--Marvin Lewis -January 14, 2003
Now, fast forward to July 18, 2008.
"They can't be serious."
That's what I said when I read the ESPN.com story that quoted Chris Henry's agent Marvin Frazier, stating the the Bengals had preliminary interest in re-signing the troubled wide receiver. After cutting Henry following his arrest for assaulting a UC student, the Bengals are actually considering bringing back a person who clearly has not earned the right to play professional football anymore.
What people do not understand, is that there is quite a battle going on behind the scenes between Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis over Chris Henry. If you actually listen to what both sides have said the past few weeks, starting with the Annual Bengals Media Luncheon, it becomes very clear.
At the Bengals Luncheon, which took place on Tuesday, July 22nd, Marvin Lewis said the following, leaving no doubt to where HE stood on the issue.
"I'm not interested," Lewis said. "It's not productive for our football team. You have to be a productive part to be an NFL player. There are responsibilities of being an NFL football player. It's not a right."
This was the first comment from the club about Henry's agent stating the Bengals were interested since this limp-wristed prepared statement from team PR director Jack Brennan:
"Chris is presently under NFL suspension, and until such time as he may be reinstated, we are not in position to comment," the team said. "Even in the event he is reinstated, he is no longer our player, and rarely if ever do we comment on any player who is not under contract with us."
This quote was prepared, so the Bengals (after making contact with Henry and his agent following the charges being dropped) were obviously ready for some kind of press on the subject. If the Bengals front office had no plans to sign Chris Henry, the quote should have been:
"We have no interest in signing Chris Henry. Period."
At the same luncheon, Mike Brown states his case on troubled players (i.e. Chris Henry) with 1530 Homer's C.Trent Rosecrans:
"I guess the world is divided up between redeemers and non-redeemers. I happen to be a redeemer. I think people can be made better and right. If that's a fault, so be it. These guys misstepped, they made mistakes and they paid prices for it verging on ruinous, but that doesn't mean I don't like them personally, I like them as people. I regret what's happened to them and I regret they're no longer here. As far as going forward, we don't want that kind of behavior. We've tried to be more conscious of the guys we bring in than maybe we were before. In all honesty, if you look at their records, contrary to some of the things you hear, they were not as difficult cases in college as some make them out in hindsight. Things just conspired to undo them. They were, at least in one case, tragic. That's all history now. We're going forward and we'll try to go forward with the kind of guys we can count on, the kind of guys who are not just good players, but good citizens."
If Mike Brown wants to be a redeemer, then he should be running a halfway house, or working for social services. Nowhere in that rambling quote does he say what Bengals fans have been dying to hear for nearly two decades. WE ARE HERE TO WIN FOOTBALL GAMES.
It's our take that Mike Brown is clearly establishing his position to the fans (and indirectly Marvin) that the Bengals will continue to take chances on high risk, high 'talent' players, no matter what anyone else has to say about it (even the head coach).
Now, let's skip ahead to the start of training camp, when Lewis again implored management not to waste time with 'knuckleheads':
"We keep spending all this time on the knuckleheads instead of on the good guys; that's a problem," Lewis said. "When you spend all your time coaching knuckleheads and not spending the right amount of time with the right players in the right direction because you're putting out fires over here, putting out fires over there ....I think we've tried to work through that this spring and I think we're over it because we've had that kind of attitude we're not going to waste time or fool with you if you're a knucklehead. We've got to move on."
In the end, it's clear that Lewis and Brown had numerous discussions...again...on the issue during the time between the luncheon on July 22nd, and the start of training camp on July 27th. And, it's clear that Mike Brown was not getting the message.
If the Bengals sign Henry, my guess is that Marvin Lewis quits at the end of 2008. It is clear that this is tearing him up inside, just the idea of re-signing a guy who has made so many mistakes after so many second chances. Lewis would be powerless in the locker room, unable to discipline anyone. Not only that, but it's yet another player that he can't count on. I realize there are only 32 jobs out there, but Lewis knows enough people in the football community and is too good of a coach not to get another job. And if Lewis walks away from the Brown family...God help us all. Marvin was right back in January 2003. Places don't win and lose. People win and lose. The people running this organization just don't have the drive, the determination, and the will, to win. Even sadder is that they refuse to do anything to change that fact.
Let us clear up another topic. If you think NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's visit to Georgetown last week was just to lunch with some players and tour the Toyota plant, you are kidding yourself. Even in the midst of handling the Brett Favre train-wreck in Green Bay, there's no doubt Goodell was in town to give a directive to Mike Brown: Steer clear of Chris Henry. You've forfeited your right to take chances on players like that. We will see if Mike Brown listens.
If the Bengals do sign Henry, Bengals fans have to ask themselves this question: "What the heck are we rooting for now?" Clearly, you cannot be rooting for the group of individuals that make up this organization that consistently refuse to look at their track record of failure. They continue to make poor personnel decisions because of their inflated ego or 'that's how we've always done it', and no one is going to tell us otherwise. If this team stumbles into success this year and, let's say, wins a playoff game...that will buy the organization (in their eyes) at least 10 years of goodwill and validation that they don't have to change one thing. They don't have to change their GM situation, scouting situation, how they update Paul Brown Stadium, or how they treat the most loyal fans in the NFL. Status quo, the two most beautiful words in the Bengals dictionary.
As a Bengals fan, I root for the Bengals because I love the city of Cincinnati with a passion that will never die. I want this town to be a winner, and to be displayed in a light that shows it's true value as one of America's great cities. Right or wrong, having a winning sports franchise helps that image immensely. Just look at Boston right now.
I root for guys like Reggie Kelly, TJ Houshmandzadeh, and Carson Palmer. I root for guys like Dhani Jones, Andrew Whitworth and Corey Lynch. I root for a guy like Willie Anderson...who has given his heart, soul, and body to this franchise...all for one, fleeting playoff berth in 2005.
Most of all, I root for Bengals fans who support this team year in and year out, who have given so much financially and emotionally to this franchise, with very little return on their investment.
Mr. Brown, please do not re-sign Chris Henry. Resist the urge to cripple Marvin Lewis in the locker room. The foreseeable future of your franchise is riding on this decision.