The Bengals have fired Marvin Lewis, so the team’s head-coaching job is officially open.
It’s been a long time coming, but we finally get to have a legitimate discussion about who the next Bengals head coach will be. However, the team will have plenty of competition for head-coaching candidates like the ones mentioned below, as teams like the Dolphins, Broncos, Browns, Jets, Cardinals and Buccaneers are also looking for new coaches.
Still, the Bengals are going to have a head coach not named Marv in 2019, so that’s a big win for Bengaldom.
There are several stages of being a Bengals fan throughout the year.
Most of us have some level of hopeful optimism over the summer, but by this time of the year hopelessness has set it. With that in mind, we all know that Marvin Lewis is likely the man in charge of whether Marvin Lewis is the head coach next year or not (because that makes sense, right?).
Let’s just step away from that study in institutional dysfunction for a moment and pretend for a moment that Mike Brown was a competent owner, businessman or human and was willing and able to look at the direction of the franchise objectively.
So, if that were the case and the Bengals decided to move on from Lewis, what then? Who would be the ideal candidate to turn this franchise around?
Here are some options and my favorites.
NFL Offensive Coordinator
The current view is that hiring a top offensive coordinator is the best way to turn your team around. This makes sense to a point. If a team hires a top offensive mind, they should at least be able to improve their offense. This also means a team doesn’t have to worry about having their play caller poached when other teams are looking for head coaches. Unfortunately, Sean McVay's don’t grow on trees.
The top choice here is Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, but just because he replaced Matt Nagy with great success in Kansas City doesn’t mean he’ll be able to match Nagy’s success as a head coach. Nagy was the Chief’s play-caller for less than a season, and when he left, it was Andy Reid, not Bieniemy, who took over those duties. Working under Reid is certainly a plus for Bieniemy, but it is concerning that he lacks the experience Nagy and Doug Pederson (another member of the Reid branch of the Bill Walsh tree) calling plays and coaching the quarterback.
The other hot offense in the NFL is the Los Angeles Rams. McVay calls the plays for the Rams, but he has two high ranking assistants who may be considered head coaching candidates. Pass game coordinator Shane Waldron is an interesting prospect. This is his first coordinator position, but he started his career working under Bill Belichick in football operations, and Charlie Weis thought highly enough of him that he brought him along to Notre Dame. His experience is questionable, but someone who worked for McVay and Belichick is worth having a conversation with.
Rams run game coordinator Aaron Kromer is another strong candidate. He has a wealth of experience as offensive line coach for the Bills, Bears, Buccaneers, Saints, and Raiders. He also served as interim head coach of the Saints in 2012. Kromer is a Sandusky native and Miami (OH) alum. The biggest knock on him is that offensive line coaches don’t have a great track record as head coaches.
Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael also has to be in this conversation. Obviously, he was fortunate enough to coach Drew Brees, which never hurts, but is use of Alvin Kamara in the pass game truly turned the tides in the way running backs are used in the NFL.
Of course, there is one more name that has to appear on this list every year, and that is Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Reneging on his agreement to become the Colts’ head coach last season will make teams weary to bring him. He also may be the head coach in waiting in New England. The other concern with him is that Patriots coaches have not fared well when they have gone off on their own. Bill O’Brien has had the most success, but unlike McDaniels, he had a lot of experience working on other staffs before joining the Patriots.
NFL Defensive Coordinator
Defensive coordinators tend to be more big-picture thinkers than offensive coordinators and that can lead to success a head coaches. This year there is only one defensive coordinator who stands out as strong head coaching candidate: Chicago’s Vic Fangio.
Nagy cannot take full credit for the success of the Bears. He was fortunate enough to inherit a stellar defensive coordinator in Fangio. Fangio should have had an opportunity to become a head coach years ago. He has had great success as a defensive coordinator with the Bears, 49ers, Texans, Colts, and Panthers. His defenses get pressure and create turnovers.
Two others who could be considered are Broncos defensive coordinator Joe Woods and Cowboys passing game coordinator Kris Richard. Woods’ defense is a big reason why the Broncos had the success they did this year. Richard was previously defensive coordinator with the Seahawks and has helped the Cowboys secondary improve greatly in 2018.
