciate that. I wish I had all of you working (here) for another month (in the playoffs), as I know you want to work, and I certainly do too. That’s what I told the rookies today — imagine this is what you want. You want today to be an off day because you’re maybe playing a Saturday night home playoff game. That is what you’re training for moving forward. They’ll get there. Thank you.”