Over the past 3 seasons, the Bengals have been an embarrassment to this fan base. While other teams are innovating and aggressively upgrading their rosters through the draft, free agency, and trades; the Bengals are not-so-slowly falling behind.
Head coach Marvin Lewis is taking a lot of heat and fans are understandably calling for his termination. Allowing the game to pass him by over the last few years has blinded people to what Lewis accomplished in Cincinnati. He did some very impressive things, with an unimpressive franchise, but with every awful season that goes by he tarnishes his own legacy.
After the 1991 season, Mike Brown, fired head coach Sam Wyche who had gone 3-13 the prior season. Brown hired the then youngest head coach in NFL history in 32-year-old Dave Shula, a move that probably prevented owners from hiring young coaches for years to come. Shula lasted roughly four-and-a-half seasons, and was fired after starting 1996 with a 1-6 record. His overall record was 19-52.
He was replaced by Bruce Coslet who went 7-2 the rest of the season, but failed to eclipse the seven-win mark even when he had an entire season to do it. Coslet had been the offensive coordinator under Wyche during the Bengals Super Bowl run in the late 80s, and an unsuccessful head coach with the New York Jets. He was fired midseason in 2000 after starting the season 0-3. his overall record with the Bengals was 21-39.
Coslet was then replaced by legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. On top of being the innovative mind behind the zone blitz, LeBeau was also on Wyche’s staff in the 80s. from 2000-2002 LeBeau went 12-33.
Between the Wyche era and the Lewis era, the Bengals had three head coaches; two of whom were fired midseason and the trio combined for a record of 52-124 in 11 seasons.
The Marvin Lewis Era
Obviously the bar for Lewis to reach wasn’t very high, but just being competitive was an irregular occurrence, and it’s what the Bengals became soon after Lewis’ arrival.
In Lewis’ first 13 seasons as head coach of the Bengals (through the 2015 season), the team went 112-94-2. They one over 10 games six times (the previous three head coaches never managed to win more than 7), claimed four division titles, and made the playoffs seven times (including 5 consecutive years).
The tarnish on Lewis’ record has always been his failure to ever win a playoff game. It is true that he has never made it out of the first round of the playoffs, and if he could manage to do so it would fill a big gap in his resume.
While Lewis may think that he needs to make a run for a championship to solidify his legacy, he has only damaged it in recent years. The Bengals have fallen short of .500 each of the last two seasons, and unless they win their final two games this season, they will do the same in 2018.
If the Lewis era ends with the franchise being right back to where they were when he got here, what does that say about his legacy? He attempted to turn things around this year, but the team started to collapse under his watch even before the injuries took a toll.
Relative to what he was inheriting, Lewis managed to do some special things in Cincinnati. But as the playoff years evaporate more and more into the past because of his incompetence, he’s essentially digging himself into a deeper hole. Now, he needs to have the shovel taken away from him.