The Cincinnati Bengals have their guy.
According to reports, Los Angeles Rams quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor is the apple in Cincinnati’s eye. Once the Rams postseason ends (either via elimination or a Super Bowl victory), the Bengals have singled out Taylor as their preferred head coaching candidate — reportedly a decision made by Katie Blackburn, another indication that her role continues to expand. It should be noted that an offer hasn’t been confirmed yet, which would violate league rules.
Taylor, a former Cincinnati Bearcats offensive coordinator quarterbacks coach (2016), would replace Marvin Lewis, who spent 16 seasons in Cincinnati as the franchise’s winningest coach. A mutual split was formerly decided on New Years eve after an embarrassing six-win season with the league’s worst-ranked defense and 26th-ranked offense.
After three straight losing seasons, change was obviously needed.
Taylor brings with him the enthusiasm of youth and insta-successes from first-year coaches, largely thanks to the impressive start of Sean McVay. The Rams second-year head coach, having already amassed an impressive 24-8 regular season record since 2017, will turn 33 this year. With the NFL being a copycat league, the Bengals wanted to inject something similar in Cincinnati. Taylor was sought out by other teams, and the Bengals were reportedly also interested in Rams passing game coordinator Shane Waldron (a name that could resurface in Cincinnati when Taylor builds his staff).
If Taylor accepts what appears to be an inevitable offer, it’ll mean that the 35-year old, who was an assistant wide receivers coach over a year ago, will surpass the usual head coaching ladder and take the top job with limited leadership experience. Should that elicit concern? Is there precedence within this franchise? Sam Wyche was 39 and a first-year NFL head coach when the Bengals hired him in 1984 (he was a college head coach in 1983). We know of his successes. Marvin Lewis went four years before suffering his first losing season; he concluded his run with more postseason appearances (7) than losing seasons (5). On the other hand, Dave Shula was 33 when the Bengals promoted him from wide receivers coach. We know that story too.
Yet, a coach like Taylor is exactly what Cincinnati needs right now; an outside hire; new blood; experience in a system at the forefront of another NFL evolution. With Taylor, the Bengals will have someone saturating the organization with fresh ideas that old school minds might not believe possible.
And it starts with a new coaching staff.
It was always believed that if Lewis resigned or unwillingly departed, Hue Jackson would emerge as his replacement. Why Jackson? Organizational familiarity, front office comfort, and an arrangement that would put Jackson in the big chair several years ago. However, he left for Cleveland and his NFL stock took a beating after a poor run with the Browns. Rather than being known for a brilliant offensive mind (which I still believe), Jackson’s name has emerged as a joke throughout the league as a poor head coach and someone that causes more chaos than stability.
Not only is Jackson not going to become Cincinnati’s next head coach, he won’t return in 2019 in any capacity. The same goes for offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, who was reportedly fired this week, joining linebackers coach Jim Haslett, running backs coach Kyle Caskey, and tight ends coach Jonathan Hayes. It’s not a total housecleaning though with special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons and offensive line coach Frank Pollack reportedly staying put.
Taylor will have a chance to hire an offensive and defensive coordinator, as well as position coaches on both sides of the ball. It’s unclear how much influence he will have beyond that — did he ask that Simmons and Pollack stick around, assuming a verbal agreement was made, or was that a front office decision? Shouldn’t a new head coach have complete authority on his coaching staff?
This isn’t a complete fix either. Despite the encouraging development that the team will feature a revamped coaching staff, the Bengals still need an enhanced personnel department, from giving complete authority to a named general manager, to a significant expansion in the scouting department. A more favorable approach with analytics helps — it shouldn’t rule the decision-making process, nor should it be ignored.
Who’s to say if Taylor is right for Cincinnati, or that his approach will lead to an improvement on areas Marvin Lewis struggled with? Despite the desire for first-year insta-success with baby-faced head coaches, new coaches typically require a handful of years to implement a system and build a roster with players ideal for that system. Coordinators need to be hired, and as Lewis discovered over the last two years, a bad coordinator can lead to a quick exit. A head coach can only do so much; if you don’t have a good coaching staff, you really don’t have a chance.
It’s an exciting time.
We’re starting to see a lot of new. Optimism. Who knows how any of this will translate over time. At least it’ll be an exciting journey to find out.