GREEN BAY—They were two young coaches trying to carve out careers for themselves in their hometown. That was 22 years ago. This Sunday, Mike McCarthy and Marvin Lewis will meet in Paul Brown Stadium, and much has changed since their days together at Pitt.
“You knew he was going to be a very talented coach when we were all together at Pitt. He was an extremely hard worker, very smart. The career he has had at coaching, it doesn’t surprise me a bit,” Lewis recalled of those formative years.
“I remember being so impressed with him as a football coach. His record speaks for itself,” McCarthy said of Lewis.
Since then, McCarthy has won a Super Bowl and Lewis has become the longest-tenured coach in Bengals history and currently the second-longest tenured coach in the NFL. Who could’ve imagined such things when the two were coaching pups on a Pitt staff that included John Gruden, Chris Peterson and Shawn Slocum, and a young quarterback named Alex Van Pelt. Talk about a coaching gene pool.
This Sunday, McCarthy’s and Lewis’ teams will be playing in a game between 1-1 teams trying to get over the hump. The Packers are coming off a dominant win over the Redskins. The Bengals are coming off a rousing win over their age-old nemesis, the Steelers.
Would it be an exaggeration to call that win a turning point?
“It got us to 1-1. People made more of that than anything else. It’s not a rivalry until you win the games most of the time. So, right now, it’s big because it was a division game and it was at home. We have a bigger game coming this Sunday than last week’s,” Lewis said.
McCarthy has fond memory of a phone call from Lewis when McCarthy was struggling through his first season as Packers head coach.
“He called and said how are you doing? I said I’m hiding under the desk right now. You remember those things. He said this’ll pay off in the long run. I’ve never forgotten it,” McCarthy said.
Making it through hard times have paid off for Lewis, largely because he has an owner that gave Lewis the opportunity to overcome hard times. Bengals owner Mike Brown is now being rewarded for the confidence he’s shown in Lewis.
“Obviously, it means a lot. We talk every morning. We sit down and chat for five, 10, 15 minutes about what’s up. He’s more patient than I am. We’ve been able to improve here and get better and we’re still chasing the same thing,” Lewis said.
Packers Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers is another link between Lewis and McCarthy. Lewis cut his pro teeth in Capers’ “Blitzburgh” defense before moving on to Baltimore.
“I told our players when the schedule came out, when we began training camp and then when we cut the team down and when we got started again, that we will know what kind of football team we have after the first five weeks of the season, because we’re playing great football teams and we’ll set our jaw and we’ll know where we are. It’s going to be a grind,” Lewis said when asked to put this Sunday’s game in perspective.
He might as well have been describing his and McCarthy’s coaching careers since their days at Pitt. It’s been a grind. Additional coverage - Sept. 18