It's Time for Marvin Lewis to Go
Among all of the head coaches that were terminated following the conclusion of the 2017 season, the one that should have been terminated the quickest is Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. There is no doubt that Lewis can coach and deserves employment in the NFL, but his firing as the head coach in Cincinnati is long over due. Bengals ownership by retaining Lewis, has placed the Bengals in a situation that is stuck in complacently being content with little to no post-season success. Worse, by making this move, they have essentially told their fan base that their opinions do not matter and will not be taken into account when making decisions. Lewis has yet to earn a playoff victory in his time with the Bengals being 0-7 in playoff games despite being on the job for 15 years. His 0-7 playoff record is the most losses by a head coach without a win in NFL history. The 15 year span Lewis holds without a playoff win is tied with Jim Mora for the longest stretch any coach has had without any post-season success.
Mora seems to have gained more notoriety for his press conference temper tantrums over the years than his limited coaching success in the NFL. His most outrageous tantrum came in late November of 2001 as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts were coming off of a loss to the San Fransisco 49ers which put their overall record at 4-6 for the 2001 season. A question was posed to Mora on whether he thought the Colts could still make the playoffs that season despite the team's minimal chances. A disgruntled Mora lashed out saying "Playoffs? Don't talk about—playoffs?! You kidding me? Playoffs?! I just hope we can win a game!" The 2001 season would be Mora's last in Indianapolis and he has yet to coach since in the NFL.
Yet, despite a clear lack of post season success, a benchmark in which all coaches are judged on, Marvin Lewis continues to get a pass from the Bengals. Lewis once again orchestrated another contract extension, avoiding the unemployment line, agreeing to a 2-year deal through the 2019 season to remain as head coach.
So how is it possible that Marvin Lewis, someone who has yet to earn a playoff victory in 15 years on the job remains employed as Bengals head coach? There is some evidence for why Lewis remains as head coach based on regular season performances. The Bengals have won 4 AFC North Division titles in his tenure. The Bengals had won just five division titles in their first 35 seasons as a franchise. Cincinnati has also had six 10-win seasons under Lewis during his time as head coach. The Bengals, prior to Lewis, had only 3 10-win seasons in the last 25 years.
Lewis has also had to out-duel divisional opponents like the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens twice a year since taking over this job. Both of these teams have cultures based on mental toughness, emphasizing a physically imposing style of play on both sides of the ball. He has had to face coaches like Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh which is no easy task. Pittsburgh has also leaned on Ben Roethlisberger, a future Hall of Famer, who has defeated Lewis twice in the playoffs. The first time was in 2005 and again a decade later in 2015. In fact, 2015 is the last time Cincinnati made the playoffs. The first loss to Big Ben is worth giving a pass to Lewis since it was his first playoff game as a head coach. Carson Palmer also went down with a season-ending knee injury on Cincinnati's first passing play from scrimmage in that game. Had Palmer, who was having one of his best statistical seasons, stayed healthy, the Bengals likely would have walked away victorious in that matchup.
But the game in 2015 does not deserve the same treatment for the lack of discipline Lewis and his team showed when they had the game in hand. With a 16-15 lead and just 1:45 to go in 4th quarter, all the Bengals had to do was run out the clock to win the game. But on their very first play of that final drive, Cincinnati threw an interception, giving Pittsburgh a chance to win with 1:23 left in the game. From Pittsburgh's own 11 yard line, Roethlisberger led the Steelers down the field 74 yards to attempt the game-winning field goal. With just 22 seconds left, Roethlisberger threw a pass intended for Antonio Brown. The pass was incomplete, but linebacker Vontaze Burfict was flagged for a personal foul for contact with Brown's helmet. Bengals cornerback Adam Jones was also flagged moments later for another personal foul after an altercation with Steelers linebackers coach Joey Porter. These mental lapses would advance the Steelers 30 yards downfield to the Bengals' 17-yard line. On the next play, Pittsburgh converted on a 35-yard field goal with 18 seconds left to be victorious and eliminate the Bengals from playoff advancement.
The Bengals were playing without Andy Dalton, a quarterback that led them to a 12-4 overall record that year. Dalton had broken a thumb two weeks prior to this matchup with Pittsburgh which kept him on the sidelines. But this game marked yet another example of Cincinnati's struggles in the playoffs. With the loss the Bengals lost their fifth playoff game in a row after starting out the season 8–0. This is a testament to Lewis's ability to coach in the regular season, yet choke in the playoffs. The Bengals have now also lost a NFL record eight consecutive playoff games since 1990. This implosion by Lewis and the Bengals more importantly highlighted a clear lack of discipline and mental toughness that is supposed to be instilled by the head coach and his staff. The Bengals despite their late interception, had a chance on defense to hold Pittsburgh. They failed this task, giving Pittsburgh 30 free yards on not one, but two personal foul penalties in the closing minute of the game. This collapse falls squarely on the shoulders of Marvin Lewis who clearly had no control over his players in regard to instilling mental toughness during the final stages of that game. Lewis has followed this woeful coaching performance by not making the playoffs the last two seasons. Yet he remains as head coach in Cincinnati.
Sure, Lewis made the playoffs five straight years before that, but has again, never won in the post season when he has had the opportunity. Lewis also only made the playoffs twice in his first 8 seasons with the Bengals, losing in the first round to Pittsburgh in 2005 and again to the New York Jets in 2009. Finally, despite the regular season triumphs, Lewis has only averaged just over 8 wins per year in his 15 seasons as head coach. It has become clear the Bengals are settling for a culture that is locked in mediocrity, by not relieving Lewis of his duties as head coach.
