For those who have known me, especially during Cincy Jungle’s adolescent years, whenever I argued a specific point, there would be an attempt at a counterpoint. Admittedly, I haven’t applied those tactics since the early days of Andy Dalton — usually because it was always about Andy Dalton. However, my thinking was this: If I made an argument that countered an argument I supported, I’d have a greater understanding of the issue. It’s like being a devil’s advocate, except you’re not acting like an entitled gasbag.
Cincinnati announced a two-year deal with head coach Marvin Lewis on Tuesday. Fans reacted as you’d expect, from threatening season ticket cancelations, wondering if we should chant “whodey” or sing K. Michelle’s “Kiss My Ass”, to sobbing in the corner like angry toddlers without legos. Change isn’t coming. That’s the message.
Even I called Mike Brown a coward due to his neophobic tendencies when he was presented with two options: 1) Try something new (and take a risk) or 2) Stick with what’s comfortable and hope we accidentally win a playoff game. In almost every scenario, he picks option two. Why? Perhaps the risk isn’t worth it. We could turn Cincinnati into another Cleveland. One, that’s impossible because Cleveland’s incompetency has become historic, legendary, and hilarious. And two, that’s kind of the point. How can we know what’s possible if we continue to stick with familiar themes?
So why was Mike Brown’s new agreement with Marvin Lewis the right call?
REMEMBER IT BEFORE?
This is a primary argument for those of us that experienced the 90s. “Marvin Lewis has to go. It’s time.” “But Marvin Lewis brought us to salvation.” “He’s done well, but it’s time for a change.” “Marvin Lewis has brought stability. There’s always a chance we can win!” “Yea, but there’s no playoff wins. We need someone else.” “DON’T YOU REMEMBER WHAT IT WAS LIKE BEFORE?”
Between 1992-2002, an age that featured Dave Shula, Bruce Coslet, and Dick LeBeau as unqualified head coaches, the Bengals went 52-124. They finished last or second-to-last in eight of those 11 seasons and had a point differential of -1,219. Think about that. The opponent, over a stretch of 11 seasons and 176 combined games, scored 1,219 more points than the Bengals.
As older fans (myself included) likes to remind you, it was a miserable time to be a fan. Look at it this way. The Bengals beat Baltimore on Sunday, knocking the Ravens out of the playoffs. Most of us were happy little lambs, silently fist pumping something, or adding an extra hop to our step. Now imagine that same scenario taking place in 1994 or 1998. A regular season win that knocked a division rival out of the playoffs would have broke Cincinnati. Our brains would have collectively ruptured because our minds couldn’t have handled it. Now? Meh. Even some called the Bengals “idiots” for ruining their draft position.
Marvin Lewis represents the savior that led Mike Brown out of that muck. For that, Lewis will be praised, remembered, and honored for eternity. A statue? How about five. Many folks are content with Lewis because he represents an era when the Bengals didn’t horrifically suck. Now, they’re good and sometimes not so good, and sometimes they are the extremes of both. A team built by Lewis won’t send Cincinnati back to those dark, dark, days in the 90s. There’s always a chance.
Anyway, the real question is: Can we afford Brown choosing another head coach? We’re talking about an owner that hired Dave Shula, Bruce Coslet, and Dick LeBeau. (Shudders)
HE DOESN’T KNOW WHAT HE DOESN’T KNOW
Mike Brown will turn 83 years old this August. For all of his faults as an owner, Mike Brown has been deeply involved with the Cincinnati Bengals since its inception. Many criticize Mike Brown for not living up to his father’s legacy. However, most of what Mike knows, he absorbed by observing his father. And it’s an intriguing thought (shelved for another day), if Paul Brown would have survived in today’s NFL. His demeanor, personality, and temperament (aka, trading people that pissed him off), would have saturated this squad with distractions and conflicts.
Mike Brown has conducted business a certain way for years, and it worked until the 90s. Fans began abandoning the team. Ticket sales collapsed. Advertising (presumably) struggled. However, the numbers will always dictate their actions. Whereas 29 NFL owners are owners of other businesses, the Bengals are one of two franchises where their NFL team is their only business. In his mind, Brown has to make the numbers work or it chips away at his family estate.
You’re thinking “what the hell do I care about the plight of a billionaire owner?” Simply put, if they’re not making enough cash, then they’ll find ways to maximize their bottom line. And since player contracts consume an exorbitant amount of revenue for an owner, then you can assume where those cuts would be applied. One mostly hopes that they’ll choose to spend money to make more money... mostly.
That’s not to say Brown doesn’t want a championship. He does; based on his comments over the years, Mike is clearly influenced by his father, and a championship would legitimize Mike with the Brown family name. How to do it has always been lost to him.
However, there’s alternatives to the way you’ve always done things. That’s the voice I’m projecting onto Marvin Lewis. When Lewis’s contract expired, demands were issued and presumably met. We’re hoping the same thing happened this week, though we’re not sure what demands, if any, were given. Perhaps additional operational power, an improved scouting department, more upgrades to training facilities, better contracts for coaching assistants, or none of that. Maybe the demands were more selfish this time. Perhaps Lewis is asking for more money, or better parking. Maybe he wants speakers in his bathroom, for those rare moments where he can relax to sweet jazz while scrolling through Reddit.
Lewis has helped modernize Cincinnati by playing his game of owner manipulation, which has helped this franchise evolve. Removing Lewis from this element could suggest a reversion to old philosophies.
To Mike Brown, and legions of Bengals fans, there’s comfort with Marvin Lewis. In addition to lifting the franchise out of the worst era in franchise history, Lewis has largely avoided sustained failure (from a regular season perspective), kept the roster fresh with two distinct eras, and helped avoid Brown from conducting another scary coaching search. In addition, Lewis has presumably implemented improvements over the years; improvements that Brown has needed help to recognize because it didn’t identify with what he knows about his father’s older brand of football. Naturally, I’m speculating.
We’ll see what happens next.