The Cincinnati Bengals completed one of the most incredible seasons in the franchises history, and they did it with a young core both on and off the field leading the way. We have heard so much about how Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins are a practically unstoppable trio. Off the field Cincinnati has an almost equally impressive core to help them through this next era of football.
The Bengals’ three entries on The Athletic’s third annual 40 under 40 list was headlined by an obvious choice:
Zac Taylor, Bengals | Age: 39
Taylor inherited a mess when he was hired by the Bengals in 2019, and while landing a franchise quarterback in Joe Burrow certainly helped accelerate the rebuild, Taylor has created a winning culture in Cincinnati. Now his challenge is sustaining the success from 2021 and building on it.
Going into the 2021 season, Taylor’s job was far from secure. The team had won just six games in two seasons, but you could tell they were on the precipice of something. They had plenty of close losses, and an upset over a playoff bound Pittsburgh Steeler team during Monday Night Football showed they were gaining momentum.
2021 wasn’t smooth sailing. This young team had plenty of ups and downs, but you could tell that Taylor’s goal of building a culture in Cincinnati that expected to win had finally taken hold. He helped this team get past coaches like Andy Reid and Mike Vrabel. You could argue with some of the coaching decisions he made, but it isn’t every year a coach as young as Taylor makes his way to a Super Bowl.
Brian Callahan, Bengals offensive coordinator | Age: 38
We saw how Callahan was viewed when he landed an interview for the Denver Broncos’ head coaching job. Odds are we won’t see him having to take many more interviews before he lands that job. That interview came before the Bengals game against the Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. We should also see a very productive offense without the offensive line holding back play calling. Of course having the experience of being an offensive coach with Peyton Manning gave Callahan experience that most coaches will never receive.
“(Manning) forced you to be so thorough. It taught me how to teach quarterbacks and how to give them the right information,” Callahan told The Athletic. “My job as a coach in that quarterback room, if you have a quarterback of Joe’s caliber, you want to empower him to have command over the whole thing. Seeing the way Peyton had control over the whole offense, that was valuable to me, and I can impart that to Joe.”
There is no doubt that the way he has helped Joe Burrow along will make him an attractive option of teams with a young quarterback or looking to draft one.
Elizabeth Blackburn, Bengals director of strategy and engagement | Age: 29
Blackburn’s name being on this list is not surprising to those who have been paying close attention to the Bengals these past two seasons. You can tell that the engagement with the fans has made a huge step, and Blackburn’s fingers are all over it.
Since [joining the Bengals’ front office], Blackburn has contributed to the launch of a Ring of Honor at Paul Brown Stadium and to a uniform redesign. She also helped manage a digital content team that finished in the top of the NFL in engagement rates the past two seasons.
It is no secret that Cincinnati is as close to a family run organization as you will find in professional sports. It all started with Mike Brown founding the Bengals in 1968 after being let go from the Cleveland Browns. Since then, the team has not left the Brown families hands. Mike Brown took over for his father, and we are already seeing Katie Blackburn being more and more involved with the team’s decisions. So it is natural that Elizabeth Blackburn is making waves of her own.
Her way of doing so involved gathering experience before joining her family’s ranks. That has led to one of the biggest turnarounds in front office and fan relationships that you will ever see.