Do the Bengals Have A Coaching Contingency Plan?

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Jan 4, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis against the Indianapolis Colts in the 2014 AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals have made developing roster depth a large priority.  They’ve done a pretty good job with this goal in recent years.  But the Bengals haven’t stopped there when seeking to develop depth within their organization.  They’ve also done a great job of this in recent years, though to respect this, one must accept that coaches leave relatively quickly as contractual stipulations can’t always keep them in town.  Just last year, the Bengals lost both Mike Zimmer and Jay Gruden to the head coaching ranks, which should be considered a compliment to the team’s ability to both identify and foster future head coaches.

Despite this loss, the Bengals managed to fill their positions well.  Hue Jackson, a former head coach himself, was hired as the team’s offensive coordinator while Zimmer’s protégé Paul Guenther has taken over the defensive coordinating duties.  And though Guenther didn’t experience great success in 2014, it was his freshman year as a coordinator and it’s reasonable to expect that his best years are ahead of him.

As is easy to see, the Bengals have done a great job of developing the kind of depth within their coaching ranks that allows the team to both identify and develop the talent they bring onto the roster.  This kind of depth can also ensure the team’s future success if a change needs to be made within their own coaching ranks.  Come 2016, it’s entirely possible this could happen.

The 2015 season will be Marvin Lewis‘ thirteenth as the Bengals head coach.  During this time span he’s done some great things for the organization, which includes gaining the trust of the ever suspicious Mike Brown and convincing him to change his ways; this change was to Brown’s “redeemer” days, which left this team as the NFL’s laughingstock for several years.  Lewis has also managed to develop one of the league’s best rosters.  Yet, the measure by which all coaches should be judged is where Lewis has fallen short: meaningful wins.  With no playoff victories during the tenure, Lewis may now be sitting on the hot seat and his time in Cincinnati may be coming to a close without newfound success in 2015.

Marvin Lewis’ contract has yet to be extended heading into the final year of his current deal.  This wouldn’t be such a significant point if not for the way the team has handled a coach’s contractual year in the past.  Mike Brown wanted to avoid having Lewis face a “lame duck” year this past season, so he agreed to extend Lewis’ through 2015 prior to the start of the 2014 season.  The “lame duck” season hasn’t treated coaches historically well and Lewis knows this better than most.  He was left in this position back in 2010 and the team subsequently went 4-12 following a 10-6 year.  Obviously this isn’t the only reason for the team’s poor record, but likely contributed to it.

The Bengals could still extend Lewis in surprising fashion the way they have in the past, but with no indications that this possibility is on the horizon, it could mean the team is going to allow 2015 to play out as is.

If history repeats itself and the Bengals decline in any sort of fashion, it seems entirely possible Lewis will be out of his job.  And if this happens, the Bengals have done a great job of preparing themselves for his exit by assuring themselves a couple of fantastic in-house candidates.

First is the aforementioned Hue Jackson.  He did an excellent job with the offense in 2014 and has done his best to mitigate the Bengals’ offensive weaknesses.  His power running scheme helped spur Jeremy Hill‘s rookie season, which saw him become one of the NFL’s most prolific rushers once he took over starting duties.  This power offense inspired the offensive line by allowing them to be aggressive rather than sit back and protect an inconsistent quarterback.  This scheme is also intended to take the pressure off Andy Dalton by not asking him to carry the offense when it isn’t necessary; it seems evident by now that he is, in fact, incapable of doing so.

What also makes Hue Jackson a viable contingency plan is his past success when occupying the head chair.  During his lone season as head coach in Oakland (2011), Hue Jackson did as well as could’ve been expected during an incredibly tumultuous year for that franchise.  He led the team to an 8-8 record and barely missed the playoffs.  He did this with an incredibly inept roster and was fired after doing so in completely unjust fashion.  If it wasn’t for Rex Ryan, Hue Jackson would likely be the coach of the Buffalo Bills.  The Bengals are lucky to have him back and as a possible contingency plan for 2016.

Beyond Jackson, there’s Vance Joseph.  During this off-season, the Bengals had to block the assistant coach from leaving for Denver after the Broncos and new head coach Gary Kubiak expressed interest in Joseph becoming the team’s defensive coordinator.  Of note, the Broncos also gave Joseph an interview for the head coaching position, but ultimately chose Kubiak.  It isn’t unheard of for an assistant to jump to the coaching ranks, but it isn’t common either and shows the potential many see in him.

Marvin Lewis was recently quoted saying that his boss, Mike Brown, sees Joseph “as a star.”  With a twinkle in the ownership’s eye, is it impossible that Joseph could make the leap into Lewis’ chair in 2016 if Lewis falters once more?  Ironically, Lewis eluded to this as a possibility during that same interview.

If Marvin Lewis fails to find increased success in 2015, it seems entirely possible that the Bengals will chose to move on from the long-time head coach.  But fans will need to be thankful for Lewis even if he does move on as, in typical fashion, he’s managed to acquire the kind of depth that makes filling in for lost personnel easier for this franchise than most.

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