In a recent article, Joe Fortenbaugh of NationalFootballPost.com listed his power rankings for head coaches in 2012 and Marvin Lewis comes in at no. 11 out of all 32 coaches. Whether or not you agree with Fortenbaugh's list, you have to give him credit for the guts it takes to have Jim Schwartz top the list and come in before Tom Coughlin, Bill Belichick, Mike McCarthy, and the Harbaugh brothers. It is nothing against Jim Schwartz, as the Lions will likely be in a Superbowl in the next few years, but how can you justify having a coach who's team made the playoffs as a wild card then got trounced by the Saints in the first round ahead of the Superbowl winning coach, the NFL coach of the year, and the coaches of the other two conference championship teams?
Nonetheless, let us move forward and dissect the no. 11 ranking of Marvin Lewis like the true Cincinnati homer that I am.
Marvin Lewis is one of the most tenured head coaches in the NFL, only behind Belichick and Andy Reid, and has been an important part of bringing the Cincinnati Bengals out of over a decade of putrid football back to a respectable franchise in the league. Lewis has led the Bengals to the playoffs in 3 out of the last 6 years, when they had zero appearances in the last 15 years. Lewis has arguably done more for the Cincinnati Bengals than what any other coach has done for their team with respect to the situation they were coming into.
For example, Mike McCarthy has done a great job with the Packers and he has turned them into a perennial powerhouse in the NFL, but he came into Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers and a decent supporting cast. Marvin Lewis came into Cincinnati with a rookie QB, who didn't start one game his rookie year, a very bad defense, and an even worse offense. In his first two years, Lewis led the Bengals to a 16-16 record, which is significantly better than the coaches before him, and within two years Lewis led the Bengals to an AFC North championship and their first playoff appearance in 15 years. Where is the love for Marvin, Joe?
Playoff wins: 0
Playoff appearances are great because they give the city hope and something to rally around, especially in Cincinnati where playoff appearances by either professional team are few and far between. Getting beat in the first round of the playoffs three times in the last six years is not so great, and it could lead some to believe that even though Lewis has done so much for the Bengals by even getting them to make a playoff appearance, there comes a point when the appearance is not enough, and you begin to expect the Bengals to win their first playoff game in 21 years. This is not completely Lewis' fault, but if you give him credit for getting the team to the playoffs, he should get some of the credit for an 0-3 playoff record as well.
Draft Busts: Carson Palmer (arguably), Dennis Weathersby, Kelley Washington, Chris Perry, Keiwan Ratliff, Caleb Miller, David Pollack, Odell Thurman, Chris Henry, Kenny Irons, Marvin White, Keith Rivers, Jerome Simpson, Andre Caldwell, Andre Smith (until the 2011 season)
All of these players were picked no later than the third round. I know that it is difficult to classify third round picks as "busts" but look at third round picks the last three years: Michael Johnson, Chase Coffman, Jordan Shipley, Brandon Ghee (bust), and Dontay Moch (we'll see how he does in 2012). Most of these players, with the exception of Shipley and Johnson, are either bubble players or not on the team anymore, but Shipley and Johnson have significant contributions to the team and are significant upgrades from David Pollack and Andre Caldwell. From 2003 to 2008, it could be argued that every player selected in the first three rounds of the draft were a bust. The only exceptions to this would be Eric Steinbach, Jonathon Joseph, Andrew Whitworth, Leon Hall, and Pat Sims.
Four draft picks in the first three rounds over 6 years that didn't end up being busts is hardly an accomplishment by Lewis. Of course, much of this could be attested to the Bengals' lack of a scouting department and Mike Brown, but four picks in seven years having any sort of significant impact is dismal for any head coach. The last three drafts have shown that the Bengals' process of scouting and drafting their players has improved significantly, but it is yet to be seen if it will have a long-term impact on the team.
Compound these issues with other things like signing players with character issues, though some of these players ended up working out well for them (Cedric Benson, Tank Johnson, and Chris Henry) and inconsistency between playoff seasons, and Lewis' ranking at no.11 seems to be spot on. To be clear, I am not saying that Lewis should not be higher on the list, but I am also saying that the evidence says the verdict is still out on whether or not Lewis is an elite coach in the NFL. In 2011, he created something out of nothing and turned a team that many thought would win 2-3 games at most into a playoff team. Lewis deserves all of the credit that he gets because he has been a savior for the Cincinnati Bengals, but, at the same time, he has a few shortcomings that other coaches like Belichick, Coughlin, the Harbaughs, and McCarthy don't have.
The 2012 NFL season is important because not only do the Bengals want to get back to the playoffs and show that they are not just a one-year-wonder, but Marvin Lewis has a lot to prove as well. Can he continue the trend of drafting well with a productive year from the 2012 class? Can Lewis keep his players under control and have zero arrests during the 2012 season (I'm looking at you, Rey Maualuga)? Can Marvin Lewis finally get the proverbial monkey off his back and win a playoff game? All of this is yet to be seen, and it heightens the anticipation of the start of the season for all fans, especially Cincinnati fans. The Bengals have a lot to prove in this upcoming year with certain commentators noting that the Bengals are the favorite in the AFC North, but will they be able to respond and live up to the hype they are collecting? We only have four months to wait and see; September 10th cannot get here soon enough.