In professional sports, there is no such thing as a safe job. If you remain successful, you continue to be employed. If you struggle continually, you will be out that door before you even realize what’s happening. This is especially true of NFL head coaches who are brought in with one goal: make a deep run in the playoffs. Normally, if you can’t succeed with this goal in a reasonable amount of time, usually at the most 5 years, you’re fired. This is why 5 of the top 6 longest-tenured head coaches have coached their team to a Super Bowl title. But there is that one exception and that man’s name is Marvin Lewis.
Lewis was hired by Mike Brown and the Cincinnati Bengals in 2003 when the Bengals were one of the worst teams in the NFL. The Bengals had finished 2-14 in the year before Lewis was hired. He improved the team to 8-8 his first two seasons and followed those years with an 11-5 year that led to the Bengals to the AFC Wild Card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bengals team was young and talented and seemed poised to make a run before Carson Palmer tore his ACL on the first play of the game and was replaced by Jon Kitna. Under Lewis, the Bengals have finished with a losing record only 4 times and missed the playoffs 7 times in his 14 seasons as head coach. He has an overall record of just over .500 with 7 playoff appearances and 4 AFC North titles.
The story of Lewis is a curious one. He is one of the most controversial head coaches in all of sports for several reasons. Most sports fans know him as the coach who hasn’t won a playoff game in 14 seasons of coaching. He is 0-7 in the playoffs, each loss more heartbreaking than the previous one. This postseason record has made Bengals fan call for Marvin Lewis’ job on a regular basis. Year after year of hopefulness ended by constant disappointment in the playoffs. This public outcry leads to the question: does Marvin Lewis actually deserve to be fired? I have always believed that he shouldn’t be fired for several reasons. One major reason is that he is the winningest coach in Bengals franchise history. He has 113 career wins with the Bengals. He has quietly been one of the best coaches in the NFL by leading the Bengals to 5 consecutive playoff appearances. Although, he may not have won any postseason games, he has turned this franchise around from what used to be one of the jokes of the league to a perennial playoff team. He won an AP Coach of the Year award in 2009 and with his experience as a defensive coordinator has consistently coached the Bengals to one of the top defensive teams in the league. Also, he has significantly improved the off-the-field discipline issues that plagued the Bengals in the early part of his tenure. Between players like Chris Henry and Odell Thurman, it seemed that not one month could go by without a Bengal being arrested. Marvin Lewis has righted those troubles and we hardly see a Bengal get in trouble off the field. One last reason I believe he should stay is because of his ability to draft well. It is common knowledge around Cincinnati that Lewis plays a big part in which player the Bengals draft. They have been recently successful drafting franchise cornerstones like AJ Green and Andy Dalton.
I believe that this is the make-or-break year for Marvin Lewis. The outrage of Bengals fans has reached a peak and if he fails to win a playoff game this year, it should mean the termination of Lewis’ job. Lewis certainly is a curious case to examine and one of the toughest decisions to make for an owner.