CINCINNATI — Marvin Lewis went to sit in his customary chair for his Monday media availability and discovered that it had been adjusted to a lower setting.
He laughed after discovering that his seat at the front of the room no longer fit.
The Bengals’ coach will finish his 15th season in Cincinnati amid a full-blown discussion about whom the chair will fit in a few weeks. Lewis said Monday that he hasn’t talked to owner Mike Brown about his contract, which ends after this season.
Although he emphatically denies a report that he’s decided to leave, Lewis was noncommittal Monday about what happens next.
Asked if he wants to be back in Cincinnati next year, he replied by saying only, “I want to coach football.” Asked again if he wants to coach in Cincinnati next year, he simply said, “Sure.”
The past two weeks pretty much sealed Lewis’ fate, leaving the question of how the parting is handled. The Bengals (5-9) had another fourth-quarter meltdown against the Steelers in a 23-20 loss on Dec. 4 that essentially ended their playoff chances and left Lewis 8-24 against their biggest rival.
They followed that deflating game by getting flattened at home by the struggling Bears 33-7.
On Sunday, they went to Minnesota and were lifeless from the start, losing 34-7. They managed only one first down and 42 yards while falling behind 24-0 in the first half.
When the game ended, defensive end Carlos Dunlap tweeted : “Crazy feeling when you invest so much in anything and you don’t have any chance at any reward. Can’t even say I’m embarrassed any more I’m at a loss for words.”
ESPN reported before the game in Minnesota on Sunday morning that Lewis doesn’t want to return, citing unnamed sources.
After the game, Lewis denied the report, saying he hasn’t made any decisions about his future. He also addressed the report with his players, telling them to pay no attention to it.
It’s another distraction for an injury-depleted team that finishes the season against opponents with playoff aspirations. The Bengals host Detroit (8-6) on Sunday and play at Baltimore (8-6).
Brown’s longstanding tradition is to wait until the end of a season to meet with the head coach and decide what comes next. He hasn’t fired a coach midseason since Dave Shula’s team opened 1-6 in 1996. Bruce Coslet quit after a 0-3 start in 2000.
Lewis indicated on Monday that he won’t force the issue, allowing the last two weeks to play out before meeting with Brown to tell him about his plans.
“It’s not the pertinent thing right now,” Lewis said. “The pertinent thing right now is to coach the football team, and that’s what my job is and what I’m supposed to do. Anything else?”
The 59-year-old coach knew it was a pivotal season. He failed to get a contract extension after a six-win season in 2016. Brown acknowledged at the start of training camp that there was more pressure on Lewis to produce.
Instead, the season has turned out even worse than last year in many respects.
Attendance at 65,515-seat Paul Brown Stadium is down significantly from 2015, when the Bengals collapsed during a first-round playoff loss to Pittsburgh. They’re 0-7 in the postseason under Lewis, the worst playoff coaching record in league history.
They’re averaging only 54,026 fans this season, a drop of nearly 8,000 per game from two years ago. The team’s poor showings the past few weeks will drive away even more fans unless there are significant offseason changes.
The Bengals have been gutted by injuries the past two games. In Minnesota, they were missing both starting cornerbacks, all three linebackers, running back Joe Mixon and center T.J. Johnson. Several other players missed time during the game with injuries, including safety George Iloka and left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi. Lewis declined to say which ones could be available for the Detroit game.