For all of Marvin Lewis’ faults, he is still a good coach. Not a great coach, but a good coach.
Now, the Bengals’ front office is tasked with finding a great coach.
Part of the reason they even kept Lewis for so long is because, while he was not a great coach, there are hardly ever any great coaches on the open market. So while Lewis was not a great coach, their options for finding an upgrade always seemed limited in their minds.
Firing Lewis says that the front office is confident that they can find a better head coach.
History tells us, however, that finding the next great head coach is easier said than done. In fact, two of the head coaches the Bengals are interviewing are recently fired head coaches themselves. This means they were at one time thought to be the solutions to their franchises’ problems.
So how will the Bengals fill their head coaching vacancy?
They have interviewed or scheduled interviews for eight candidates so far. Which ones should the Bengals take seriously, and which ones should they consider not hiring?
1. Todd Monken
The Buccaneers’ offensive coordinator only has one stint as a head coach on his resume. Before he was hired as the head coach of Southern Mississippi, the Golden Eagles were 0-12 in 2012. But when Monken became the Buccaneers’ head coach after the 2015 season, he left a 9-5 Southern Miss team that was 7-1 in Conference USA.
Monken took over a middle-of-the-pack Bucs offense in 2016, but he quickly turned things around. In 2018, the Buccaneers’ offense was third on total offense and first in passing yards, all while rotating between Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston under center.
The fact that Monken had such success with the Buccaneers’ offense in such terrible circumstances is quite the accomplishment. With a bad head coach, defense, rushing game, and quarterback room, Monken worked miracles to get his passing game off the ground. He should get a medal for making Fitzpatrick look historically great at the beginning of the season.
So if Monken were to join the Bengals, he would have a much better team to work with. If he could only harness half the talent of Andy Dalton, Joe Mixon, A.J. Green, and Tyler Boyd, he would already have more to work with in Cincinnati than he did in Tampa.
While the vast majority of his coaching experience has been in the NCAA, he could really boost the Bengals’ struggling offense.
2. Zac Taylor
The Rams passing offense has exploded in the past couple of years under head coach Sean McVay, and Taylor has been a crucial part of it.
Taylor has spent a year as the quarterbacks coach after a year of coaching the Rams’ wide receivers.
After rising through the Dolphins’ system in the years prior, Taylor’s only experience calling plays came at the tail end of the 2015 season when Miami fired then-offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. Taylor then accepted the offensive coordinator position with the University of Cincinnati in 2016, and made his way back to the NFL via the Rams in 2017.
In Los Angeles, Taylor has helped third-year quarterback Jared Goff rack up 4,688 passing yards, good for fourth in the NFL this year. If not for the unprecedented dominance of passing offenses around the league this season, Goff may well have been able to lead the league in passing in most other seasons.
Taylor has done such a great job with Goff and is being interviewed by the Cardinals and Broncos for their head coaching jobs as well. He would be the number one coach on this list if not for his inexperience. The 35-year-old only has ten years of coaching experience, and only has five games of calling an NFL offense under his belt.
Other than that, Taylor is a bright, young prospect and will get a chance to command the helm of an NFL team in 2019, whether it is for the Bengals or not.
3. Shane Waldron
Beginning his coaching career with the Patriots at the onset of the Bill Belichick era, Waldron has coached all over the offense. The former college tight end has had a number of jobs as an offensive assistant, tight ends coach, offensive line coach, wide receivers coach, and now as the Rams’ passing game coordinator.
Waldron would be a great boost for the offense. Not only would he be a huge help to Dalton and Green in the passing game, but he would also be able to coach pretty much everybody hands-on.
Again, Goff’s 4,688 was greatly assisted by an excellent coaching staff put together by McVay. The Ram’s passing game was nearly unstoppable this season and Los Angeles was one of three teams in the NFL with two 1,000-yard receivers, Robert Woods and Brandon Cooks. Cooper Kupp was on pace to join them before he missed half of the season with an injury.
The only coach on this list younger than Waldron is Taylor. So if the Bengals are looking for a long term investment, they could go to the 39-year-old and count on him for years to come if he were to prove successful.
4. Vance Joseph
This is the point in the list where we start getting to the lesser qualified, and unfortunately, a couple of the most likely candidates to land the job.
Though Vance Joseph is an external candidate, he was an assistant under Lewis, so there is still plenty of familiarity there. Joseph bounced around the NCAA and the NFL as a defensive backs coach for 12 years before landing in Cincinnati in 2014. He stayed for two seasons before taking the defensive coordinator job in Miami for the 2016 season before taking on a head coaching job for the Broncos in 2017.
The highest ranked coach on this list with head coaching experience, his two years in Denver were not kind to him. Joseph went 11-21, and though he showed some improvement, he couldn’t do enough to save his job.
While normally a .344 career winning percentage is usually not good, he will probably get another shot at coaching an NFL team again soon. His offense was never very good because the Broncos haven’t been able to land a solid quarterback since Peyton Manning. Secondly, two of the Broncos’ rivals are two of the best teams in the AFC.
