We made the point during one of our Six-Pack of Hu-Dey posts during the regular season that Marvin Lewis should be granted a contract extension. Our belief is simple. Twice, he took a very bad team and revamped them into a proud group of guys that started to learn how to win. The first time around, it was a finesse scoring machine. Now? A powerful rushing offense and a tough defense. Not since Sam Wyche have Bengals fans known what it's like to actually think that they could be a good football team before each season. And when the Bengals soured a 2-14 season in 2002 and a 4-11-1 season in 2008, Lewis' Bengals increased the win totals the subsequent season by six games in each instance. Furthermore, the culture has changed from a league-wide joke to a team that's competitive with the chance to win any game they play. Granted, there are steps that Lewis needs to achieve to continue this trend. For instance, winning a playoff game or making the playoffs in back-to-back seasons would be a step in the right direction. Both of which could happen in 2010. See, we're already thinking we could make the playoffs again. Positive cultural revolution, baby.
However the question of a contract extension is weighing heavily. If the Bengals don't get Lewis signed after 2010 -- with hopefully a season to be played in 2011 -- who do the Bengals sign? Promoting Mike Zimmer is a very real possibility. But you have to ask yourself, how much will the defense suffer once he gives that role to a defensive coordinator. Who would that defensive coordinator be? And before you think that Zimmer could handle both head coaching and defensive coordinator duties, the same could have been said of Lewis. But Lewis, either by choice or Mike Brown's insistence, didn't control the defense. Instead, he took on the much broader role of a head coach which deals with greater responsibilities, like split-decisions during games for all three units, press conferences, player development, game planning involvement, scouting, etc... Could Zimmer do his defensive duties while taking on the important role of a head coach? Or, more accurately asked, if Zimmer is promoted as a head coach, who would he give defensive coordinator duties to and would it be with an inferior philosophy compared to that established in two short seasons with Zimmer?
If the Bengals elect not to grant Lewis an extension and choose not to promote Zimmer, then who? What coach do you have in mind that would take over as the team's head coach? And when you ponder that, know that most of the high-profile coaches wouldn't find the monetary compensation needed to buy their services. Most likely, it would be another rookie head coach. Why? Simply put, that's the way Mike Brown does it.
These are the things one has to think over.
Lewis joined the Bengals in 2003 as a rookie head coach, having never held the title before, learning on the fly. As time went on, he grew. He didn't get out of bed on the first day of his job knowing exactly the type of players he could trust; he didn't know which players could help him win. Experience as a head coach is no different than experience as a player. We all grow on the job. Think of the first time you were promoted to a position of power. You stopped doing the jobs you did before, tackling additional responsibilities. You promote ideas to help your organization and most of the time these ideas rarely surface in situations other than after failure or through the long road of experience.
But it hasn't all been a golden road. Many fans have grown tired of Lewis. And perhaps there's reason for it. The Bengals have no playoff wins during his seven seasons as the team's head coach. There's been plenty of embarrassing news regarding players making really poor choices off the field. Several draft choices are very unimpressive -- though if you look through all 32 teams, the Bengals don't have a monopoly on bad draft choices. His clock management has been questioned many times, as have his second half adjustments.
In the end, Lewis has helped make the Bengals a far better team and organization than they were before he arrived. His input with Mike Brown brought in critical veterans like John Thornton and Tank Johnson. He's helped find players like Dhani Jones and Chris Crocker; his open-minded acceptance of players like Cedric Benson result with incredible rewards. I know that Mike Brown has the title of redeemer. But Lewis takes these players and makes the most of them; many of whom become starters who leave the league taking note. Furthermore, Lewis has been great for the community with his work with the Marvin Lewis Community Fund, the goal of which is to "empower, educate and inspire individuals in the Greater Cincinnati region through our ongoing outreach programs".
Take his work with the community into account, as well as the work he's put into the Bengals football team, keeping Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati would be a smart move and we fully support a contract extension.
But will a contract extension happen?
The question was raised during this weekend's NFL Combine. In October, the Bengals and Lewis have talked about an extension and talks should resume this offseason. Lewis said:
“There’s a lot of things that go into that. In the direction of things that we’re doing and how we’re doing things that are important to me,” Lewis said. “There were things when I started in this job in 2003 that were important and we can’t change those. They have to stay on track and I have to make sure we’re continuing to progress that way. Those are the things that are more important to me as anything.
“I’m talking about structure, decision and how we do things and how I have the ability to do things that give us an opportunity to win football games.”
I believe that Marvin Lewis should be given a contract extension. There are reasons why others are against it. Now the voice is yours. Should the Bengals give Lewis an extension?