CINCINNATI -- As Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer began filling out their new staffs in Washington and Minnesota, respectively, the former Cincinnati Bengals coordinators tried their best to sway one of their good friends to join them.
The two were going through an unofficial bidding war for the services of Paul Guenther, who has served as linebackers coach and a special teams assistant. A third team, possibly Tennessee, also was in the mix. Without divulging which team it was, Guenther admitted Thursday that talks never really were serious.
But they were serious Wednesday when the bidding hit a fever pitch following Zimmer's decision to accept the Vikings' head coaching job. As soon as Zimmer's hiring was made official, Bengals owner Mike Brown called Guenther into his office. He had one simple message for him: "You're not leaving."
Thanks to Brown's loyalty, nudges from family, and a belief that he can't walk out on his current players, Guenther decided his owner was right. He wasn't going to leave the franchise. After amending his contract and reportedly extending it another three seasons, Guenther was elevated to Zimmer's old defensive coordinator's position.
"When you looked at the whole thing, I've got young kids and I didn't have to move my family," Guenther said. "I've got good players that I really like and care for. And really, at the end of the day, that was probably the one thing I said was, 'OK, I feel bad for these guys. This guy's leaving and that guy's leaving and these guys deserve a good situation.'"
Gruden left last week to become Washington's head coach. Zimmer will be introduced in Minnesota in a news conference Friday.
"Ultimately, you can say what you want about a coach, but when you line up between the lines on Sunday, it comes down to the players," Guenther said. "And that's one of the messages I'm going to give to those guys. The defense in Cincinnati, everyone says, 'Oh, what's going to happen now?' Well, it really is up to you guys [the players]. So that was a big factor."
Guenther has been on staff with the Bengals since 2005. He once coached in Washington, serving as an offensive assistant in 2002 and 2003. Two years later, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis brought him to Cincinnati. If he had taken either of the jobs Gruden and Zimmer were offering, he would have only coached in his third NFL city. He also might have one less upset friend.
"He's kind of mad at me right now," Guenther said, referring to Zimmer.
The choice to stay might have been an easy one to make for his family, but it wasn't that way when it came to considering what leaving would have meant to his two peers.
"The hard thing for me was to tell those guys I was staying, because they are good friends," Guenther said. "They've seen me work, which is why they wanted me to go with them. It was a tough deal. Probably the hardest thing about this other than the decision."