The Cincinnati Bengals made the decision to fire long-time head coach Marvin Lewis on New Year’s Eve, but given everything that has transpired over the past decade, it’s not like Mike Brown had much of a choice.
Marvin Lewis was once at the helm of a consistent winner, guiding the Cincinnati Bengals to four straight seasons with at least 10 wins, including a 12-win campaign in 2015. Under his leadership, the Bengals made the playoffs in seven of his 16 seasons.
However, the Bengals never won a playoff game even during their peak under Lewis, sliding into the purgatory of mediocrity in the seasons following that career-high 12-win season. Since 2015, the Bengals have a losing record, and they finished off the 2018 season at 6-10 after initially looking like a playoff team in the competitive AFC North.
As such, the Bengals decided that it was finally time to part ways with Lewis, who had been the team’s head coach for a whopping 16 seasons, making him one of the longest-tenured coaches in the NFL.
Lewis’s firing comes on the Monday after the final week of the regular season, which is when head coaches are traditionally fired. There are now eight head coaching vacancies that must be filled by NFL teams, and the Bengals are among the least surprising of those.
The writing seemed to be on the wall for Lewis during the regular season, as the Bengals defense imploded, leading the team to part ways with defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, who was once touted as a future head coaching candidate while running the Detroit Lions previously stout defense. And when the Bengals hired former Cleveland Browns head coach – and Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator – Hue Jackson as an assistant, it seemed like Lewis’s time as head coach would be coming to a close.
On some level, Lewis’s 2018 season was doomed right when the Bengals seemed to be in the thick of the race. Superstar wide receiver A.J. Green suffered a significant toe injury, and Andy Dalton went down for the remainder of the season, forcing unproven commodity Jeff Driskel to step in at quarterback with a depleted supporting cast due to Green’s and tight end Tyler Eifert’s injuries.
Though Lewis never won a playoff game as the head coach of the Bengals, he did finish with a career winning percentage of 51.8 and once built a perennial playoff team that was never out of the conversation. Lewis has his strengths and weaknesses as a coach, but it could be argued that the Bengals inability to never reach that next level had more to do with their quarterback situation, specifically the solid-but-limited Andy Dalton.
Lewis should find his feet in no time, as he has plenty of expertise. A level-headed coach who was able to manage many different personalties in the front office, on the coaching staff, and on the team itself, Lewis is respected by many.
Given how many black head coaches lost their jobs in 2018, it is important for successful black head coaches like Lewis to get those additional opportunities to show that one or two worse-than-expected seasons aren’t a reflection of their overall value to an NFL team.
Lewis did a lot for the Bengals organization despite his postseason failings, and any team would be lucky to have him on, including the seven other teams that need a head coach; it’s just that it was time for Cincinnati to make a change after 16 seasons of working with one man.