CINCINNATI (AP) — Marvin Lewis showed up for his first news conference as the Bengals head coach in 2003 wearing his Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl ring.
Every time he waved his right hand, the 200 diamonds gleamed yellow and white in the bright television lights.
It was more than an eye-catching fashion statement. Lewis was setting the bar high for himself and his team.
“It’s for a reason,” Lewis said. “What I’m going to hammer home to our guys is that we’re not that far away.”
Fifteen years later, postseason success is even farther away for the Bengals, who haven’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season.
Yet Lewis is still in Cincinnati, getting another chance — his 16th and counting — to deliver on the optimism he flashed that January day so long ago. He has the second-longest current tenure in the NFL, trailing only New England’s Bill Belichick, who has won five Super Bowls.
It’s highly unusual for a coach to stay with any team so long, something that Lewis fully appreciates.
“I think a lot of people talk about it quite a bit,” Lewis said. “I know coaches do. I think everybody aspires to do that.”
In the quick-to-change NFL, it’s shocking for a coach to stay with a team so long with so little success. The Bengals have reached the playoffs seven times in Lewis’ 15 seasons, losing every time. They made the playoffs five straight seasons from 2011-15 and lost in the first round each time, setting an NFL record with their five straight quick exits.
Lewis’ 0-7 coaching mark in the playoffs is the worst for any coach in NFL history. Yet, he got a two-year contract extension at the end of last season from owner Mike Brown, who is averse to change and thinks Lewis has done a good job despite the results. The Bengals are coming off back-to-back losing seasons.
“We remember the five previous seasons we got to the playoffs,” Brown said. “I don’t think there’s convincing evidence we can’t get the job done around here. I think it’s to the contrary. And we’ll see how it turns out.
“I put my bet down and I’m going to ride on it, and people can judge when it’s run its course.”
As another losing season wound down last year, Lewis was uncertain about whether he’d return. The Bengals beat the Lions and the Ravens to finish the season at 7-9, and Brown was convinced to stick with him for two more years.
“They were high-level teams giving it their best effort, and we beat both of them,” said Brown of two teams that finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs. The Lions fired Jim Caldwell after the season.
The Bengals finished last in the league on offense — a franchise first — and the defense slipped to 30th in the league against the run, its worst ranking since 1998. Brown thinks the team came close to having a successful season, and he held his index finger and thumb a half-inch apart to make his point.
“Sometimes we fell short by about that far,” he said. “Nobody wants to remember that, either. We know that we have to do better — believe, me, we know it. But I think we’re in the situation where we can rebound best, rebound quickest with Marvin.”