You remember it, don't you? The era in time before Marvin Lewis joined the Cincinnati Bengals. I remember it. I used to call it the Age of Helplessism, for not only did we feel helpless, but the Bengals appeared entirely helpless. Every season would approach and that gut in my stomach pulsated a Book-of-Eli feeling in which the world was desolate and the winds gusted despair. (Doesn't Gary Oldman play the best villains?). Back then, I wasn't excited like I am now. Back then, I literally held onto a fool's hope, thinking that maybe, just maybe, the Bengals will withstand a brutal schedule and surprise us all.
Oh, yeah. Not only do I remember that, I still feel it. The Lost Decade left a permanent mark. And I suspect I'm not the only Bengals fan for whom the last seven seasons -- even 2008 -- have been like ambrosia. Describing the futility of the Nineties as "epic fail" is like describing the sinking of the Titanic as a "minor shipping loss." In seven seasons, Lewis' Bengals have finished with fewer than eight wins twice. In the 12 seasons before Lewis, the Bengals finished with fewer than eight wins...11 times. Lewis has finished with fewer than four wins zero times; five times in the 12 previous seasons, the Bengals ended the season with either two or three wins.
I can wallow in the misery of these numbers all night, but I think everyone gets the point. The Bengals' Nineties-era nickname of Bungles was well, well, well-deserved. Back to Josh:
Then comes Marvin Lewis, galloping on his draught horse from the East with Valyrian Steel in hand....After a 2-14 season in 2002, the Bengals went 8-8 during Lewis' rookie coaching season. After a 4-11-1 season in 2008, the Bengals went 10-6 in what could be coined as Lewis' masterpiece season, winning six additional games than the season before and keeping a team together after tragedy struck several times
First, let me state my preference for Carsultyal steel, but I understand the point. Like a mythical hero, Lewis strode onto the scene, Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl ring flashing, cleaned out the stables and made the Bengals safe for truth, justice and the Skyline 4-way. And so:
Now, the question is on everyone's minds. With Lewis entering the final year under contract, what does the future hold for Lewis and the Bengals?
I have a different question: why should we want Lewis to stay?
Yes, Marvin Lewis has done an amazing job as Cincinnati's coach. But it doesn't follow that that means no one else could do better.
If Lewis leaves, we may end up with another Dave Shula. Or we might land the next Bill Belichick.
To be clear, I am not calling for the Bengals to dump Lewis. I think a lot of Cincy's struggles during his tenure have been due to circumstances beyond his control, and that his successes have been all the more notable given the bumbling ways of the Bengals' front office. I am in no rush to flip that Dave Shula/Belichick coin -- especially when the flipper is Mike Brown.
But...is Marvin Lewis the coach who can take the Bengals -- and us fans -- to the Promised Land? Or are we just relieved at being average with the occasional playoff shot every few years, after more than a decade of being ground underfoot by the rest of the league? Is a fear of a return to that "Age of Helplessism" keeping us from calling for the Bengals to find a better coach -- or do we really think we have the best coach we could have?
I don't know the answer. I carry too much baggage from the Nineties. I drag it around like Marley's ghost, and I know I'll never be free of it. But I also know that it's easy to get satisfied when things are going okay, if not great, and in that situation there's a natural tendency to avoid risk. Yes, you might improve your situation -- but you might make it worse, too. So you stay put.
Are we staying put? Is that, perhaps, why Mike Brown has not moved more quickly to extend Lewis? And might he be right not to do so?
As I said, I don't know the answer. But more and more I am coming to think that Lewis is on a hot seat of sorts. After last year's campaign, when even the butcher's bill of injuries to key players didn't prevent the Bengals from sweeping the division and making the playoffs, well, there isn't much of any excuse now. Anything other than a deep run into the playoffs will be a failure. If Lewis can't achieve that, then maybe it is time for a new direction.
Bottom line: In Marvin I still trust. But the hour is getting late...