After seven seasons in Cincinnati,
People there don't care who you are or what you've done. Their hats aren't high. If yours is, they'll not knock it off. What's important is showing up. That and doing what you can as well as you're able. The rest is nonsense.
It's no surprise Lewis likes players who show up, shut up and work. After years of messing with players whose rap sheets exceeded his patience, he likes guys who arrive with their Boy Scout sleeves rolled up. After spending seasons in the mud with the likes of
(Why the coach is still father-ish to and amused by
"You have to earn it here,'' Lewis says. "That sense of entitlement doesn't work. If it's allowed to get stagnant around here, your worker guys, your solid pros, wonder what's happening.''
If you watched HBO's "Hard Knocks" this summer, you might have seen an angry Lewis in the locker room, after a preseason loss to the St. Louis Rams: "Be a f------ pro!'' he shouted, a directive launched straight from the mills of southwestern P-A.
Still, for all the good intent and high-tech resources at a coach's disposal, lots of acquiring the right players is plain, dumb luck. When Lewis summoned
"What I didn't know was Dhani's learning ability and his professionalism, the effect he'd have on our younger guys,'' Lewis says. Jones is something of a renaissance man, who dabbles in art and photography and designing clothes. He spent last offseason starring in a show on Discovery, "Dhani Tackles the Globe."
When football starts, he hits the film room like Ebert. "He's constantly with the younger players on our defense, watching tape," Lewis said. "Peer pressure kicks in. Now, those guys don't want to be the guy that doesn't know what's going on.''
Thanks to defensive coordinator
The multiplier effect kicks in: "Tank helps
Examples? How about the work that young, rising-star cornerbacks
Lewis has seen this before. As defensive coordinator in Baltimore, he watched the effect
"It doesn't matter your pedigree, where you came from,'' Lewis said. "You have to perform. Players here know. You can't fool them. They watch work get rewarded.''
The Bengals are 6-2 heading into Pittsburgh Sunday. The '05 team -- the first Bengals group since 1990 to make the playoffs -- also was 6-2 at the halfway point. There is no comparison, not by Lewis' standards. In 2005, "We had some guys who thought they'd arrived,'' Lewis says.
When that team clinched the AFC North, it dumped the Gatorade bucket on Lewis, which only ticked him off. "They thought the work was done,'' Lewis said. "The season was just beginning.'' The '05 Bengals lost at home to the Steelers in their first playoff game.
The Gatorade will stay in the bucket this year. Lewis guarantees it. If the Cincinnati Bengals make the NFL playoffs for the second time in 19 years, the coach will not need a raincoat. Through luck, experience, trial and error, Lewis has put together a team in his likeness, one that suits his southwestern Pennsylvania, hard-head nature.
He likes what he sees.