The Bengals have refused to let Lewis go, making him the second longest-tenured coach in the NFL behind Bill Belichick, who is regarded as the best coach in the NFL year after year. Marvin Lewis is a coach along the same lines as Bill Belichick? Lewis, a man who has never won a playoff game in his 15 year tenure with the Bengals is on par with Belichick? Lewis compares to Belichick, who is the all-time leader in NFL playoff wins with 26 in his career? Really? Well, that's what the Bengals seem to think by continuing to retain him despite a lack of performance in the playoffs.
Lewis has coached longer for his team than Mike McCarthy, Sean Payton, Mike Tomlin, and Tom Coughlin, all of whom won at least one Super Bowl title for their teams. Tom Coughlin was also fired by the New York Giants after winning not one, but two Super Bowl titles as their head coach. Coughlin did have the defense and quarterback in Eli Manning to win in both of those years, but had to go through Tom Brady and Bill Belichick to win those matchups. it just does not seem right that Coughlin was let go by the Giants and yet Lewis is stilled employed with the Bengals.
Stability is a great aspect to emphasize with any organization. It allows for supporters of an organization to know nothing erratic will happen year to year. Stability has worked for the New England Patriots having Tom Brady and Bill Belichick as the pillars of that organization for more than a decade. The Giants wanted to give stability to their fans by keeping Coughlin for a few years after winning their last Super Bowl. The Packers have signed Mike McCarthy to an extension knowing that Aaron Rodgers has a couple of peek years left in his career, allowing for stability in Green Bay. Even the hopeless Cleveland Browns are keeping Hue Jackson, a prodigy of Lewis after an 0-16 season to establish some stability for their organization. But their comes a point when stability morphs into complacency.
The Bengals' front office needs to start recognizing the subtle signals their fans have been sending to them due to their complacency with Lewis as head coach. Only the Los Angeles Chargers and Cleveland Browns have worst attendance than the Cincinnati Bengals this season according to ESPN. The Bengals' fan base is trying to send a message to the franchise. The message being that Marvin Lewis has lost his ability to positively influence this team and a change needs to be made to earn their support back. Yet, the organization continues to retain Lewis and be content with a losing culture that has now dragged on for more than a decade.
An argument can be made that the Bengals have kept Lewis because there are not that many experienced candidates for the job. It is true that there is a limited number of qualified coaches in the NFL capable of being in charge of a staff. But it's not like a replacement could do much worse for Cincinnati. If success in the NFL is based on winning, Lewis has failed to achieve that by not having a single playoff win in 15 years on the job.
Everyone thought when Bill Cowher resigned as Steelers head coach, Pittsburgh was doomed with Mike Tomlin, a young and inexperienced coach. But fans gave Mike Tomlin a chance and it has worked out so far with him having one Super Bowl title to his credit so far. Pittsburgh also enters this year's playoffs as the favorites alongside New England to emerge from the AFC.
Look, Lewis is an extremely capable coach, but his opportunity with the Bengals should have ended a long time ago. There comes a point when an organization must decide what goals are the most important and if those goals are winning, letting Lewis go is the first step in the right direction.
Everyone remembers Mr. Fenny from Boy Meets World, right? There is an episode toward the end of the series that relates directly to this situation. George Fenny, portrayed by William Daniels, serves as a mentor to the rest of the cast, providing advice and knowledge to those willing to listen either in his classroom or while he tends to his garden. Feeny, a life long teacher, turned college professor lives next door to the main character Cory Matthews, played by Ben Savage.
In the episode, Cory is concerned that his girlfriend Topanga Lawrence, portrayed by Danielle Fishel will be leaving Philadelphia to take a job in New York. If she accepts the job offer, it will force him to move away from the only place he has known in his life. Corey who is uncomfortable with the idea of this looming change, asks Fenny for advice on the situation. Fenny then tells Cory about a plant in his garden and how its growth has thrived throughout the year. He says the plant started indoors and had settled its roots in a much smaller pot. When Fenny went to move the plant to a bigger pot outdoors, he says that the roots resisted, not wanting to move from their known environment. After a little bit more of a struggle, the plant was moved and has thrived ever since in the new environment. Cory understands the metaphorical analogy seeing that as difficult as changes are to make in someone's life, changes are sometimes necessary for personal growth.
As difficult as it is to find a head coach, the Bengals need to fire Marvin Lewis to let their franchise grow. The Bengal's ownership in this metaphor is Feeny who has the power and knowledge to move the plant. The plant itself stands for the Bengals franchise, capable of growing if is placed in the right environment. Marvin Lewis is the flower pot in this analogy. Even though he has respectfully served his purpose, he is holding the franchise back from thriving further.
Change is difficult to accept for any organization. But a change needs to be made in Cincinnati, to bring the Bengals organization and their frustrated fan base a renewed sense of direction. Lewis will have the character, knowledge, and experience required to get another job quickly in the NFL. He will be a hot commodity either as a coordinator or as a head coach for another squad. Bengals owner Mike Brown needs to evolve his thinking and fire Marvin Lewis. Brown has the power to make this move and owes a dwindling fan base a sliver lining of hope for the future.
Jimmy Kennedy, who thinks Marvin Lewis should be fired but will coach again, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org