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Bengals a launching pad for NFL coaching careeers

The Bengals have a hard time keeping assistant coaches around, but primarily because they are too good to stay in their positions with the Bengals.

Cincinnati Bengals v Houston Texans Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

If there is one thing for which you have to give credit to Bengals’ 14-year head coach Marvin Lewis, it’s his ability to find talent. Not only is he good at scouting player talent to bring to the roster, but he has been excellent in his ability to find talented coaches for the Bengals’ various assistant and coordinator positions.

In fact, since Lewis took over in 2003, the Bengals have seen Leslie Frazier, Mike Zimmer, Jay Gruden, and Hue Jackson go from being offensive or defensive coordinators in Cincinnati to head coaches with other teams. Though, for Frazier it wasn't an immediate move from DC to head coach upon leaving Cincinnati, for the other three, it was. And, it’s not just coordinators who have advanced. Assistant coaches have risen from the ranks of the Bengals’ coaching staff to become head coaches as well, the most recent being former defensive backs coach Vance Joseph. Without a doubt, he has been the most talked about former Bengals assistant of the past few years. He went from being with the Bengals as a co-defensive backs coach in 2014 to bring the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator in 2015, to now having his own NFL squad and being named the head coach in Denver, all in a span of two years.

Now, theee NFL teams will be led up by former Bengals coaches in 2017.

“It’s almost like we’ve got at least three of those games every year now,” Marvin Lewis told Geoff Hobson of of having to play former Bengals coaches. The Bengals played Gruden’s Redskins and Jackson’s Browns (twice) this past season, in addition to playing Zimmer’s Vikings in the preseason. Next season, the Bengals will again face Jackson’s squad (twice), Zimmer’s team and Joseph's team in the regular season.

“(Joseph) is a hard worker, Lewis said. “He’s a good communicator and he’s a good football coach.”

Bengals safety George Iloka also had praise for his former defensive backs coach.

“Everybody knew eventually he would become a coordinator and a head coach,” Iloka said. “Just by how he carried himself and conducted his meetings. Very thorough.”

Joseph was only with the Bengals for two years after a successful run with the Houston Texans, and after one year as the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator, that was enough for the Broncos to vet him as a head coaching candidate when Gary Kubiak retired. The Dolphins, in particular, are an interesting situation, because the coordinator that Joseph replaced in Miami was Kevin Coyle, a former Bengals defensive backs coach who returned this season after being fired in Miami. But the Bengals clearly know good how to solicit good coaches and that's clear in plenty of ways.

“K.C. is a former coordinator. Look at the brains we have in that room,” Iloka said. “You already know what Haslett has done in his career. That’s a lot of guys with a lot of experience. We’re definitely well- equipped in that department. It speaks well of Marvin and the organization about not only bringing in coaches like that but that they leave for better jobs.”

It’s true, the Bengals’ ability to find extremely talented coaches is impressive. In fact, now that Joseph has moved on to coach the Denver Broncos, the Dolphins hired yet another former Bengals assistant coach to be their next defensive coordinator - Matt Burke, Bengals’ linebacker coach from 2014-2015. He followed Joseph to Miami last year and was rewarded with the vacant coordinator position this year. There are reports that he was the succession plan all along as the Dolphins assumed Joseph would get a head coaching job sooner than later.

“That says a lot about (Lewis),” Iloka said. “That says a lot about ownership being able to bring in that many guys in here. Just look at our defense. We have Paulie (Guenther) as an established coordinator and look who else.”

The frustrating part of all of this comes in the fact that few coaches get a chance to settle in before getting their shot somewhere else. The Bengals haven’t fired a coach since letting go of offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski in 2010. Yet the turnover rate for the Bengals’ coaching staff is troublesome at times and creates chemistry issues.

At times, the Bengals have managed to weather those issues like in 2014 when they lost both coordinators but still made the playoffs. But, the Bengals lost Jackson, Joseph, Burke, and defensive line coach Jay Hayes in 2016 on top of multiple players. The chemistry issues created were too much to overcome and the Bengals finished with their worst record in six years.

It is understandable that the Bengals aren’t willing to part with experienced coaches like Paul Guenther and Marvin Lewis for the sole purpose of keeping talented guys like Burke, Joseph, and Jackson around. But, at some point you have to wonder why the Bengals can’t take advantage of having so many coaches with so much natural talent on their payroll.

“He knew how to handle the different personalities we had in our room,” Iloka said of Joseph, the newest head coach spawned off Lewis’ coaching tree. “We all react differently. We need to be coached differently. I don’t know much about coaching, but scheme aside I would say one of the jobs of a head coach is knowing how to handle everyone and in his time in our DB room he did a good job with that.”