Lewis' legacy cemented in Cincinnati's Black History

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - When it was announced in 2003 that Marvin Lewis would assume the role as head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, history would be made.

Lewis, the first black head coach of the Bengals franchise, says while this move was a long time coming, he stands on the shoulders of giants, joining a franchise owned by a family that is responsible for integrating the sport of football.

In a league whose black players make up 70 percent of the rosters, Lewis watched and played the game when black representation in the NFL was scarce.

Growing up in McDonald, Pennsylvania, Lewis picked up his first football at 9 years old, playing Quarterback at Fort Cherry High School.

"I was a Quarter back when there weren't a lot of black quarter backs playing foot ball, certainly in college and the national football league," says Lewis. "So some of your original black quarter backs like a James Harris who played in the NFL and Doug Williams who won the Super Bowl, these guys were trailblazers in that way."

The same year Lewis was hired, the "Rooney Rule" was enacted.

The rule was a policy put in place in response to a call for more diversity in the NFL's coaching ranks and specifically after the firing of two African American head coaches in the league: Tony Dungy and Dennis Green.

It required teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and staff positions.

Though there is no substantial evidence that rule would prove to be effective, there was a significant jump in the number of black coaches throughout the league.

Lewis wasn't hired under the rule but has shown his support for it.

"I think it's been eye-opening that it's other qualified candidates out there and they got these opportunities," says Lewis. "That's been great."

You can call it fate that Lewis would be a first in the Bengals franchise.

Historically, Paul Brown, the first Cincinnati Bengals owner and head coach has been a game changer.

Brown broke color barriers introducing the first black NFL players to the league when he coached the Cleveland Browns.

"Marion Motley, Bill Willis those players that were back in the mid-40's that Paul Brown brought to play with the Browns, during that time was incredible," says Lewis.

When asked about the future of the league, Lewis says he hopes NFL owners will continue to foster more opportunity for minority coaches.

"I think it's happening through personnel, through more young minorities and young men wanting that opportunity and the same thing in coaching," says Lewis. "Myself and others in this position will do everything we can to help continue to encourage and help prepare young minority coaches that want the opportunity with creating some what of a legacy."

As far as Lewis' legacy goes, he hopes to leave the Bengals franchise better than he found it. To leave something for others to build upon.

Copyright 2018 WXIX. All rights reserved.