CINCINNATI (AP) -One season into his first job as an NFL defensive coordinator, Mike Zimmer had a problem.
His Dallas Cowboys had trouble stopping the run in 2000, so he visited some of his coaching friends to get advice. One of his stops was Baltimore, where Marvin Lewis' defense had just helped the Ravens win a Super Bowl.
``For a couple of days, we talked football,'' Zimmer said. ``Our philosophies were very similar. I learned a lot from him at that time, and we became pretty good against the run after that.''
Lewis' advice helped Zimmer, who is now in position to return the favor.
The 51-year-old Zimmer was introduced Wednesday as the Cincinnati Bengals' next defensive coordinator, their third since Lewis became head coach before the 2003 season. During Lewis' five years, he has failed to get the defense up to standards.
Picking the next coordinator was one of the most significant decisions of Lewis' career. If the defense continues to struggle, Lewis' coaching reputation will take a huge hit.
``It's an important hire for me and for our program,'' Lewis said Wednesday. ``The thing he's kind of charged with is providing an identity to our defensive football team.''
So far, the defense has been identified with nothing but trouble.
It led the league in turnovers in 2005, when the Bengals had their only winning record under Lewis and made their only playoff appearance since 1990. Otherwise, the unit has dragged them down.
During four of Lewis' five seasons as head coach, the defense has ranked 27th or worst in yards allowed. After a 7-9 finish last season, Lewis fired coordinator Chuck Bresnahan and linebackers coach Ricky Hunley.
Lewis has known Zimmer since the early 1980s, when they were assistant coaches in college. Later, Zimmer became the Cowboys' defensive coordinator, keeping that job for seven seasons before becoming Atlanta's defensive coordinator last season.
With the Falcons still unsure about their next head coach, the assistants were free to leave. Lewis liked the idea of hiring Zimmer, in part because he emphasizes toughness.
``I think you have to coach tough to be tough,'' Zimmer said. ``You have to have that mentality that this is the line in the sand, and we're not letting guys cross it. I'm an aggressive coach. I think most of the players would say I'm a tough coach.
``Typically, I'm a little bit of a hollerer and a screamer and those kinds of things. I'll be extremely demanding.''
Lewis used Zimmer's hiring to address a few other offseason issues. He reiterated that the offense is in for some changes, too, even though coordinator Bob Bratkowski remains. The Bengals failed to score 20 points in four of the last five games.
Cincinnati's running game was highly inconsistent last season, forcing the Bengals to rely almost exclusively at times on Carson Palmer's passing.
``We've got to go back and do the things that I want to see us do,'' Lewis said.
One of his biggest challenges will be handling receiver Chad Johnson, who spent the last half of the season grousing. Johnson was upset over criticism by fans and media commentators for his look-at-me antics and his on-field eruptions.
The criticism started after he berated Palmer for an interception during the first half of a loss to New England. Johnson kept at it on the sideline and again while the two of them walked to the locker room for halftime.
Two days later, Johnson acknowledged that he was the one at fault on the play because he ran the wrong route.
Johnson went on a national sports show last weekend, repeated that he didn't like the criticism, and suggested the Bengals should trade him if they think he's a problem.
Lewis listened to the interview and didn't find anything new in it.
``I didn't think he said anything different,'' Lewis said Wednesday. ``He felt like he was unduly chastised or ridiculed for being this or that.
``But you have to go back and accept what being a pro is, and that's part of it with all of us, and we can go forward and play. There will be no trade of Chad Johnson. We can repeat it again.''
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