Marvin Lewis remembers his HS wrestling days
Wrestling Talk in Red
By Scott Brown
Thursday, November 1, 2007
Marvin Lewis is head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals -- and a long way from McDonald, the quintessential Western Pennsylvania town where he grew up.
Lewis has helped turn the area into a veritable cradle of coaches, as he followed mentors Marty Schottenheimer and Bill Cowher into the NFL head coaching ranks, making stops at Pitt and with the Steelers along the way.
Lewis, 49, became the Bengals' head coach in 2004, and in his second season, he led them to a division title and the franchise's first playoff appearance since 1990. The Bengals have struggled this season -- they are 2-5 after a 24-13 loss to the Steelers last Sunday -- but Lewis insists he hasn't changed as a coach. He never has strayed far from what he learned while playing football for the late Jim Garry at Fort Cherry High School.
Lewis, a three-sport star at Fort Cherry, recently talked with the Tribune-Review about Western Pennsylvania football, his days in a sport that also has a rich tradition in this area and his friendship with Cowher.
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Q: How much did Jim Garry influence you, and how much of what you are as a coach is a reflection of him?
A: "The thing I think he taught me as a football coach, a player, is the fundamentals. I don't think people ever gave him his just due, how well fundamentally we were coached. This was a man who never cursed, and he taught us how to play the game and how to treat people.
He did it the right way, and in the summertime, he wanted his players to be kids and enjoy their summers. So, the guys were well-rounded. And maybe you don't have the expertise in one particular area, but I think at the end of the day, you're better off."
Q: What makes high school football and football period in Western Pennsylvania so special?
A: "It's very unique because you're talking about small towns, and if Fort Cherry and Burgettstown were playing, there would probably be nobody in either town that particular evening wherever the game was.
And it's been the way for a long time -- the guys that worked in the mines, worked in the mills, that's what they looked forward to on Friday nights.
When I go home for reunions, et cetera, that's the feeling you still have.
Q: What do you remember about your wrestling days?
A: "It taught you a lot. I beat a kid from Beth-Center -- and I believe he had won the section the year before -- and I remember coming off the mat and (Lewis' coach) telling me that was the worst display of conditioning he had ever seen in his life.
It was our last match before Christmas break, so I ran every day, not only at practice, but after practice. I ran at night in the snow because he said I wasn't in shape.
I remember getting beat, 12-7 (in Fort Cherry's following match), and he said, 'Well, you're in shape.'
More kids today should wrestle because there is nobody to blame. When you get whipped, you get whipped, and when you win, you win.
It's pretty lonely if you're looking at those lights (from your back), and fortunately, I don't think I did that very often."
Q: What are the chances that three people from small, neighboring Pittsburgh suburbs -- Schottenheimer, Cowher and you -- ended up as head coaches at the same time in the NFL?
A: "Marty hired Bill (in Cleveland), and I already knew Bill, so I used to spend a lot of time up there in Cleveland when I was coaching in college. During vacations, I'd spend time there learning.
I worked for them in training camp as an intern, and when Bill got the (Steelers' head coaching) job and offered me a job, it was a no-brainer to stay home and not have to move my family.
I wouldn't be here today had it not been for Bill. We're still very close. Every time I've talked to him since he retired, we're on the phone for over an hour. He's enjoying himself and enjoying his family, and that's good."
Q: Will he coach again?
A: "Eventually, probably. But I think it's a matter of how much he's enjoying what he's doing now."
Q: When Lewis, the Fort Cherry quarterback, met Cowher, the Carlynton linebacker, on the field, what happened?
A: "I think we beat them most of the time, and during my three years, I think we were 2-1. I might have split with him because he was a junior when we first met. Bill was something else as a high school football player. You talk about intense."
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