Nonetheless, the Broncos have been unable to post a winning record since winning Super Bowl 50, and Joseph has to shoulder most of the blame for it.
But don’t be surprised if the Bengals are the team that gives him his second chance.
5. Darrin Simmons
The first internal candidate to appear on the list, the current special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons reportedly had “a real good shot at the job” upon Lewis’ dismissal.
Simmons was the punter for Kansas in the mid ‘90s. After graduation, he joined the Ravens coaching staff in 1998, which is the same year they hired Lewis as defensive coordinator. After serving as assistant special teams coordinator for the Ravens and Panthers, Lewis’ Bengals added him to the Bengals staff as the special teams coordinator in 2003.
Since he has held the same job for 15 years, he seems like another likely candidate for Mike Brown. That is his most attractive quality; familiarity with the organization gives him an enormous advantage over the other candidates.
What are Simmons’ cons? The most obvious is that he has no coaching experience outside of special teams. He has done nothing but special teams since his NFL coaching career began 20 years ago.
The special teams players he has coached, however, have turned out well. He has had special teamer’s Cedric Peerman and Clark Harris go to the Pro Bowl in recent years, and Clayton Fejedelem and Alex Erickson have been named alternates. Not bad for a sixth-round pick (Peerman), two seventh rounders (Harris and Fejedelem), and a former undrafted free agent (Erickson).
Simmons is the most attractive internal candidate, but he will definitely need to hire some great assistants to help him on offense and defense. But if his track record of developing players holds, the Bengals could do a lot worse.
6. Eric Bieniemy
The Chiefs’ offensive coordinator is considered to be one of the best offensive coaches in the league right now and has interviewed with the Bucs, Jets, and Dolphins along with the Bengals.
So why is he so low on this list?
His rap sheet is longer than anyone else on currently on the Bengals. For a team trying to change their image and culture, Bieniemy wouldn’t exactly be the best choice.
It’s one thing to overlook an incident or two if you think the person in question just made a simple mistake. It’s another thing to overlook multiple cases of assault, a DUI, and being dismissed from a university that was being investigated for rape allegations. Not all of the incidents individually are as incriminating as they seem, but the pattern and accumulation of such events is at the very least a cause for concern.
So while Bieniemy is a good football coach, he may not be a great leader.
7. Bill Lazor
The Bengals current offensive coordinator got an interview for the job, but probably a result of the Bengals wanting to conduct a thorough search. Lazor may not even be the team’s offensive coordinator next year, let alone a head coach. But since he interviewed, we will treat here like he has a good chance to get the job, and some oddsmakers agree.
The Bengals offense has been very, very bad since 2016, and though a lot of the blame falls on former OC Ken Zampese, some also fall on Lazor.
Lazor did an admirable job taking over for Zampese last season and actually scored touchdowns. But the offense took a huge slide backward midway through the 2018 season. The Bengals put 30.6 points on the scoreboard in their first five games, but the average sank to 19.5 points a game over the last 11 games of the season. A rash of injuries didn’t help, but there were just not replacements to be found for the injured players on a roster that showed so much promise during the preseason.
Another reason for the offensive stagnation was the vanilla and predictable play calling on offense. Lazor did some great things with Green at the beginning of the season, but once Green hit injured reserve, the offense looked completely different. Lazor’s game script went out the window, and the offense couldn’t generate any creativity.
So whether Lazor is getting a courtesy interview or serious consideration, the Bengals should think twice about giving him the reigns. It wouldn’t even be surprising if the new head coach found someone else to call the plays.
8. Hue Jackson
Possibly one of the worst coaches in NFL history, Hue Jackson is one of the more likely candidates for the Bengals’ job.
With the Browns, Jackson won three games in two and a half seasons. Jackson finished his most recent head coaching stint with a .086 winning percentage. His career .206 percentage is the lowest among active coaches, and second lowest in NFL history among coaches that have appeared 50 games or more as a head coach (edging out Bert Bell with a .170 percentage).
Jackson split 2018 between the Browns and the Bengals, and both franchises did much better without him. As CJ’s Matt Minich said recently, “Not only did he go 0-16 in 2017, in 2018 the combined record of the Browns and Bengals while they employed him was 3-11-1, while the pair combined to go 10-7 without him.”
The main reason Jackson is getting an interview is because he was likely Lewis’ chosen replacement. Lewis brought him in to help coach the offense as Lewis took over the defense; Lewis has the highest opinion of Jackson as probably anyone on planet Earth.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Brown’s familiarity with Jackson is another check in the “pro” column. The fact that Jackson has three stints on the Bengals’ staff shows how much respect they have for him.
While he would make a decent OC, he is possibly one of the worst head coaches of all time. He is adequate with X’s and O’s, but is terrible at leading a team. In his last season in Cleveland, the locker room, his OC, the front office, and his first overall draft pick turned against him. The fact that the Browns have won more games in half a season without him then they did in two and a half seasons with him says it all.