Is the continued criticism of Bengals ownership justified?

CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 23: Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown looks on during training camp workouts on the practice field at Paul Brown Stadium on August 23, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 23: Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown looks on during training camp workouts on the practice field at Paul Brown Stadium on August 23, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

Mike Brown and family are often highlighted as the main reason the Bengals remain unsuccessful but is that a fair claim in 2020?

Mike Brown has continually been seen as over-cautious when it comes to coaching decisions. His refusal to part ways with Marvin Lewis was a bone of contention with much of the Cincinnati Bengals’ fanbase. However, the Zac Taylor hire can be seen as the polar opposite.

The decision to plump for Taylor was a high-risk option that fans seemed to get behind. It would have been easy to go with a more familiar face. Hue Jackson had plenty of ties already to the organization, while current special teams coach Darrin Simmons would also have offered a ‘know-what-you’re-getting’ option.

Brown also avoided going back to the NFL coaching well with a retread. The likes of Jim Caldwell and Mike McCarthy had been successful, to some degree, with the Lions and Packers respectively. In essence, the younger members of the family felt moving forward with a young, offensive-minded coach was a way to energize the fanbase. To a degree, it did exactly that.

The problems ensued from there. The defensive coordinator search descended into farce. The drawn-out process ended with another relatively unknown coach Lou Anarumo taking the role. Paired with the controversial hire of long time buddy Jim Turner as offensive line coach, there was a sense of unease setting in.

While the Browns were responsible for clearing the coaching hires, these were quite clearly Zac Taylor’s decisions. If you can fault them on anything, it is giving too much control to a novice head coach and not being more firm in adding members of staff who had greater levels of experience to help guide Taylor.

Bengals have backed Taylor and Tobin through free agency

In terms of player recruitment, the Bengals record has been spotty. While Mike Brown remains in charge of football operations, it’s well known that Duke Tobin acts as de-facto General Manager. He must take responsibility for the lack of a production line in young talent.

He may just be saved by the 2020 class. Adding three starters in the form of Joe Burrow, Tee Higgins, and Logan Wilson plus two guys who have shown promise in Hakeem Adeniji and Khalid Kareem, mean he may just out-survive the head coach.

Free agency was a huge sticking point for Bengals fans prior to 2020. Too often the Bengals have been disinterested in taking part in the first wave of free agency. Using the excuse that big names weren’t interested in coming to Cincy.

Once again that changed this year. The ownership team made sure to back Taylor as fully as possible. They signed eight free agents, including several hefty contracts. DJ Reader, Trae Waynes, Vonn Bell, and Mackenzie Alexander proved that the Bengals and Mike Brown were ready to dip their hand into their pockets to provide a supporting cast for their young coach and rookie QB.

The elephant in the room remains the failure to address the offensive line. However, it seems unjust to lay that at the door of the owners. The trio of Tobin, Taylor, and Turner had to evaluate the current crop of lineman and act accordingly. They didn’t and it has cost them, losing Burrow to a major knee injury.

A difficult year for the Bengals shouldn’t detract from a change in ethos

Taylor was unlikely to hit the ground running in year one. However, it feels like the Bengals and the Brown family made a conscious effort to give him the support to do so in year two. Of course, a disrupted offseason through coronavirus and a raft of injuries to key players have destabilized the situation further.

So, is it fair to blame the Brown family for the disastrous last two years? To a degree, yes. They plumped for Taylor and the fallout since is ultimately their responsibility. While Taylor hasn’t had a bump-free road, other new head coaches have had similar problems without such poor results.

That being said, I do think the accusation that the Browns are actively trying to lose and have no interest in turning the franchise into a winner is false. The Joe Burrow era puts everyone on the clock to win a Superbowl, I believe the Bengals ownership will get behind that and continue to invest around him.

The first big decision for them could be the toughest. Parting ways with Taylor will be a difficult pill to swallow from a franchise that preaches a desire for continuity. It could be the first sign that ownership is committed to long-term success.

Next. 6 head coach candidates if the Bengals replace Taylor. dark