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The Marvin Lewis question: Bengals have us considering the definition of insanity

The Cincinnati Bengals are in the middle of a three-game losing streak and have lost five of their last six. Could Marvin Lewis actually be fired? How soon?

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Over the span of nearly two years, the Bengals fired offensive and defensive coordinators. Ken Zampese, fired two games into the 2017 season, oversaw an offense that became the first squad since the 1939 Philadelphia Eagles that failed to score a touchdown in their first two home games. The firing occurred after a Thursday night loss to the Houston Texans. Then, 423 days later, the Bengals fired defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, who oversaw one of the league’s worst defenses, becoming the first NFL team in modern history to allow 500-plus yards in three consecutive games.

Why did the Bengals fire coordinators? Coordinators are essentially schemers and play-callers — when a unit, like offense, defense, or special teams, significantly struggles, a change is needed. These folks are the first to fall on their collective swords. Firings tend to generate enthusiasm — this new coordinator will fix things, they say. When fans are happy and enthusiastic, they purchase tickets. Tickets lead to concessions and merchandise. Firings are also supposed to stop the bleeding. If a defense runs hog wild allowing 500 yards in three straight games, a new coordinator/play-caller will slow them down. That’s the theory at least.

It hasn’t played out that way, as Cleveland jumped out to a 35-7 lead early in the third quarter on Sunday. Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield completed 19 passes for 258 yards, scoring four touchdowns, and compiling a passer rating of 143.9. By this point, folks were planning their Christmas decorations and cleaning the house after epic Thanksgiving celebrations.

The 5-6 Bengals are more lost than ever.

Who else can they fire?

Bill Lazor has called 25 games for a struggling offense currently missing A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert. While one could argue over a lack of creativeness, underutilization of dynamic players (read: Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard), or bland blocking schemes, this seems premature. There is no defensive coordinator. You can’t fire someone who doesn’t exist. Position coaches are rarely thrown under the bus mid-season, so no one is getting fired at this point.

Well, who’s left?

Marvin Lewis.

The idea Cincinnati could fire Lewis mid-season, is interesting. Jason Marcum made the case that Lewis should be fired, arguing the Bengals are bad on offense, bad on defense, and one of the worst teams in the NFL with a roster that lacks discipline.

That’s not even the point at this stage. Cincinnati shouldn’t have re-signed him in January. Earlier this year, when the Bengals announced a new two-year deal for Lewis, I stood on my little soapbox.

Predictable. Cowardly. Incompetent.

Cincinnati is in desperate need for a change. We’ve been seeing it for years. The team-friendly media has seen it. Contemporaries around the league have seen it. Coming off two losing seasons and 15 years without a postseason win (and dozens of embarrassing primetime performances), the Bengals had a golden opportunity to move in a new direction.


Why are we surprised by the cowardly Mike Brown, whose chickenshit outlook on team economics and incompetency, went in this direction? He did it with Bruce Coslet and again with Dick LeBeau. He favored Hue Jackson and Jay Gruden, both former Bengals offensive coordinators, before settling on Lewis.

“One person in the Bengals organization thinks Mike Brown is afraid to have to search for a new coach because that person might want to change too many things in the organization,” NFL reporter Jason Cole wrote via Twitter.

Should the Bengals fire Lewis now?

Who is the replacement?

According to a report by NFL Insider Jason La Canfora, Jackson’s return to Cincinnati is “being viewed as a potential” succession plan by league executives. Keep in mind, this is NOT a report that Jackson is being groomed as the next head coach; only that NFL executives are viewing the move as a possibility, thus being cautious about Jackson in their respective searches.

That being said, Jackson shouldn’t be Cincinnati’s next head coach. A brilliant offensive mind, yes. But a head coach? Look at it this way: Jackson has a winning percentage of .205 as an NFL head coach. Not even Dave Shula (.268) or Dick LeBeau (.267) reached such futility. That says something.

You could argue that Jackson didn’t have the talent to succeed in Cleveland; that could also translate to Jackson doesn’t have the ability to motivate the talent he already has; basically Marvin Lewis 2.0. The Browns have won two games since Jackson was fired on October 29, which is just as many as they had to that point with him in 2018. It’s fair to say the Browns are better without Jackson.

Bengals linebackers coach Jim Haslett also has head coaching experience, and Darrin Simmons, the team’s special teams coordinator, is a possible candidate — at least to get through the season as interim coach.

It’s all a pipe dream anyway.

Mike Brown isn’t going to fire his long-term head coach mid-season. There will be a conversation after the season and decisions will be made. Considering Lewis is on the first year of a two-year deal, I’d fully expect him to return in 2019.

What’s the definition of insanity?