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Are the Bengals better off with Marvin Lewis?

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Were the Bengals wise to opt for Marvin Lewis over the field of available candidates?

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Bengals fans were overwhelmingly disappointed when the Bengals did not move on from Marvin Lewis following the team’s second consecutive losing season in 2017.

And fans were generally justified in their frustration. After 15 seasons as the Bengals head coach, Lewis has failed to win a single playoff game, and has perpetually struggled to win meaningful games, such as games against good teams or in prime time.

The 2017 season seemed to be the culmination of futility as a team loaded with enough talented players struggled out of the game in what appeared to be a team which Lewis has lost.

So, when the Bengals re-upped with Lewis, signing him for two more seasons, it caught many by surprise and resonated very poorly with fans.

If the Bengals had followed thru on the wishes of about 99.7 percent of the fan’s desire to replace Lewis, who would the Bengals have gone with? There were seven head coaching changes following the 2017 season, and the Bengals would have been the eighth.

Would any of the other seven head coaches who were hired have been an upgrade over Lewis?

With one quarter of the teams replacing coaches, let’s run thru the list of NFL head coaching hires and see if there is anyone who was hired who would have been better for the Bengals than two more years of Lewis.

Detroit Lions: Matt Patricia

Patricia spent the past six seasons as the Patriots defensive coordinator, and his teams finished in the top 10 in each of those six seasons. Patricia seems to have a good football IQ, and the Patriots defense typically steps up when it counts the most.

Ultimately, Patricia would have likely been a great hire, had it come to fruition. But with an owner in Mike Brown who doesn’t give away pay, or control, easily, it’s hard to say that Patricia would have picked the Bengals over many other potential suitors.

Patricia apparently didn’t want to coach in a big market, and passed on the New York Giants. This would have worked in the Bengals favor, but would the Bengals have been willing to cut ties with Lewis and then sit back for a month until the Super Bowl ended, in hopes that Patricia would pick them?

Oakland Raiders: Jon Gruden

Despite being out of coaching for a decade, Gruden is probably a better option for the Bengals than Marvin Lewis – especially if you get the Gruden who was a great coach from 2000~2002. Over that three-year span his teams went 34-14 in the regular season, and 5-2 in the playoffs with a Super Bowl victory for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But in his final six seasons in the league his teams finished below 0.500 with zero playoff victories. If you get the Gruden from his final six years with subpar drafts and records, then you’re probably just swapping one 0.500 coach for another.

Regardless, it’s a moot point. The Raiders gave Guden a 10-year contract and $100 million, and while Mike Brown might be okay giving that much job security, there’s no way he’d toss $100 million at a coach.

New York Giants: Pat Shurmur

Would Shurmur be better than Lewis? I suppose it depends on which Shurmur you get. When he was running Chip Kelly’s offense in Philadelphia, the Eagles finished as a top five scoring offense both seasons. But in his other seasons as an offensive coordinator and head coach, his offenses have been in the bottom half of the league, which is where the 2017 Bengals ended up.

The one exception for Shurmur was last year, when the Vikings, aided by the league’s top defense, managed to be the 10th best scoring offense in the NFL. Shurmur was named the league’s top assistant coach because the Vikings finished with the NFC’s best record, despite resorting to their third string quarterback Case Keenum.

Of course, with Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford as the top two quarterbacks, the drop to Keenum isn’t very steep – it’s not like the drop from Tom Brady to Brian Hoyer, or Aaron Rodgers to Bryce Petty.

Shurmur did spend a couple seasons as an NFL head coach, going 9-23 with the Browns in 2011 and 2012. Granted that was the lowly Browns, and is better than Hue Jackson’s 1-31 mark. But 9-23 is essentially David Shula and Bruce Coslet territory.

And if the player decisions are going to be with the Bengals head coach and not with Mike Brown, would it really help the team to hire a coach whose teams used 1st round picks on Trent Richardson (who they traded UP for) and Brandon Weeden (over Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill, Kirk Cousins and Nick Foles)?

