Why Marvin Lewis Can Coach My Team

It appears after 15 years he’s on his way out in Cincinnati. If so, here’s why he should reappear on an NFL sideline.

The second longest coaching tenure in the National Football League may come to a conclusion when Marvin Lewis coaches the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday evening against Baltimore.

After two straight losing seasons its easy to forget that when Lewis became the Bengals’ coach in 2003, the franchise was looked upon much like the Cleveland Browns are today. Cincinnati was a perennial loser that hadn’t been to the playoffs since 1990.

But under Lewis the Bengals immediately went from 2–14 to 8–8 in one season with largely the same roster he inherited. Once franchise quarterback Carson Palmer began to play, the Bengals would win their division for Cincinnati’s first postseason appearance in 15 years.

This helps explain why only Bill Belichick has coached the same NFL team longer than Lewis. In 15 years as Cincinnati’s coach he has a winning record and even took the Bengals to five straight playoff appearances. Previously the Bengals had only made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons once. Half of the franchise’s playoff appearances have come with Lewis as coach.

But if you’re wondering why there isn’t more reverence for Lewis’ coaching in Cincinnati and why he’s on the hot seat, it relates to Marky Billson Sports Maxim №3: Judge a coach or manager by his playoff record.

During the regular season, a coach’s talent will win out. During the playoffs, talent is equal, and strategy is the determining factor.

And Lewis’ postseason record is 0–7.

There also seems to be a lack of discipline. Off field incidents were commonplace for the Bengals under Lewis.

I sometimes wonder if it is proper to blame a coach for a player’s off-field problems. No coach tells a player “go break the law.”

But he is the coach who gave Pac Man Jones and his 10 arrests a job. He drafted Joe Mixon. There was the total lack of discipline with back-to-back unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the final minute that led directly to the Bengals’ 18–16 playoff loss to Pittsburgh two years ago.

It’s obvious Lewis does not view a player’s character or arrest record against him, especially because the Bengals’ lean staff has had Lewis do much scouting and drafting himself.

This is the Achilles heel of a coach who impressed me lo those 15 years ago when I did a story about him as the Washington Redskins’ new defensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Maybe I should hold Lewis’ postseason record and his decisions on formulating a roster against him more. But at the end of the day, I see a coach who transformed a franchise from laughingstock status to respectability.

And Lewis did it in a division in which during the 15 years he has coached, the Steelers and Ravens have combined for only four losing seasons.

Yes, there are the Browns to pick off two easy victories from every year. But there were no free rides after that.

Mike Brown, who upon taking over the reigns of the franchise upon his father’s death destroyed it? Yeah, he’s still around, serving as the General Manager. It’s been reported Massillon High School, whom Brown’s father Paul also coached once upon a time, has nicer facilities.

Yet Lewis succeeded under Brown, just as he succeeded, as the Baltimore Ravens’ defensive coordinator in their 2000 Super Bowl championship season, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ linebackers coach in their 1995 AFC Championship season, and even, in a statistical sense, when he guided the Washington Redskins’ defense to a 5th place ranking in the NFL with no 300 yard passing games allowed in 2002 under Steve Spurrier.

It used to be Lewis voice greeted callers to the Bengals’ ticket office on an automated message, which is both a testament to his one-time popularity as well as Cincinnati’s aforementioned lean staff.

It probably won’t in the future. If, after 15 years, you’re 6–9 after a 6–9–1 season, the natural order of things is to go in another direction. It might even be better for Lewis than Cincinnati.

Because Brown is not the man you want controlling your franchise and reports are he’d like to lure Hue Jackson, yes, 1–30 Hue Jackson, from the Cleveland Browns. The Bengals may have had a couple of losing seasons since 2015, but there’s a big difference between a couple of 9-loss seasons and perennial ineptitude.

When he’s worked with good football people around him with the Steelers and Ravens, Lewis helped teams go to the Super Bowl. I’m pretty sure if he works for a good coach or a general manager willing to red flag a couple of his bad apples in the future, Lewis will be back.

Marky Billson hosts Tri-Cities Sports NOW on 1420 NBC Sports Radio Tri-Cities weekdays from 12–2 p.m. and the show can be seen live or recorded here.

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