Marvin Lewis’s press conference on Wednesday, his first presser since being retained as Cincinnati’s head coach, was rather long. Many topics were discussed, from the belief that ownership wants to win a championship, to an internal reflection on an expansive 15-year career, to a reporter delivering questions from fans to Lewis -- and Lewis generally disregarding such questions when dealing with these fan people things.
One phrase that the media clenched with a white-knuckle grip was “start from scratch”.
Lewis offered the phrase “start from scratch” twice, during this question: Marvin, staying the course is fine to tell to your players and to the guys underneath you, but how do you communicate that to the fan base that has kind of gone away in droves this year?
“Well, you’re going to have to start from scratch regardless, so you might as well start from scratch with someone you understand and you know,” Lewis said. “We have, as we said, a group of fine players here, and we’ve got to go forward and coach them better and do better with it. Everybody can always look at what’s negative, but the only way we can go about it and do it positively is to go back to work and go about it and do it. There are no magic words that way. We didn’t meet our expectations at all, so frankly, I understand that. But, if you’re a fan, you’re a fan, and let’s get on and let’s go. That’s part of it.”
First of all, what does “start from scratch” even mean? Over the last 48 hours, the Bengals re-signed Lewis, who came into our lives as a vibrant 44-year old and is slated to celebrate his 60th birthday this autumn. Cincinnati re-signed offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, running backs coach Kyle Caskey, tight ends coach Jonathan Hayes, special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons (with additional responsibilities), and it appears secondary coach Kevin Coyle and strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton are sticking around; the language in the article is a bit generic.
It appears the only thing Cincinnati is starting from scratch on is the offensive line coach. To be sure, the Bengals needed a new voice instructing these beautiful beasts of the trenches. Paul Alexander joined the team before (at least) seven players on the roster were born with, presumably, 20 players still in diapers, and nine players learning to say words, including his proteges in Jake Fisher, Trey Hopkins, Alex Redmond, Christian Westerman, and Cedric Ogbuehi.
What exactly is being changed by the Bengals?
Cincinnati isn’t replacing Andy Dalton, and his backup quarterback AJ McCarron might stick around... if the Bengals win his February 15 arbitration ruling. Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard will run the football, A.J. Green will catch the football, and John Ross might play football. Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Vontaze Burfict, and a bulk of the secondary isn’t going anywhere. For sure, there will be upgrades at linebacker, a general “plan for the future” draft, and an agnostic approach to free agency. But that’s not “starting from scratch”. That’s simply called “the offseason.”
We can assume “start from scratch” is a propagandists version of saying 2017 doesn’t matter anymore, we’re resetting and moving onto 2018. This makes sense, but it feels misleading; readers will read the words “start from scratch” and impose their own variation of truth, which in this context suggests substantial changes are coming. Perhaps that’s the point, the team needs to recruit frustrated fans, most of whom are flabbergasted that incompetency is seemingly rewarded. Or maybe substantial change is coming. And “start from scratch” isn’t necessarily Lewis’ fault. The media will simplify a press conference into short, catchy phrases to capture readers — this is an industry fighting for such a small piece of the same pie.
Regardless, words are meaningless if they’re not associated with action. Fans are balking at the thought of Lewis right now, and who can blame them. However, most will return to the fold because it’s what we do, who we are. After all, we’re starting from scratch.