I’m not sure it does the Bengals any good to get rid of Lewis and hire a coach with a 0.281 winning percentage, and who they need to lock out of the war room on draft weekend.

Chicago Bears: Matt Nagy

The Bears are hoping that Matt Nagy is the next Sean McVay, but could the former arena league quarterback pull off that trick if he were the Bengals head coach? After serving as the Kansas City Chiefs quarterbacks coach for four seasons, Nagy spent a solitary season as the Chiefs offensive coordinator in 2017.

In that one season his offense got off to a hot start, averaging nearly 33 points per game over the first 5 weeks of the season, including 69 total points in the first two weeks in victories against the Super Bowl LII teams the Patriots and Eagles.

But teams caught up to his offense, and the Chiefs averaged 10 fewer points over the rest of the season, including an ugly offensive showing in an upset loss to the Tennessee Titans in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. McVay had a more proven track record than Nagy, spending three seasons leading the Washington Redskins’ offense to continually better results before being hired away by the Los Angeles Rams.

Nagy is much more of an unknown shot in the dark. Nagy managed to turn Alex Smith into an efficient game manager, with a 94 quarterback rating over the past five seasons, while averaging 20 touchdown passes per season, which is essentially what Andy Dalton is currently, who has averaged 24 touchdown passes ans a 91 rating over that same span.

Nagy did have that hot start to 2017, but I’m not sure that means he is any better than Lewis.

Arizona Cardinals: Steve Wilks

Producing results isn’t everything, but you are paid to produce, right? Steve Wilks may be a great person and a coach the players respond to, but at the end of the day, you’re hired for what you can get accomplished on the field.

In that regard, Wilks spent spent five seasons with the Panthers as the defensive backs coach with mixed results. In his final season in that role his unit surrendered almost 4,300 passing yards and 27 touchdowns before being promoted to defensive coordinator.

In his one season as the defensive coordinator, his team finished 11th in points allowed. Despite a solid roster with Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Kawann Short and Julius Peppers, among other, the Panthers defense was more a collection of great players than a great defense. He parlayed this adequate performance into a head coaching gig with the Arizona Cardinals.

This isn’t the first time Wilks has been a head coach. Back in 1999 he coached NCAA Division II Savannah State, leading them to a 5-6 record. Would Wilks have been a better option than Lewis? If you’re in the camp that wants anybody other than Lewis, it would be a good hire.

Otherwise there is little in his track record that would suggest he’s a clear upgrade over Lewis.

Tennessee Titans: Mike Vrabel

This hire doesn’t seem to make a ton of sense unless you are desperate for a warm body to fill a spot and want to take a flier on somebody. Mike Vrabel with the Bengals wouldn’t be a great choice, since they have a short window for success before A.J. Green, Andy Dalton, Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, etc… pass their primes, and can’t really wait to see if Vrabel can go from unsuccessful assistant coach to successful head coach.

Vrabel has spent four seasons coaching in the NFL, spending three of them as the Texans linebackers coach, before serving as the defensive coordinator this past season. His Texans defense finished dead last with 436 points scored against them, which set a team record (even worse than their expansion years).

As frustrated as fans may be with Lewis, he likely gives them a better chance to win than Vrabel. Signing Vrabel would be akin to the poker player who has been losing all night, and decides to go all-in with an ace high, hoping chance defies the odds and things work out.

Indianapolis Colts: Josh McDaniels Frank Reich

The Colts are clearly in the worst position of the teams who got rid of their head coach after the 2017 season. With the Senior Bowl in the rear-view mirror, and the combine fast approaching, the Colts just now hired their head coach in Frank Reich. They were spurned by Josh McDaniels after all of the other coaches had been hired, and now they are in a bad situation, having had to look for a prom date after all of the cute girls have been snatched up. Had the Bengals moved on from Lewis and been in on McDaniels, this could be their present predicament.