MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is not ready to concede the end of his second-longest tenure in the league.
ESPN reported Sunday before the game at Minnesota, citing unnamed league sources, that the 59-year-old Lewis does not want to return to Cincinnati after his contract expires following a 15th season with the Bengals. Lewis steadfastly denied that in his postgame news conference after a 34-7 defeat by the Vikings, dismissing the story as recycled from the summer and irrelevant to the team’s second straight lackluster performance.
“It’s just speculation people keep throwing out there,” Lewis said. “We’re all wasting time talking about it.”
Only New England’s Bill Belichick, by three more years, has concurrently been with the same team longer than Lewis and the Bengals.
“I have not made any decisions about anything, I’ve told you how many times,” Lewis said.
With an 0-7 record for Lewis in the playoffs, speculation swirled at the start of the season that this could be his final year in Cincinnati. The Bengals (5-9) will miss the postseason for a second straight time, having lost their last two games by a combined 67-14.
“To change would hurt, but guys have enough professionalism to know with a new coach coming in, you pick up your jock straps, continue to practice and prove to the next coach that you can play,” wide receiver Brandon LaFell said.
The Bengals were well aware of the report once they reached the stadium, but Lewis didn’t acknowledge it until after the game. His record with the Bengals fell to 123-119-3 including the playoffs.
“It didn’t affect us,” wide receiver A.J. Green said. “We’re all professional here. We all get paid to do a job, no matter what happens.”
After yet another grueling loss to bitter rival Pittsburgh on Dec. 4 made possible by a squandered two-touchdown halftime lead at home, the Bengals have played like they’ve given up despite the insistence of some players to the contrary. Even if Lewis is being truthful about a desire to return to the Bengals, he might not be offered a new deal at this point. The patience of long-time owner Mike Brown can only go so far with a franchise that has not won a postseason game since 1990, the longest active streak in the NFL and the sixth-longest in history.
“We’re 4-10. What do you think is going to happen at the end of the season?” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said, inadvertently discounting his team’s record by one game. “We’ll see. We’ll figure it out.”
As if there wasn’t enough to be frustrated about, Lewis and the Bengals also lost to Mike Zimmer, their former defensive coordinator.
“A lot of those players over there on defense were at one time my guys, so there was some emotions there,” said Zimmer, who was hired by the Vikings in 2014. “You always want to do good against your former team, but like I said during I tried this week to see numbers and not faces.”
Zimmer still maintains a rural retreat in northern Kentucky, his vacation home for those rare breaks from the NFL grind. Lewis visited Zimmer at the ranch during Minnesota’s bye week earlier this season, and Zimmer said Lewis didn’t mention any disinterest in leaving the Bengals.
“But if it is the case, Marvin is an unbelievable person, a great mentor, a great, great football coach,” Zimmer said. “I hope that’s not the case, because the NFL would be losing a great, great coach.”