Marvin Lewis has gone from being a folk hero in Cincinnati to a subject of criticism and back again. When Mike Brown hired Lewis in 2003 the fan base was thrilled. Marvin Lewis was coming off of a successful one year stint as the defensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins and had previously coached the Baltimore defense to a Super Bowl victory in 2000. A successful head coach was something Bengals fans were not accustomed to due to a long line of internally hired coaches from a losing franchise.
A slow start in 2003 ended in an 8-8 campaign that was a sure sign of future success to fans, or so they thought. With Carson Palmer at quarterback for the first time in 2004 the team went 8-8 again and then made the playoffs the following season with an 11-5 record and AFC North championship. I was certain the Bengals were permanently on the upswing. Like I said before, other fans and I were quite wrong. A playoff loss later the Bengals reverted back to 8-8 in 2006 and a 7-9 mark in 2008. An injury to Palmer in 2008 left the team crippled offensively and their record fell even further to 4-11-1. At this point, Lewis’ popularity in Cincinnati was at its all time low.
A lot of blame in the NFL is often put on the head coach. Most teams probably would have dumped Marvin Lewis and his coaching staff before the team’s resurgence in 2009. However, the Bengals kept him around. I think that was the smartest move the franchise has ever made. Players seem to respect tenured coaches at any level of any sport. The trend in the NFL lately has been to switch coaches more often than players and I think that is extremely foolish. Offensive and defensive schemes in football are complex and often need tweaking. If a coach isn’t around more than a couple of seasons I don’t believe anyone can even get a glimpse of what his particular method could produce.
Marvin Lewis has shown his systems can succeed and he has stuck with Bob Bratkowski as his offensive coordinator for his entire term as head coach. It may not be a popular thing in the eyes of the fans these days, but consistency really is important. Without it, the Bengals wouldn’t be where they are now. The players seem to be comfortable in knowing the coaching staff is going to be there and I believe that is easier than trying to get players to buy into a new coaches philosophy. It is still unclear if the Bengals will stay on the rise this time, but their decision to keep the head coach in place is a smart one.