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Where does Marvin Lewis rank among Bengals head coaches?

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Lewis has the most wins of the nine head coaches in Bengals franchise history – but is he the best?

Cincinnati Bengals

Since their inaugural season in 1968, the Cincinnati Bengals have had nine head coaches lead them over the past 50 years. We take a look back at these nine coaches and attempt to rank them from worst to first.

#9 David Shula 1992 to 1996

David Shula had several things going for him when he was hired as the Bengals head coach – he was young (the youngest head coach in NFL history) and he had a coaching lineage as the son of Don Shula.

Unfortunately, he lacked a roster and the ability to lead the Bengals to victory. He took over a 3-13 team and showed a little improvement by going 5-11 in his first season, but followed that up with back to back 3-13 campaigns.

In 1995, the Bengals showed signs of life with a 7-9 record, but in 1996 the team returned to form, beginning with a dismal 1-6 record before Shula was fired.

Shula had five losing seasons out of five, and never made the playoffs. His career 0.268 winning percentage is the second worst in Bengals’ history, a mere 0.00094 points better than the next man on our list, Dick LeBeau.

#8 Dick LeBeau 2000 to 2002

It’s almost hard to fathom that you have to go all the way back to Dick LeBeau in 2002 to find a Bengals head coach other than Marvin Lewis. Despite being considered a great defensive coordinator, his three years in Cincinnati were easily forgettable. He took over for Bruce Coslet three games into the 2000 season and went 4-9 in that stretch. His next year was slightly better at 6-10, but the team suffered thru their worst record in franchise history in 2002 with a 2-14 mark.

LeBeau had three losing seasons out of three, and never made the playoffs. His 0.267 winning percentage is the worst in franchise history.

Dick LeBeau

#7 Homer Rice 1978 to 1979

Homer Rice’s two seasons as the Bengals head coach in the late 1970’s are essentially the ugly stain on an otherwise solid run of seasons from 1972 to 1982. Rice was a failed college coach with a 12-28-1 collegiate record, who proved to be just as ineffective at the NFL level, going 8-19 with the Bengals, which was his only NFL head coaching job. He took over five games into the 1978 season with Bill Johnson resigned, and went 4-7 that season. He followed that up with a 4-12 record in his only full season with the Bengals.

Rice had two losing seasons out of two, and never made the playoffs. His 0.296 winning percentage is the third-worst in franchise history.

#6 Bruce Coslet 1996 to 2000

The Bengals had three head coaches during their terrible run during the 1990’s, and it’s not surprising that three of the four worst coaches in team history are from this era. Bruce Coslet is the third of these three coaches. He took over a 1-6 team from David Shula and turned them into a 7-2 squad to finish off the 1996 season.

Any optimist that Coslet brought in the second half of 1996 was quickly squashed by a 1-7 start the following season. Much like in the previous year, Coslet’s team turned a terrible start into a torrid finish, finishing off the season at 7-9.

But any magic that Coslet possessed to turn awful starts into solid seasons was all spent, as 1998 and 1999 saw the Bengals flounder all season long. He was relieved of his head coaching duties three games into the 2000 season.

Green Bay Packers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Coslet had three losing seasons in his three full seasons, but had one winning partial season with a 7-2 mark in 1996. He never made the playoffs. His 0.350 winning percentage sixth best out of the team’s nine head coaches.

#5 Marvin Lewis 2003 to 2017

After a decade of no winning seasons, the arrival of Marvin Lewis seemed like a blessing from above for Bengals fans, returning them to a 0.500 team who was no longer annually ranked among the worst in the league. In his first eight seasons he only had two winning seasons, but for a team coming off a 55-137 stretch before that, it was apparently enough for him to keep his job.

He rewarded the Bengals loyalty with a stretch of five consecutive playoff trips, averaging double-digit wins from 2011 to 2015. That success eventually ran out as the team has had losing seasons in 2016 and again in 2017.

Thanks to the sheer volume of fifteen seasons coached Marvin Lewis has the most victories, the most losses, and the most ties among all Bengals head coaches. He also has the most playoff appearances with seven, but is ranked last with zero playoff victories.

Lewis has seven winning seasons and five losing seasons out of 15. He has reached the playoffs seven times with zero playoff victories. His 0.527 winning percentage is the third-best in franchise history.

#4 Bill Johnson 1976 to 1978

Bill Johnson took over for Paul Brown, and found immediate success by securing winning records in his first two seasons as the Bengals head coach. His teams got progressively worse, going from 10-6 to 8-6 to 0-5. After his 0-5 start in 1978 he resigned.

