Bucs break off talks with Lewis, extend coaching search

Saturday, February 9th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' search for a new coach took another bizarre turn Friday when the team abandoned plans to hire Baltimore defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis.

Three weeks to the day after being rejected by Bill Parcells, the sons of Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer decided against hiring Lewis _ a stunning turnabout that again leaves the team scrambling for a backup plan.

Lewis was told early Thursday that he was the choice to succeed Tony Dungy, who was fired on Jan. 14.

But the Glazers never approved general manager Rich McKay's recommendation and squashed the plan after meeting with Lewis for five hours in the Washington, D.C., area on Thursday night.

``They had a good meeting, had dinner and I think at the end of the day there was not a comfort level among the Glazers that would allow them to make Marvin our next head coach,'' Bucs director of communications Reggie Roberts said.

``The Glazers at no point signed off on it. ... And at the end of the day, it's the Glazers football team. They decide who they want to lead that football team.''

McKay and team vice presidents Joel, Bryan and Ed Glazer were unavailable for comment.

Speaking on behalf of the owners, Roberts said the search will continue with the Glazers exploring all possibilities, including college coaches.

Asked if there's a chance the team might also consider making a second run at Parcells, Roberts said:

``Sure. Absolutely. But it's my understanding that coach Parcells told us three weeks ago that he had no interest in returning to coaching. And, no one's told me any different now.''

Lewis, naturally, was disappointed. He had been working with McKay on assembling an offensive staff and thought the meeting with Joel and Ed Glazer went well Thursday night.

``There is no doubt that this is a setback for me and my family,'' Lewis said. ``I'm disappointed. Emotionally, it's difficult. But I will rebound in a hurry, I have to. I feel badly for my family, the Ravens and all the families whose lives were put on hold while I had to wait for a decision,'' Lewis said.

``I especially appreciate the efforts Rich McKay made on my behalf, and I also appreciate the time the Glazer family gave me in the interview last night.''

The Washington Post reported on its Web site Friday night that the Washington Redskins are talking to Lewis about joining new coach Steve Spurrier's staff as defensive coordinator.

The Post, citing unidentified sources, said the Redskins are prepared to sign Lewis to a contract worth at least $800,000 a season. Lewis' contract with Baltimore has expired.

Lewis emerged as the Bucs' prime candidate after Parcells decided against coming out of retirement and McKay made an unsuccessful pitch to get Oakland's Jon Gruden.

Tampa Bay contacted the Raiders this week about the possibility of hiring Gruden, who has one year remaining on his contract. The Bucs offered draft picks and perhaps cash as compensation, but abandoned hope of making a trade because Oakland's asking price was too high.

Lewis, Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and former Washington Redskins coach Norv Turner interviewed for the Tampa Bay opening last week.

Turner dropped out of the running Monday, a day before accepting a position as the Miami Dolphins' offensive coordinator. Mularkey was told Thursday that the team intended to hire Lewis.

It's the third time that Lewis, architect of one of the NFL's most dominating defenses, has come up short in a bid to become a head coach. He interviewed for the Buffalo Bills job that went to Gregg Williams after the 2000 season and was a candidate for the Carolina Panthers opening filled by John Fox last month.

If Lewis had been hired, it would have restored the number of black head coaches in the NFL to three, the same as last season.

``Obviously I'm disappointed he didn't get the job,'' Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe said in Hawaii, where he was practicing for Saturday's Pro Bowl.

``I feel he's the best qualified guy for the job with the things he's done. He's done everything he needed to do, going to the Super Bowl, having one of the top five defenses. I don't know what else he needs to do to get a job.''

The news also caught four Buccaneers who at the Pro Bowl by surprise.

``I've been trying to stay away from it. But based on what I've seen, it's frustrating,'' cornerback Ronde Barber said. ``People out here are asking what's going on with you guys and we don't have any answers. You couldn't have written a worse script than what has been written here.''

All-Pro defensive tackle Warren Sapp is recuperating from shoulder surgery and did not make the trip to Hawaii.

``Unbelievable,'' Sapp said of the latest development. ``That's all you can say about that.''