Bengals' family bonds and local ties run deep


Share with others:


Print Email Read Later

CINCINNATI -- In his office at Paul Brown Stadium, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has two pictures hanging on his wall to remind him of his Pittsburgh roots. One is a black and white photo of Lewis from his high school days at Fort Cherry. He is standing alongside longtime Rangers coach Jim Garry and listening intently to his advice. The other is a color photo of former Steelers linebacker Greg Lloyd, whom Lewis coached when he was an assistant with the Steelers from 1992-95. In that photo, Lloyd is standing inside Three Rivers Stadium with his back turned toward the camera. On the back of his gray muscle shirt is Lloyd's favorite quotation in big black letters: "I wasn't hired for my disposition."

But Lewis need not look at photos for reminders of his childhood home. All he has to do is walk down the hall to the offices of two of his assistant coaches -- Jay and Jonathan Hayes. Lewis has been friends with the brothers from Sturgeon for more than half a century and together for the past decade they have been in pursuit of Cincinnati's first Super Bowl victory.

Working together in the NFL for more than a decade is rare. Doing it with your lifelong friends is an improbable story.

But then again so is the history between the Lewis and Hayes families. The clans have been close for more than 100 years.

In 1886, they were among the founders of the First Baptist Church in McDonald. From generation to generation, the family friendship continued. Doris Lewis, Marvin's aunt and godmother, was best friends with Florence Joy Hayes, Jay and Jonathan's mother.

It was only natural for Marvin and the Hayes brothers to develop a close friendship, too.

"I'm blessed to have Jay and Jonathan here with me for so long," Lewis said after a practice last week as he prepared his team for the Monday's game against the Steelers. "We all grew up in the church and the Sunday school."

It was at church and sports-related activities that Lewis first exhibited the leadership qualities that led him into the coaching profession. He was the Sunday school superintendent and the quarterback for the Little Rangers football team.

"He's always been the leader of the group since we were kids," said Jay Hayes, the Bengals defensive line coach. "I can remember going to watch him play with the Little Rangers. Marvin was that guy."

Lewis was molded by his father, Marvin Sr., a steelworker at the Shenango works. Marvin Jr. saw how hard his father had to work to provide for the family and learned an important lesson that he would take with him for the rest of his life.

"One thing my dad tried to instill in me was find something I liked to do because he didn't like to go to the mill," Lewis said. "He didn't want me to end up in the mill. I worked in the mill one summer for nine weeks, and I got my fill of Shenango. I didn't need to go back."

It's why he immediately got into coaching after a standout playing career at Idaho State. Coaching has been his life's work since 1981.

Jay and Jonathan grew up in neighboring Sturgeon and played at South Fayette High School before going on to play at Idaho and Iowa, respectively. They played professionally before being bit by the coaching bug.

Jay played in the USFL for two seasons and Jonathan played in the NFL for 12 years, including his final three with the Steelers from 1994-96.

Jay coached at Wisconsin, California and Notre Dame before entering the professional ranks. Jonathan coached at Oklahoma and won the national championship in 2000 with the Sooners.

When Lewis was hired to coach the Bengals in 2003 he brought his friends with him. Other assistants have come and gone over the past decade, but the Hayes brothers have remained by his side. They are two of only four assistants on Lewis's staff who have been there for all 11 seasons.

"It's been awesome to work with my brother, and Marvin is like a brother to me," said Jonathan, who coaches the Bengals tight ends. "After all these years, to spend so much time with each other, developing our relationship and making that bond stronger has been great."

Cincinnati has been good to Lewis. Despite a losing record as Bengals head coach, he is the second-longest tenured coach in the NFL. Only New England's Bill Belichick has been a head coach longer.

There have been challenging years, but things have been on the upswing of late. The Bengals have made the playoffs three of the past four seasons and this season are the favorites to win the AFC North. They are perceived by some as a bona fide Super Bowl contender.

Off the field, they've been able to watch a new generation of their families grow up together, viewing their childhood through the prism of their kids. Lewis and his wife have a son and daughter. Jay and his wife have three children, and Jonathan and his wife have four children.

"Jay and Jon's father would take us to Trees Hall up at Pitt all the time," Lewis said. "That's where we learned how to swim. He was always the one to keep us in line. It's funny. Jay's kids are grown and in college now. But I'd always tease them when they were younger and running around here. I'd see them do something and I'd say, 'Boy, your grandfather wouldn't like that.' If he witnessed what they were doing he would have slapped them in the back of the head like he used to do to us."

A broad smile drew across Lewis' face and he laughed out loud at the memories.

Soon the smile was gone and it was back to coaching mode. Like the Steelers, his Bengals lost the season opener last week.

Only three teams have won the Super Bowl after starting a season 0-2. Lewis has been in the NFL since 1992 and knows this. He won a Super Bowl when he was defensive coordinator with the Ravens in 2000. It's what continues to drive him.

It's what drives the Hayes brothers, too. Jonathan played in three consecutive AFC championship games with the Chiefs and Steelers from 1993-95 and never won the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The closest he got was in '95, when the Steelers advanced to Super Bowl XXX, only to lose to the Cowboys, 27-17.

Jay came close, too. He was the special teams coach for Bill Cowher in 2001 when the Steelers lost to the Patriots at Heinz Field. That's how he ended up in Cincinnati. Two days after that 24-17 loss in which his special teams units surrendered a blocked field goal return for a touchdown and a punt return for a touchdown, Cowher fired him.

"In coaching, it's very unusual for someone to stay in a place for a long time," Jay Hayes said. "Most coaches, three years, that's kind of status quo. The fact that we've been here 11 years now is unusual. To be able to say we've been able to do that is special."

Steelers

Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.


Advertisement
Latest NFL News
Advertisement
Advertisement

You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here