There’s an unusual mix of optimism and trepidation amongst Bengals fans right now. Owner Mike Brown has finally let go of long-time head coach Marvin Lewis, but the dread of them hiring an internal candidate to replace him grows by the day. Still, with one of the youngest rosters in the NFL and a solid base of core players, you’d think Cincinnati would be an attractive option for head coaching candidates from around the league to consider.
Mike Sando of ESPN is here to rain on your parade though as he lists the vacancy in Cincinnati as the worst of the eight head coach openings in the NFL. That same list has the Browns tied for the top spot with the Packers.
Where are the most desirable spots for a head coach to start in 2019?— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 3, 2019
After talking to NFL Insiders, @SandoESPN ranked 'em: pic.twitter.com/ylf4BTmMZM
In Sando’s defense, he does list a few notable positives for the Bengals’ job, like how patient the organization has proven to be. In today’s NFL, that could be a huge selling point.
It’s become a near yearly occasion to see a franchise (typically a bad one) oust their first-year head coach. Some teams, no matter how competent or incompetent their coach is, just aren’t capable of competing with the roster that the coach is initially handed. To pull the plug on a first-year coach is pretty ridiculous regardless of circumstance, but it’s unfathomable to think something like that would happen in Cincinnati after the team held onto its coach for 16 years.
In addition, firing a head coach after just one year could hurt that coach’s opportunity at landing another head coaching in the near future, as it will probably force him back into a minor role for a few more seasons. It’s just bad business for all parties, and people should know that it’s not something likely to occur under Mike Brown.
The negatives that Sando lists don’t seem like terrible traits for a job though.
“[Owner] Mike Brown is stepping away from this, so it is going to be more [daughter] Katie Blackburn’s call,” One coach told Sando. “Maybe she is way better than her father and this is a gold mine for someone. We just do not know.”
Sando also piles on by implying the Bengals are set in their ways by focusing on candidates who have pretty much come from Lewis’ coaching tree. However, the Bengals have put in several requests to interview coaches from outside of that tree.
The biggest negative is that the team doesn’t officially have a general manager like a vast majority of the NFL. It has almost become mandatory that teams have one in order to be successful. Although, you could argue that Director of Player Personnel Duke Tobin operates in the role of a general manager.
It seems like any worries about the job could be figured out by simply having an interview with the team. After all, teams interviewing these coaches is just as much about selling themselves as trying to find the right coach. As long as the Bengals ownership is upfront about how things will be wit the coach (like how much say they will have in personnel decisions) then it is hard to say the opening is a “boom or bust” as one executive told Shando.
There are far worse situations out there. With the Bengals, you have a high draft pick and a roster that only really has a few glaring holes. With the right coaching staff, you could even argue that some under performing players could finally see their potential realized. Even having increased competitions due to a change in leadership could motivate players who were otherwise buried on the roster behind players who were coddled in front of them.
One major selling point that we won’t have any idea about involves the quarterback position. Andy Dalton will be a huge topic of discussion in the coming months and even going into next year, and a brand new head coach may want to get his own guy as soon as possible. But what if he’s required to be handcuffed to Dalton up until his contract expires in 2021?
Dalton has been a polarizing quarterback for most of his time in the NFL, but he has shown he can perform with talent around him, which puts him at about average in the NFL. The team could part ways with him this offseason without any cap penalty, although that is very unlikely. More likely would be a coach allowed to bring in more of a competition at that position, rather than having guys like Jeff Driskel and AJ McCarron cemented in as backups.
All in all, it is easy to see why outsiders would be afraid of the opening in Cincinnati, but you could just as easily argue the positives outweigh the negatives. At the very least, openings such as the Cardinals, Broncos or even the Dolphins have just as many warts as the one in Southwest Ohio.
It’s simply a matter of perception, which the Bengals can be on their way to improve if they nail this hire.