No help wanted: Marvin Lewis speaks
Marvin Lewis tells Dan Patrick he thinks not being able to interview until the playoffs and the Super Bowl ended hurt his chances of getting the Buffalo Bills head coaching job.
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ESPN's Chris Mortensen talks about Marvin Lewis not being hired as the Buffalo Bills head coach.
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Opportunities were equal, but Williams right for Bills

Is it an outrage that Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis did not take his richly deserved step to the next level of his profession as a head coach? Yes.

Just don't point your finger at Buffalo Bills general manager Tom Donahoe, who was the only team executive willing to wait beyond the Super Bowl to interview Lewis.

No, point your finger, if you want, at the Arizona Cardinals, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets, the Washington Redskins and even the expansion Houston Texans. None of them gave Lewis an opportunity like the Bills did.

I feel the same way about these guys as when we were looking to hire a coach the last time in Pittsburgh (in 1992). Our candidates were Mike Holmgren, Bobby Ross, Bill Cowher, Dennis Green, Dave Wannstedt and Kevin Gilbride. We chose Cowher, but we thought every one of those guys were worthy of being a head coach. I think time has proven we were right, just as I feel all four of these guys are ready and capable of being successful head coaches in the NFL.
Bills GM Tom Donahoe

Sure, they all have their reasons, excuses, whatever you want to call it. But Lewis was left out of their process. Who to blame? Try the teams themselves, or even the NFL.

This is another example that the rule which prohibits teams from interviewing playoff coaches may have good intentions, but doesn't work. On the other hand, those teams may have used the rule as a convenient excuse to bypass the opportunity to interview Lewis.

Yet, because there was just one head coach opening left out of nine, it is Donahoe and the Bills who are left to answer the issue of whether an African-American coach such as Lewis can get a fair shot at a job.

Donahoe wasn't obligated to hire Lewis just because the Ravens won the Super Bowl, just as he wouldn't have been obligated to hire Giants defensive coordinator John Fox if he the Giants had won the game. No, Donahoe was obligated only to provide Lewis with the opportunity. In the aftermath of his hiring of Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, Donahoe was convinced that he couldn't go wrong with any of his four candidates -- Fox, Lewis, Williams and Ted Cottrell.

"I feel the same way about these guys as when we were looking to hire a coach the last time in Pittsburgh (in 1992)," said Donahoe. "Our candidates were Mike Holmgren, Bobby Ross, Bill Cowher, Dennis Green, Dave Wannstedt and Kevin Gilbride. We chose Cowher, but we thought every one of those guys were worthy of being a head coach. I think time has proven we were right, just as I feel all four of these guys are ready and capable of being successful head coaches in the NFL."

It would be a stinging rebuke of Donahoe to be labeled as blind to the race issue. He has long championed minority causes with the Steelers, such as hiring black scouts; he pushed hard for one of his Pittsburgh associates, Charlie Bailey, to become the assistant general manager of the New Orleans Saints in 1999. It also should be noted that two of Donahoe's four final candidates in Buffalo, Lewis and Cottrell, were minority candidates.

The easiest thing in the world for Donahoe would have been to hire Lewis. Nobody would have questioned it; even Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr. was said to be leaning toward the Super Bowl champion's defensive coordinator. Also, Donahoe was familiar and friendly with Lewis, based on their days together in Pittsburgh.

But Donahoe was adamant all along that he was going to hire the guy who he thought best fit the Buffalo Bills. It is not an exaggeration to say that Williams, with whom Donahoe had no real personal relationship as he did with Fox and Lewis, wowed the new Buffalo general manager.

"I think Gregg Williams is going to be special," said Donahoe. The two men first spoke last Wednesday (Jan. 24) by telephone. "He was very impressive," Donohoe told me at the time.

They met two days later for an interview, and it was clear that Williams was a serious candidate for the job. For Donohoe, it was hard to imagine a coach who was better prepared for the interview portion of his search. His detailed planning, particularly in the area of assembling a coaching staff, made the Titans' defensive coordinator an exciting prospect for Donohoe.

Yet, Donohoe waited for the Super Bowl to end so he could interview the perceived favorites -- Lewis and Fox. Donohoe warned me, "there are no favorites." Meaning, Lewis and Fox would have to prove to him in their interviews that they were up to the standard now set by Williams.

Lewis interviewed on Monday; Fox met with Donohoe on Tuesday. It was clear to Donohoe that both men were exhausted from their Super Bowl experience. Both men appeared to have fallen short of Williams' standard.

Yet, Donohoe also knew this: Just as some players don't test well, some coaches may not intervew well, either. Donahoe knew that Williams had somewhat of an advantage for the interview process. The Ravens had eliminated the Titans from the AFC playoffs on Jan. 7. So, Donohoe decided to intensify his investigation of Williams to make sure he wasn't just a "good interview."

Among others, he called two men he highly respected -- Titans GM Floyd Reese and Titans coach Jeff Fisher. Both men gave glowing endorsements of Williams, supported with facts.

Williams has been with the organization since 1990 when the franchise was the Houston Oilers. He started in 1990 as a quality control assistant, then coached special teams (a fact that Donohoe appreciates in a coach) and linebackers before being named defensive coordinator in 1996.

The Titans defense has been dominating; though perhaps not in the spectacular fashion of the Ravens, who have six first-round draft picks on their defense. The Titans have two first-rounders. Even in Baltimore's 24-10 upset of Tennessee in the playoffs, there was statistical data that supported Williams' work. The Titans outgained the Ravens 317-134, held a 20-minute edge in time of possession, and limited Baltimore to six first downs.

One veteran coach of the Dallas Cowboys, a team that played Baltimore, Tennessee and Tampa Bay down the stretch, rated the Tennessee defense as "the toughest we faced ... better schemed." That was a tribute to Williams, who, we should remember, was a Super Bowl coordinator the year before when the Titans played the St. Louis rams.

Already, there are rumblings in the coaching community that Lewis hurt himself because his agent, Ray Anderson, wanted more money than Donohoe was willing to offer. While it is true that Donohoe believed that salary should not be an issue with a coach seeking his first job, his dealings with Lewis never got that far. Lewis never received an offer, and money was not discussed.

To support this, Donahoe said he received a phone call from Anderson on Monday morning after the Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV.

"He obviously knew something I didn't -- that Butch Davis had been hired in Cleveland," Donahoe said. "Ray told me that Marvin wanted the Buffalo job and that money was no object."

Perhaps Lewis' undoing was assuming he was the favorite based on Baltimore's Super Bowl victory. Perhaps too fatigued from preparing his defense for four playoff games, he may have had a hard time getting "up" for his Buffalo interview. His plans for a coaching staff also may have been a disappointing red flag for Donohoe, who places a premium on a head coach's ability to hire good assistants.

Donahoe called Lewis, Fox and Cottrell early Thursday afternoon to tell him that he was going to hire Williams. Fox and Cottrell were gracious, thanking Donahoe for the opportunity and asking if there were ways that they could improve their interview skills.

Lewis took the news bitterly. That is understandable. He'll now return to coach the Ravens defense and his salary will be doubled to over $500,000, thanks to coach Brian Billick and owner Art Modell.

Modell all along planned to give Lewis financial incentive to stay in Baltimore. But, as he told me Wednesday, "the one thing I can't offer Marvin is a head coaching job."

The one thing Lewis and Williams had in common were their age -- each man is 42 years old, which made them the youngest of the four Buffalo candidates.

On more than one occasion, Donohoe has offered this perspective on coaching: "It's a young man's game."

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