When coaches record an 11-5 season, an 8-8 season, a 7-9 season and a 4-11-1 season in four consecutive years, you can be assured that most of the time that coach is going to be fired. Furthermore, rarely are coaches allowed to rebuild a team a second time during his tenure. Lewis can thank Mike Brown, whose loyalty to his coaches is legendary, thanks to the observations of what happened to his own father by the Cleveland Browns.
Brown had every intention of giving Lewis another season, most likely allowing his contract to expire in a couple of seasons without having another uncomfortable meeting to fire a coach and promote Chris Harrington as the new Bengals head coach.
Having already experienced a rebuilding season, Lewis knew what needed to be done. He forced the offense to change their philosophy to a run-first offense. And after signing several veteran free agents and drafting a class of players that has to be one of his best, the Bengals swept the AFC North, won the division and made the playoffs.
As a result, the Associated Press wisely awarded Lewis with their Coach of the Year award. Other candidates notwithstanding, no coach in the NFL retooled their team in such a way that it remade personnel and philosophy.
Furthermore, Lewis had to take on a more challenging role of not just a head coach, but someone that helped players and everyone else grieve with the losses that this team faced this year. Heading into his eighth season, I believe Lewis is at the top of his coaching game. He knows how to rebuild a team within a season, knows what it takes to win in this division and handles players better now than he ever has. Now, if he can only win a playoff game, if not make the Super Bowl, Lewis would have to be considered one of the greatest Bengals coaches of all-time.