Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis had much more than game plans to deal with this season.
Lewis won the Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year award yesterday for guiding his team to the playoffs during a season marked by tragedy.
Cincinnati rebounded from a 4-11-1 record in 2008 to win the AFC North at 10-6 for just its second division title since 1990, both under Lewis.
The Bengals did it despite the deaths of Vikki Zimmer, the wife of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, and wide receiver Chris Henry. Several players’ families also were directly affected by the tsunami in the Samoan Islands.
Lewis earned 20 1/2 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 writers and broadcasters.
Lewis is the Bengals’ first Coach of the Year since the team’s founder, Paul Brown, won the award in 1970.
“I’m flattered,’’ said Lewis, whose seventh season as Bengals coach ended with a 24-14 home loss to the Jets in the wild-card round last weekend. “I never took any credibility to it, that it could occur, but I am flattered. I would trade it to still be playing.’’
Vikki Zimmer, who used to bake treats for the players, died unexpectedly in October. In December, Henry was killed when he fell from the back of a pickup truck driven by his fiancée.