By Joe Kay AP sports writer

      CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Bengals hired Marvin Lewis as their head coach Tuesday, hoping the architect of one of the NFL's greatest defenses can resurrect its worst team.

      Lewis was coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens defense that won a Super Bowl in 2001 and set an NFL record for fewest points allowed in a sea son.

      Lewis is the third black head coach in the NFL, joining Tony Dungy of Indianapolis and Herman Edwards of the New York Jets.

      The NFL has been under pressure from a group led by Johnnie Cochran Jr. and Cyrus Mehri to accelerate the pace of minority hiring. All 32 teams agreed last month to interview minority candidates when they have openings for a coach or key spots in the front office.

      After failing to get a head coaching job after the 2000 or 2001 seasons, Lewis became defensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins, but was eager for the chance to become an NFL head coach.

      He's starting at the bottom.

      The Bengals haven't had a winning record in the last 12 years and became a national laughingstock during a 2-14 season that was the worst in team history. Dick LeBeau was fired a day later.

      For the first time since owner Mike Brown took over the team in 1991, he looked outside the organization for a replacement. Brown also interviewed Pittsburgh offen sive coordinator Mike Mularkey and former Jacksonville head coach Tom Coughlin.

      Brown and other frontoffice personnel were in Mobile, Ala., scouting the Senior Bowl when they chose Lewis as the team's ninth head coach. The announcement came a day after Mularkey had his second interview for the job.

      The last time the Bengals went entirely outside the organization for a head coach was 1980, when they hired Forrest Gregg. He led the team to its first Super Bowl a year later, but butted heads with the Brown family over control of the roster and left after the 1983 season.

      During their dismal dozen years, the Bengals have had four head coaches with links to the organization: Sam Wyche, Dave Shula, Bruce Coslet and LeBeau. None has been able to produce as much as one winning record.

      Lewis will bring a fresh perspective to a locker room that wallowed in misery as the losses mounted. Lewis, the team's first black head coach, also will be welcomed in a city still trying to heal from race riots in 2001.

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      The question is whether Lewis, who has been an NFL assistant for 11 seasons, can overcome the front office's shortcomings, which practi cally ensure failure.

      The Bengals are 55-137 under Brown, who refuses to bring in a general manager, give his head coaches final say over the roster or upgrade the NFL's smallest scouting staff.

      In addition to learning what it's like to be an NFL head coach, Lewis will learn what it's like to deal with an owner who waffles on decisions, hoards authority and is fixat ed on quarterbacks.

      By going outside the orga nization, Brown acknowledged a need to change direction and win back fans. The Bengals' last three home games last season drew the three small est crowds in Paul Brown Stadium history.

      Brown chose a head coach who will be much different from LeBeau, who also was a former defensive coordinator. LeBeau, 65, was personable and easygoing, and some play ers took advantage of him.

      Lewis is much younger (44) and more fiery. His hiring will be welcomed by team leaders, who are hoping for a signifi cant change in the front office as well.

      Despite the myriad draw backs, Lewis took the job because he was so determined to become a head coach after being repeatedly passed over.

      His work in the Ravens' Super Bowl season made him a widely mentioned candidate, but the team's long playoff run left him unable to inter view for jobs. The NFL now allows assistants with playoff teams to interview for head coaching jobs.

      Lewis was considered for Buffalo after the Super Bowl, but got passed over for Gregg Williams. After the 2001 season, he was a candidate for Carolina's opening, which went to John Fox.

      Lewis then emerged as Tampa Bay's prime candidate after Bill Parcells decided against coming out of retirement. General manager Rich McKay recommended Lewis, but the sons of Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer decided against hiring him.

      He went to Washington, where he had a lot of autonomy under offense-minded head coach Steve Spurrier. The Redskins also made him one of the highest paid assistants in the league.

      AP-WS-01-14-03 1858EST


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