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Bengals coaching candidates: Who will replace Marvin Lewis?

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Marvin Lewis is on the way out. There are several assistant coaches, NCAA head coaches, or even other NFL coaches that could replace him.

Chicago Bears v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images

UPDATE

Marvin Lewis is reportedly leaving the Bengals this offseason, so we’re reposting this in light of the news.


Marvin Lewis has been on thin ice all season, but the ice is cracking quickly. Blowing a 17-0 lead against the Steelers didn’t help.

Now that John Ross has been placed on injured reserve after playing only 17 snaps this year, Lewis will be swimming in no time.

With any luck, Lewis will be relieved of duty at the end of the season. Until then, Bengals fans can do two things: Speculate about who the next head coach will be and get a "Fire Marvin" t-shirt.

It will be mostly speculation here, though there will be plenty of opportunities for you to get your t-shirt.

So who are the candidates to replace Marvin Lewis?

Paul Guenther

The current Bengals defensive coordinator is one of the most likely choices to take the helm. Guenther worked with Lewis in the Redskins organization in 2002 and has been on the Bengals’ staff since 2006. He spent time as the linebackers and defensive backs coach until he was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2014.

Since Guenther’s appointment to DC, the Bengals defense has finished each season with 12th or higher in points given up. The Bengals defense has produced Pro Bowl talent with the likes of Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, and Vontaze Burfict. In addition to Burfict, who was an undrafted free agent, Guenther has coached several other diamonds in the rough, like Vincent Rey and Carl Lawson.

Mike Brown’s familiarity with Guenther is what makes him one of the most attractive candidates to replace Lewis. Guenther already has already worked with the defense and most of the people in the organization. Brown likes to stick with what he knows, so don’t be surprised if Guenther is named head coach.

Pat Shurmur

After resurrecting the Vikings offense in 2017, Shurmur has emerged as one of the hottest head coaching candidates this year. Even though he has been hamstrung by injuries and missing his top running back, top two quarterbacks, and top wide receiver for most of the year, he has helped lead the Vikings to a 10-2 start, which is good enough to land them in the top spot in the NFC entering Week 14.

Even though his only full-time head coaching experience comes with the Browns, and was therefore unsuccessful, he looks primed for a head coaching job in 2018. If Shurmur could turn around the Vikings offense, he could surely do the same with the Bengals.

By the way, the biggest improvement in 2017 on the Vikings offense was their line. Could Shurmur go two for two?

Todd Haley

Haley has been coaching in the NFL since 1995, including one stint as the Chiefs’ head coach from 2009-2011. He is currently serving as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator.

With the offense struggling to score, the Bengals might consider hiring an offensive-minded coach. Critics would be quick to point out his abrasive coaching style, but that might be exactly what the Bengals need. His personality would be a direct contrast to that of Lewis, who has fallen under fire for being too vanilla. If the Bengals want to change the culture in the Queen City, Haley would be another option. Even though he wasn’t that successful in Kansas City, his head coaching experience does look good on his resumé.

Josh McDaniels

Another offensive weapon, the Patriots OC could be another option for the Bengals if they want to improve their offense. McDaniels has been coaching in the NFL when he was hired as a personnel assistant in 2001. Most of his time in the NFL has been with the Patriots, except for a head coaching stint with the Broncos and one year as the Rams’ OC.

Like Haley, his brief tenure as a head coach was mostly unsuccessful, but he is one of the most accomplished coordinators in the NFL. Not to mention his time spent under Bill Belichick is nothing to overlook. McDaniels would be another viable option to not only revamp the offense but change the culture.

Chris Petersen

Though Petersen’s coaching experience is limited to college, he boasts an overall record of 129-28 since 2005, and he is 6-4 in bowl games. Petersen has also won two Paul "Bear" Bryant Coach of the Year Awards and a Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award. He was a five-time conference champion with Boise State as a member of both the Western Athletic Conference and later the Mountain West Conference. His most memorable game as the head coach of the Broncos was the historic 2006 Fiesta Bowl.

As the head coach of the Washington Huskies, Petersen holds a record of 37-16 and has a College Football Playoff appearance under his belt, putting him in elite company. He has also had the experience of coaching quarterback Jake Browning a Heisman Trophy-caliber season in 2016 and wide receiver John Ross to become the ninth overall draft pick in 2017. If nothing else, if Petersen would become the Bengals’ next head coach, their 2017 first round pick would actually play.

Jim Harbaugh

This is not a sexy pick, but if the Bengals want to change the culture, there would be no one better for the job.

Even though Harbaugh didn’t leave the NFL on good terms, it is where he has had the most success. The Bengals would be hard-pressed to find another candidate with head coaching experience in the Super Bowl.

Harbaugh specializes in rebuilding losing teams. He took a 6-10 49ers team to 13-3 and an NFC Championship in 2011. He would then win the NFC Championship the next year and go to the Super Bowl with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback.

Say what you want about Kaepernick, but he clearly had his best years with Harbaugh. The now controversial player was supposed to thrive under Chip Kelly’s system following Harbaugh’s departure, but ended up going a measly 5-11 in 2015 and was out of the NFL two years later. The 49ers have won nine games in three seasons without Harbaugh, which further demonstrates his ability to perform with incapable players.

After being fired at the end of the 2014 season, Harbaugh turned a 5-win Michigan team that was fifth in the Big Ten East to a 10-win, 12th ranked contender.

Rumors about Harbaugh are circling Ann Arbor, so the Bengals would do well to give him a call. This hire would be a win-win: a chance for Harbaugh get back into the NFL and a chance for the Bengals to change their culture. The Bengals fit the pattern of a team down on their luck, ripe for a classic Harbaugh turn-around.

Jay Gruden

With his seat in Washington growing hot, he may make a return to Cincinnati to revitalize his career. Serving as the Bengals’ OC from 2011-2013, Gruden presents another familiar candidate for Mike Brown.

Gruden has a division championship in his short tenure as the Redskins head coach. He also helped turn Kirk Cousins from a third-string backup into the seventh-highest paid quarterback in the NFL. Andy Dalton saw some of his best seasons under Gruden, including the 2013 season in which he set the franchise record for passing yards and touchdowns.

Hiring Gruden would mean a boost for the offense and for Dalton. Even though his overall head coaching record is a paltry 26-33-1, if the Bengals want to go with a current NFL head coach, Gruden would be the best option.

Hue Jackson

This is the name that has generated the most buzz for the potentially vacant HC job. This is because of his success as the Bengals' wide receiver coach and OC. Jackson has a reputation for being a quarterback whisperer and an offensive guru. He gets a point for being a great play-caller and for being a former Bengals’ assistant.

However, a gander at his overall record is a quick deterrent. He is a total 9-35 over the course of his head coaching career with both the Raiders and the Browns. Over his most recent head coaching stint, he is a lowly 1-27 over most of two seasons.

Quite honestly, there is a reason Jackson will be on the market this offseason. He still has a lot to prove as a HC. Despite being hamstrung by the incompetence of the Browns organization, one win is too few to have over two years, no matter what team you coach. He is probably being weighed far too heavily by speculators.