When ranking every head coach in the NFL, Marvin Lewis is usually ranked right around the middle of the 32 coaches. That's because his 93-90 record (including playoffs) is what everyone looks at. The truth is, Lewis' impact on the Bengals has been far greater than his overall record suggests.
Lewis has had just three losing seasons in his 11 years in Cincinnati, going 7-9 in 2007, 4-11-1 in 2008 and 4-12 in 2010. Notice how all three of those seasons came within a four-year span. There are few, if any head coaches in the NFL who could survive that kind of stretch.
Andy Reid, arguably the most successful coach in Philadelphia Eagles history, was fired after going 8-8 in 2011 and 4-12 in 2012 (his Eagles made the playoffs in nine of the previous 11 seasons).
Change is the norm in the NFL, and Matt Conner at SB Nation wrote a great article about how Cincinnati's irrational patience with Lewis through good times and bad has kept Cincinnati relevant for much of Lewis' tenure.
The reality facing NFL head coaches is a "win or else" proposition from the outset. Just look to the Bengals' in-state rivals, the Cleveland Browns, for one of the saddest carousels of leadership. In the time the Bengals have employed Lewis as head coach, the Browns have said hello and/or goodbye to Butch Davis, Terry Robiskie, Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Pat Shurmur, Rob Chudzinski and Mike Pettine. And, since we're talking about it, how long do you think Pettine really has?
That's seven head coaches for the Browns since Lewis became head coach, and it's not some NFL anomaly. The Raiders have had the same amount of head coaches as the Browns since 2003. So have the Miami Dolphins. The Buffalo Bills have had six, and numerous franchises have had five.
Turnover, in other words, is the norm.
It's not as though Lewis' teams are incapable of beating elite teams and winning big games. Just last year, his Bengals beat three division-winning teams in the Colts, Packers and Patriots.
Under Lewis, the Bengals have sustained their successes. Cincinnati finished 11-5 in 2013 and won the AFC North Division championship by two games over Pittsburgh and Baltimore. In addition to being one of five teams to make the playoffs three straight years, the Bengals are one of only six teams to reach the playoffs four times in the last five years.
Adding to that, if Lewis' Bengals make the playoffs this year (teams starting 3-0 have 75 percent chance of making the playoffs), that will give him six playoff trips in his 12-year tenure in Cincinnati. Prior to Lewis, the Bengals had just seven playoff appearance in the previous 36 years.
What he's done to restore Cincinnati is very commendable. The Bengals being as patient as they've been is as well.
They're in the midst of reaping the rewards of it.