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The book on Lewis closed? No

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By JOHN ROMANO, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published August 23, 2002

Months have passed, hard feelings have faded, yet closure remains elusive in the wake of the Bucs' coaching search. Unless, that is, you count the door slamming shut in the face of Marvin Lewis.

You remember him, right? Chronologically, he was after Bill Parcells but before Jon Gruden. Metaphysically, he was after the degradation and before the redemption.

Lewis was to be the consolation prize. The well-regarded assistant still available after all of the big names had slipped away. He was the candidate Rich McKay was willing to hire but the Glazers were unwilling to settle for.

We all know how it turned out. Most everyone got what they wanted. Or, at least, what they needed. The Glazers got Gruden with his high-powered offense. The fans got a coach with an A-plus personality. The Raiders got enough money and draft picks to consider a spinoff franchise.

And Marvin Lewis? He got schooled in business ethics. Or lack thereof.

He's landed on his feet, okay. As the new defensive coordinator of the Redskins, he is the highest-paid assistant coach in NFL history. He has a defense, infused with free-agent hires, that might even overshadow Steve Spurrier's offense in Washington.

Yet why do I still feel badly for him?

Maybe it is because he did everything right and still was wronged. Maybe it is because he conducted himself with dignity when those around him did not.

The Glazers had every right to decide against Lewis. Just as they had every right to fire Tony Dungy.

The problem is they were not forthright in either situation. They claimed devotion to Dungy while making goo-goo eyes at Parcells. They allowed McKay to cross the line between an interview and a negotiation even though they had no intention of hiring Lewis.

So now here we are, six months later, with Lewis returning to the scene of the slime. He will arrive quietly, as is his nature, and depart gracefully. Asked about the Glazers, he likely will be diplomatic. Asked about what might have been, he will say he has moved on.

But do not think for a minute Lewis was not angered, disappointed and maybe even disillusioned by his affair with the Bucs.

A case easily could be made that Lewis was not the right coach for the Bucs in 2002. His resume had much in common with Dungy's. Maybe too much. Both were longtime NFL assistants who made their names on defense. Both are low-key. Following Dungy with Lewis would have been a difficult sell.

Yet Lewis was led to believe, before a meeting with the Glazers, an offer was coming. He left believing he never seriously had been considered.

You know he created an entire book of schedules and plans for the Bucs? A book he brought with him to the Redskins. He contacted potential assistant coaches and was seeking the counsel of current head coaches in the NFL.

Now all these months later, he resists any temptation of imagining what life might have been like on the other side of the field at Raymond James.

"It's not productive," Lewis said. "It does me no good to worry about things like that. That's just not part of my makeup."

Then he laughs and talks about a chance meeting with Gruden before the Bucs coaching search had intensified and Lewis had become McKay's choice.

"I told Jon in January, after the Raiders had lost their playoff game, that he was going to be the next coach in Tampa. So am I surprised I'm not down there now?

"No, I'd be more surprised if it turned out I was the coach in Tampa."

When it went sour in Tampa Bay, Lewis talked with Ravens coach Brian Billick. His contract was up in Baltimore, and Billick wanted Lewis to return. But he advised him to do whatever was best for his career.

Forty-eight hours later, Lewis accepted an offer from Spurrier. The money was too good to pass -- $850,000 base salary with incentives that could push it to more than $1-million. And it gave him another opportunity to prove himself.

If it were a letdown for Lewis, it was a boon for the Redskins. Lewis is everything Spurrier is not. He is the defensive guru to Spurrier's offensive genius. He is calm where Spurrier is excitable. He is organized, and Spurrier likes to wing it from day to day.

Perhaps this is the perfect pairing for the Redskins. Perhaps the Raiders will parlay the draft choices into a Super Bowl bid. And perhaps Gruden is exactly the right coach for the Bucs today.

Maybe, in the end, this will work out for all concerned.

Maybe Lewis will end up with a job as a head coach, after all.

Maybe then it will feel right.

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