The Cincinnati Bengals may have an 0-7 playoff record under Marvin Lewis, but firing the head coach will do more harm than good to the Bengals.
Bengals fans are rightfully frustrated after Marvin Lewis’ seventh consecutive playoff loss, but Mike Brown made the right move in retaining his head coach.
Many remember the days of the “Bungals,” an era full of failure and dread that the team would never be able to escape from the proverbial cellar of the NFL. Much like the current Cleveland Browns, the Cincinnati Bengals were once an NFL laughingstock.
Taking over as head coach in 2003, Lewis has guided the Bengals to the playoffs in seven of 13 seasons, winning as many division titles (three) as he’s had losing seasons.
Yet regardless of Lewis’ regular season success, fans continue to resent him for his lack of playoff success. While frustrations with a lack of playoff success are definitely warranted, it’s also important to remember the type of team the Cincinnati Bengals were before Marvin Lewis took over.
In the franchise’s 35 years prior to Lewis’ arrival, the Bengals made seven playoff appearances and two Super Bowl appearances–but they’ve yet to hoist the Lombardi trophy. Playoff wins and losses aside, Marvin Lewis teams have done in 13 years what took the Bengals organization 35 years to do: make seven playoff appearances.
Ultimately, whether Lewis won or lost a playoff game in 2011 shouldn’t matter. His team made the playoffs but fell short of the Super Bowl. The playoff losses–at least in my mind–are just losses, when it comes down to it. Whether a team wins the AFC Championship or goes one-and-done goes forgotten three or four years after the season ends. Add in the fact that the Bengals have dealt with a litany of injuries to key players in their two most recent playoff appearances, and it’s easy to understand that not all the Bengals’ losses are on the head coach.
Along with injuries, Marvin Lewis has dealt with massive coaching turnover on an almost yearly basis, media scrutiny and the challenges that face a small-market team. He’s dealt with a fanbase that has been screwed over by team management, he’s dealt with management itself and he’s dealt with a quarterback who quit on his team–yet he still somehow turns bad situations into good.
When Carson Palmer quit on the Bengals, Cincinnati was supposed to go 0-16. Despite this, the Bengals have made the playoffs in five consecutive seasons and look like they’re getting better on a yearly basis. Franchise quarterback Andy Dalton is hitting his prime, the roster is deeper than it has ever been and the Bengals have a swagger that it hasn’t had in the past.
Firing Marvin Lewis would force the team to digest a new playbook on both sides of the ball and spark even more coaching turnover. It would likely put a damper on Dalton’s yearly progression and narrow Cincinnati’s Super Bowl window.
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Teams like the 49ers, Eagles and Titans have fired their coaches in years past in an attempt to reload and lengthen their Super Bowl windows, but none of these efforts succeeded. The only recent exception was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ firing of Tony Dungy and hiring of Jon Gruden. But even so, the Buccaneers’ roster suffered massive turnover immediately following the Super Bowl, and it took over a decade for the team to become relevant once again.
Of the past 10 Super Bowl-winning teams, only the Steelers (in Super Bowl XLIII) boasted a coach who had been tenured for less than four years. Provided that this holds up, which is more likely than unlikely to occur, it would be at least three years until the Bengals are realistically Super Bowl contenders. At that point, Andy Dalton would be 31, many key players won’t be under contract and the Bengals will be a completely different team, for better or for worse.
Ultimately, the Bengals are a great team. While perennially going one-and-done in the playoffs can be frustrating, it is still better than perennially being a bad team–just ask any Browns fan. (Or ask yourself 20 years ago, if you were a Bengals fan.) And making the playoffs every season will ensure a better chance of making the Super Bowl. Mike Brown is making the right decision in retaining the Bengals coach; the possibility of winning a Super Bowl is higher with a great coach under contract than it would be with a coach who could be good, like it or not.