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Obviously, the Bengals need a new voice

The Bengals face a decision next month on whether to retain Lewis in 2019.

Denver Broncos v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images

This is one of those postings that may only interest me — AKA, I’m thinking about something and I answer it via a Chop Block post. There’s very little insight, story structure, or analysis here; just answering random musings from the couch during a stormy Cincinnati afternoon. There might not even be a conclusion; I’ll just stop when I’m finished.

A constant variable in science, according to a handful of Google searches, is something that cannot not change during an experiment. In business, it’s a value that cannon change after being assigned.

In football, it’s Marvin Lewis.

Lewis, three games away from completing his 16th season as the team’s head coach, has a team-option written into his contract for 2019. Probability, factoring this specific ownership group, suggests he’ll coach beyond 2018... probably into 2025. Season-ending injuries have already set the stage for apologists (often defaulting to the “well, who is out there better than Lewis” counterpoint) and ownership to welcome his return.

Yet, there’s deep anxiety, at least from within the core fanbase, that desire change. Since 2016, the Bengals have won 18 of 45 games (.411 winning percentage), fired two coordinators mid-season, and have looked relatively harmless against stiffer competition. The defense has progressively declined, going from a second-ranked crew full of swagger in 2015 to allowing a league-worst 421.9 yards/game this season — they are the only defense allowing 30 points/game through 13 weeks.

Cincinnati needs a new voice.


This isn’t the first time Lewis faced the possibility of leaving Cincinnati.

When expectations were high in 2010 — namely Terrell Owens joining Chad Johnson are an unexpected postseason run in 2009 — the Bengals won a measly four games, suffered a ten-game losing streak, and entered the offseason in turmoil. Carson Palmer threatened retirement and was eventually traded. Johnson was shipped to New England. Owens hasn’t played football since.

Negotiations between ownership and the head coach, whose contract had expired, became public that offseason; Lewis wanted change. Rumors suggested Lewis wanted an expansion in the scouting department, greater influence in general personnel decisions, and more latitude to replace his coaching staff without interference. These rumors were later refuted.

Whether or not any of that was true, Lewis was able to ward off a city full of angry fans. After Lewis re-signed on Jan. 4, 2011, the Bengals qualified for the postseason over the next five years. In coordination with Director of Player Personnel Duke Tobin, their drafts seemed better. The Player Personnel department under Jim Lippincott had seven folks in the department around the time Lewis re-signed in 2011 — one full-time scout (Greg Seamon) and three scouting consultants (Earl Biederman, John Cooper, and Bill Tobin). The department under Tobin was expanded by one — two full-time scouts (Andrew Johnson, Christian Sarkisian), two scouting directors (Mike Potts who covers college and Steven Radicevic who covers the pros), and one scouting technology consultant (Geoff Smith), whatever that means. Regardless, despite the low number of folks in the player personnel department (compared to most functional franchises), scouting seemed a bit more streamlined... at least for a time.

Lewis has been a catalyst for significant change over 16 years. First it was a culture change in 2003 (where we believed most games were winnable). Then the internal changes in 2011, each leading to varying degrees of success. Fun rivalries started. Folks were proud. Chants of “Who Dey” echoed through city streets and taverns. Bengals-flavored attire was proudly worn. When his tenure is over, Lewis’ legacy will be celebratorily praise.

There are obvious blemishes — collapses during big moments, such as primetime and postseason games. No playoff wins. Questionable clock management. Lingering discipline issues on the field — even costing Cincinnati games at times, specifically the 2015 Wild Card game against Pittsburgh (they’ve cleaned up their behavior off the field, so that’s not really part of the narrative anymore). There have been epic misses in personnel decisions, allowing an ageless all-pro offensive tackle to leave, and bombing entire draft classes. Admittedly, most franchises swing and miss on players and drafts, so the Bengals aren’t monopolizing those themes; it just seems to happen more frequently today.

There’s a certain staleness to the team right now; not unlike leaving a box of crackers out for about a week. This team has been declining since their 2015 wild card loss, and while they’ve acquired talent via the draft, we’re simply not seeing improvement. Perhaps it’s the rotation of coordinators, limiting stability, and increasing uncertainty. Injuries are very real; so is the fact that no one has stepped up to replace them. Perhaps Lewis’ voice is becoming background noise with some players looking to achieve individual stardom.

Whatever the reason, a new voice is needed.

There’s a belief Hue Jackson could replace him, similar to the 2016 succession plan. Put me down for “oh, hell nah.” Jackson is a creative mind that works well with Andy Dalton. Make him a coordinator. I’m not married to Bill Lazor or his concepts. Just keep Jackson away from the top job. Great position coaches and coordinators aren’t always compatible as head coaches. Look at Dick LeBeau (if that’s even a fair comparison).

If Lewis steps down as the head coach, he shouldn’t stick around either. In fact, promoting Lewis as an executive is counter-intuitive. The same voice, the same decision-making process, would negate whatever influence a new head coach would have (would they even be allowed to speak with Lewis, Brown, and Tobin in the same room?). There’s no new voice. No fresh ideas. No new concepts. If Lewis steps down, he should leave.

However, it’s the Bengals.

Lewis will remain a constant variable... until he’s not. His tenure will probably extend into 2019 as the team jumpstarts another era with a new defensive coordinator.

And the cynical fan perched on my shoulder quips that we’ll do this all again next year.