College Football Head Coach
The advantage to hiring a college head coach it that they have demonstrated leadership and management of an entire team. Too many teams get caught up bring in coaches who can draw up a great offense or defense and forget that it is more important to build a winning culture. These coaches have done just that.
Of course, the hottest name in coaching right now is Lincoln Riley. As the head coach at Oklahoma, Riley coaches a high-powered modern offense that has produced two Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks in as many years. Oklahoma’s defense has been awful, and if he were to take a head coaching job in the NFL, he would want to take a page from the book of another young offensive phenom, McVay, and hire a top defensive coordinator.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney never seems to get much talk in NFL circles, but with a record of 114-20 and a national championship to his name, he should. Swinney knows how to win and has led his team to the college football playoffs in four years straight.
Nick Saban isn’t coming back to the NFL any time soon, but his former defensive coordinator. Kirby Smart, just may. Smart has had a tough job at Georgia; trying to compete at a national level while having the perennial powerhouse Crimson Tide in their conference. Smart has a record of 32-9 in 3 seasons with the Bulldogs. Georgia won a playoff game in 2017 and has won the SEC East the last two seasons.
One darkhorse candidate is Texas’ Tom Herman. Herman has had success in his brief stints at Houston and Texas as head coach. The Cincinnati native was previously the offensive coordinator at Ohio State, and is an impressive offensive mind. Herman may seem like a bit of a reach, but he checks all the boxes and could be an impressive NFL head coach.
It goes without saying, but Hue Jackson would be a catastrophic hire for the Bengals. Broncos head coach Vance Joseph (who is on the hot seat) would also set the team in the wrong direction. Not to lump Jackson together with Joseph, but the Bengals need a new voice to set them on a new path and take them to the next level. A former Lewis assistant is not a new voice.
NFL teams are not very good at selecting leaders for their franchise. This year there are a couple of people who may get interest, but really should not. Matt LaFleur worked under both McVay and Kyle Shanahan (in Atlanta), but when he got a chance to call an offense for himself in Tennessee the results were unimpressive. An offensive minded head coach should at least be a great offensive coordinator, and LeFleur is not that.
Former Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo should not be getting the head coaching buzz that he is. DeFilippo has bounced around quite a bit, but gained notoriety for helping to develop Carson Wentz as quarterbacks coach with the Philadelphia Eagles.
This year, he was fired due to the lackluster of the Vikings offense. Hiring DeFilippo as a head coach would be a big mistake. The success he had in Philadelphia is in no small part because of Pederson and then-offensive coordinator Frank Reich.
My Top Picks
The No. 1 slot goes to Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley. He could be an incredible head coach in the NFL if he brought in a quality defensive coordinator. Riley will have a lot of options including staying put. This could make it hard for the Bengals to convince him that Cincinnati is the place he wants to be, but the team’s starting running back would certainly help to persuade him.
Second is Dabo Swinney. Swinney is an experienced head coach who knows how to make a team into a winner. He can change a team’s culture and get them to compete for a Super Bowl. The Bengals need a coach who has proven that he can take a team from mediocrity to the promised land, and Swinney is just that guy.
Next is Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael. He is the offensive coordinator who seems most likely to be able to duplicate his success elsewhere. Carmichael makes great use of his personnel. Under Carmichael, Joe Mixon would reach his All-Pro potential.
Eric Bieniemy is fourth on the list. Bieniemy is an exciting choice for a team that hopes to duplicate what the Chiefs have done this season. Nagy’s success in Chicago will definitely help Bieniemy’s case. As a former Bengal, he may be someone who Mike Brown is already comfortable with.
The final candidate on my list is Tom Herman. He is not getting the attention that Riley is, but just like Riley he has success running not only an offense, but an entire team. It would take a leap of faith to hire Herman, but it could pay off in a big way. He may also bring defensive coordinator Todd Orlando with him, who got the most out of Malik Jefferson as his defensive coordinator in his final season at Texas and coached both William Jackson and Brandon Wilson at Houston.