Since taking over the Bengals in 2003, head coach Marvin Lewis, last year's Coach of the Year winner, has sent the Bengals to the playoffs twice, provided Cincinnati with only two losing seasons and won 58 games. That's more wins than Paul Brown (55), Forrest Gregg (32) and three short of tying Sam Wyche for most wins in franchise history. Provided Lewis wins three of his next ten games, he will easily reach 61 wins quicker than Wyche did.
On the other hand, Lewis' squads have yet to win a playoff game, gave Cincinnati only two winning seasons and currently playing far below expectations a year removed after winning the AFC North.
With Lewis' contract expiring after this season, the question has to be asked, should he return or not?
The team reportedly tried to negotiate an extension with Lewis dating back to last season, with renewed discussions over the offseason. Along with wanting an indoor facility close to Paul Brown Stadium, Lewis reportedly wants more things to "bring a winning culture to the Bengals". We're forced to assume that these things include, but are not limited to, a general manager and a growth spurt in the front office to scout personnel.
The question is always presented with a follow up question. If Lewis leaves, then who would you replace him with? Mike Zimmer tends to be the popular choice, but consider the ramifications. Dick LeBeau is one of the best defensive coordinators in our time. Yet, he was the head coach of a Mike Brown owned Bengals squad and won only 27% of his games. That's not to say Zimmer wouldn't have greater success, with a vastly improved roster. Then again, LeBeau's 2001 squad actually sported the league's ninth ranked defense. And it's not like Brown gave LeBeau much of a chance to really put a stamp on any head coaching career, electing to allow his two-year contract expire in 2002 after a league worst 2-14 season.
After you promote Zimmer, are you confident that Zimmer calls the shots on defense? Marvin Lewis coached nasty pricks like the Steelers' Greg Lloyd, Levon Kirkland, Chad Brown and Kevin Greene before taking on the defensive coordinator position in Baltimore in 1996 where in his final three seasons, the Ravens defense one of the league's top two defenses each year. Lewis moves on to Washington in 2002, improves the Redskins defense to the league's fifth best. Coming into Cincinnati, Lewis would finally field the defense that would be consistent, awesome, powerful, sack-happy and generally badass. Instead, Lewis handed off the reigns to guys like Leslie Frazier and Chuck Bresnahan, neither putting together a defense ranked higher than 19th in the NFL.
Truthfully, Zimmer becomes the head coach that Lewis was, and like Lewis the process to find a new defensive coordinator starts all over again. Don't expect Zimmer to fully integrated into the defense like he is today.
Personally, not only do I believe that Lewis should be signed long-term in Cincinnati, I've written about that belief four times dating back to December 2009. One, two, three, four. My points are relatively the same. Lewis can win in Cincinnati, whereas no other coach in the history of a Mike Brown run Bengals franchise has come close to doing; mostly because of the guys he hires as head coaches. If Lewis wants more things brought to Cincinnati, installing a winning culture, you can only believe that those things, as Lewis would say it, are a good thing.
Capitulate to Lewis' demands, sign him long-term and keep Zimmer as the defensive coordinator for as long as you can, hopefully even over-paying him so another team doesn't pluck him out for their head coaching vacancies.
Unfortunately, the team's 2-3 start presents about as bad a scenario as one could hope for. Because of that, it's generating more "hot seat" discussions regarding Lewis, even though it technically wouldn't be a hot seat because he's not signed beyond this year and thus couldn't be fired.
NFL Network's Jason La Canfora raised the issue.
Marvin Lewis has been unable to work out an extension and with the team falling well below expectations following a division title, few would be surprised if a change is made. Playoff victories haven't been there and the characters on the roster would try anyone's nerves. The problems are primarily on the offensive side of the ball, and I would not be surprised to see defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer -- beloved by his players -- to be offered the top position if a change is made.
Admittedly, my fear of letting Lewis go is the unexpected. We've seen what a Mike Brown searching party results in. And if it wasn't for Katie Blackburn offering her support for Lewis rather than Brown's preference of either Tom Coughlin or Mike Mularkey, then we could be in far worse shape. Can you see Coughlin, who wanted more control than what the team was willing to offer, working for Brown? Mularkey had a hard time Buffalo, resigning because of disagreement with the organization. Yea. Totally would have worked out in Cincinnati.
And if Brown doesn't capitulate to Lewis' demands, then you can cross off the high profile head coaches that may or may not be available next year. Bill Cowher. Nope. Jon Gruden. Funny, I thought you wanted realistic options. Actually, you might as well cross off experienced head coach from the list, with Brown's hires mostly being assistant coaches, save for Bruce Coslet.
I'm not totally against the team bringing in a new head coach. But maybe it might make more sense keeping the Lewis/Zimmer combination together for as long as we can have them.