Johnson had two winning seasons in his two full seasons, and one losing season in his half season before resigning mid-season. He never made the playoffs. His 0.545 winning percentage is the second best in franchise history.

#3 Sam Wyche 1984 to 1991

When Forrest Gregg left the Bengals after only four seasons to go coach the Green Bay Packers, Sam Wyche took over, and brought innovations to the game much like the Bengals’ founder, Paul Brown.

Wyche innovated the no-huddle and hurry-up offenses, as well as tactics such as putting extra players into the huddle (which has since been outlawed) in an attempt to disguise his offensive personnel for any given play.

Wyche was his own man, and many Bengals fans fondly remember his long rivalry with Jerry Glanville of the Houston Oilers and his comments about the Cleveland Browns when chiding fans for throwing things onto the field of play during a Bengals home game.

One person who Wyche did not endear himself to was Paul Brown’s son, Mike Brown. Within four months of Paul Brown’s death, new team owner Mike Brown fired Wyche in favor of David Shula. And in what was the first of many moves aimed at saving money, the younger Brown claimed that Wyche had actually quit, so he wouldn’t have to pay the remainder of Wyche’s contract.

Wyche had three winning seasons and three losing seasons in eight years with the team. He made the playoffs twice, including one Super Bowl trip. He lead the team with a 3-2 playoff record as head coach. His 0.480 winning percentage ranks fifth out of nine coaches in franchise history.

Cincinnati Bengals v Los Angeles Rams Photo by George Rose/Getty Images

#2 Forrest Gregg 1980 to 1983

The man who Sam Wyche replaced was Forrest Gregg, who only coached the team for a total of four seasons, despite having success. Gregg took the team over from Homer Rice and improved them to 6-10 in his first season. He followed that up with a 12-4 record which culminated in the team’s first Super Bowl appearance.

The next year, the Bengals went 7-2 with a playoff trip in a strike-shortened season. Gregg went 7-9 in his next season, which would be his last with the Bengals. After only four seasons as the Bengals head coach, Gregg expressed his interest in taking over for the Green Bay Packers when Bart Starr was fired. Even though he had two years remaining on his contract, Paul Brown let Gregg out of his contract so he could take over for the Packers.

Gregg had two winning seasons and two losing seasons in his four as the team’s head coach. Gregg reached the playoffs twice in four seasons with a Super Bowl trip and a 2-2 postseason record. His 0.561 winning percentage is the best in franchise history.

#1 Paul Brown 1968 to 1975

After Art Modell fired Paul Brown from the team that was named after him, Brown started a new team from the ground up, the Cincinnati Bengals. Brown’s winning percentage and lack of postseason success may not be as good as coaches listed below him, but he has several other factors working in his favor, which pushed him to the top of the list.

Brown had the team trending in the right direction when he stopped coaching the team. In an era before free agency, expansion franchises didn’t find success overnight, and the Bengals were slowly built up over four years, with only one winning season in that period. But once all of the pieces were in place, the team went 36-20 over the next four years, and the Bengals made two playoff trips in his final three years as the head coach.

Besides building a team from the ground up, and getting them to become regular winners, Brown also is credited for a long list of game-changing contributions to the game of football. The innovations he brought to the NFL include:

  • using game film (especially to scout opponents)
  • the playbook (he routinely quizzed players on the playbook, too)
  • calling plays from the sideline (via messenger guards, and the first helmet radio)
  • the pocket blocking scheme for passing plays with the tackles turned outward, instead of the conventional straight line
  • a full coaching staff with full-time assistants
  • using an IQ test to evaluate players
  • the 40 yard dash to evaluate players
  • the draw play
  • the zone defense
  • the development of the west coast offense with Bill Walsh
  • the introduction of the modern face mask

Brown had four winning seasons and three losing seasons out of eight. He finished with a 0.496 winning percentage, although that was severely hindered by a pair of bad seasons in the franchise’s first two years, as the expansion team was being built from the ground up. He reached the playoffs three times with zero playoff victories.


Who would you rate as the Bengals best head coach in franchise history?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    Marvin Lewis 2003 to 2017
    (83 votes)
  • 0%
    Dick LeBeau 2000 to 2002
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    Bruce Coslet 1996 to 2000
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    David Shula 1992 to 1996
    (1 vote)
  • 37%
    Sam Wyche 1984 to 1991
    (181 votes)
  • 11%
    Forrest Gregg 1980 to 1983
    (57 votes)
  • 0%
    Homer Rice 1978 to 1979
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Bill Johnson 1976 to 1978
    (0 votes)
  • 33%
    Paul Brown 1968 to 1975
    (160 votes)
484 votes total Vote Now