After almost 16 years of being the Bengals’ head coach, netting four division titles and seven playoff berths, it finally seems as if Marvin Lewis’ job might be in jeopardy. In speaking with the media this week, Lewis has apparently been given no guarantees about his position with the team after this season.
“No. I wouldn’t expect any or ask for any,” Lewis said of assurances from ownership about his 2019 status, via Katherine Terrell of ESPN. “Least of my worries.” When asked if he wanted to be coaching next season, he said: “My job is to coach the football team.”
Expecting any other answer at this point would be futile, and, from a humanity standpoint, Lewis having to answer questions like this isn’t an example of being in an enviable position. Still, the 2018 season appears to be heading in a dumpster fire-type of avenue, and barring some sort of miracle, it will be the team’s third straight losing season.
It has been quite the turnaround from 2011-2015, when the Bengals made five straight playoff tournaments. Even though that’s quite an accomplishment in itself, Lewis’ 0-7 postseason record has been the crux of major criticism.
Coming on the heels of Lewis’ proclamation is a report from NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport that the 2019 year on his current contract is an option to be exercised by the club. Last offseason, Lewis supposedly saved his job with two strong wins at the end of the season.
“I thought he took a team that was failing and turned it around the last couple of games. We didn’t get back quite to where I would like to see us, but we got back to a high enough level where we could play two good teams and beat them when they were on the spot to win,” Brown said about Lewis re-signing with the club back in January.
With the Bengals riding a hideous 1-6 streak since their thrilling Week 5 win over the Dolphins, many have been wondering if the team would let Lewis loose before the 2018 season concludes. After all, Brown green lighted the Hue Jackson hire (a guy many think is the heir apparent to Lewis), while the Green Bay Packers just fired Mike McCarthy after almost 13 seasons as their head coach.
But, even though the Bengals and Packers are conservatively-run franchises, there is little reason to believe that Lewis will be shown the door prematurely, as McCarthy was after Week 13. Brown is extremely loyal to people he trusts and Lewis falls into that category.
So, between that facet and the 2019 contractual option, all signs point to Lewis finishing at least these final four games. If Brown lets Lewis finish the 2018 season and decides not to bring him back in 2019, it’s likely less of a “firing” than a “mutual parting of ways” in Brown’s eyes, though not so much the case in the court of public opinion.
However, the big question is if Lewis has done enough (or will do enough over this next month) to see the rest of his contract through. Nice wins at the end of a lost season point to a team “not giving up on their coach”, but owners also look at a the bottom line; AKA revenue and profits.
Muddying the waters for Lewis staying in Cincinnati is a noticeable drop in attendance. Who Dey Nation has always been a passionate fan base, but tough losses and poor overall seasons easily drive the crowds away. It was very noticeable this Sunday against with the Denver Broncos in town and a playoff berth still on the line.
10 minutes in and here is your Bengals home crowd. #ABitSparse #TheNativesAreBeyondRestless pic.twitter.com/uZCYemMIUe— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) December 2, 2018
This Sunday wasn’t an outlier, though. Sure, the team trotting out an unproven backup quarterback, while missing a myriad of other big names are going to affect ticket sales, but this cynical fan base has seen enough over the years to have them shy away from investing heavy money in the team.
Dehner, Jr. also provided a very interesting bit of data regarding attendance trends at Paul Brown Stadium:
Lewis seems to have noticed the dip in attendance of late as well.
“The only way we win back the fans is to win football games,” Lewis said recently, via The Cincinnati Enquirer. “It’s been true the whole time we have been here. We have to win games to get people to come out and enjoy it on Sunday. That’s what the goal is. The players can’t be affected by that. They just have to go play. I tell them they have to bring their own energy. It’s got to be up to them. It’s us, that’s what counts.”
At times over the years, particularly in that solid five-year stretch in the first half of this decade, the players have garnered said energy. But, in these past three subpar seasons, general malaise and questionable effort have been on display at times on the field.
Continuing to win December games when you’re out of the playoff mix and failing to grab signature victories are keeping this franchise from making the leap into the league’s elite. Because of it, the fans are letting the team know how they feel in the form of hitting ownership in the pocketbook.
Whether that’s enough to push Brown to clean house this offseason remains to be seen, regardless of how these final four weeks play out.