Bengals’ Marvin Lewis reportedly will step down to ‘pursue other opportunities’ in offseason
In a rare moment of candor last week, Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis reflected on his time in the Queen City — almost 15 years now — and shed light on his future.
“We all realize that when you sign up for these jobs, the thing is it’s not forever,” Lewis said. “I think we all accept that.”
Lewis apparently has accepted it more than we knew at the time. According to an ESPN report, Lewis is planning to step down following this season “to pursue opportunities elsewhere,” although it’s not known what those opportunities are.
What is known is that Lewis, the NFL’s second-longest-tenured coach behind New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, is entering the final three games of his Bengals tenure. Lewis’ contract was up after the season — a rare lame-duck situation in the league — as well as those of most, if not all, of his assistant coaches.
The Bengals are a disappointing 5-8 entering Sunday’s game, which likely sped up his decision a bit. Lewis has amassed a record of 123-111-3 in Cincinnati and helped wake up a dormant, losing franchise. There’s little argument that Lewis changed the culture there, as the Bengals went 88-168 with one playoff appearance in the 16 seasons before his arrival.
But Lewis’ biggest failure came in the playoffs — although the Bengals reached the postseason seven times under his watch, and six in an eight-year span, they were 0-7 in those games. He’s the first NFL head coach to lose his first seven playoff games.
There has been a belief for more than a year now that Lewis was plotting his exit and that owner Mike Brown was willing to let him go out in a respectful way, as close to on Lewis’ terms as the team could allow. On Friday, Lewis was asked if he and Brown had spoken about the future, and Lewis merely said, “At some point we’ll have a conversation.”
He added: “My future is Sunday. Just win the game. You get paid to do a job.”
The Bengals travel to face the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, facing old friend Mike Zimmer. It would be a massive victory if the Bengals could pull the upset over the 10-3 Vikings.
Familiarity also could play a part in who succeeds Lewis with the Bengals. No, it will not be Zimmer, who is locked in there. But it could be someone else who worked under Lewis in Cincinnati. A name to keep in mind, should he come free: Hue Jackson, who has remained close to Lewis over the years and who was believed to be Lewis’ first choice at one point to replace him with the Bengals before Brown took the head-coaching job with the Cleveland Browns.
There clearly are some obstacles here for this to happen. Chiefly, Jackson is under contract and Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has said multiple times he’ll return in 2018. Also, the idea of selling a replacement for Lewis in the form of a coach who has amassed a record of 1-28 might not go over too well, even with the familiarity there.
But new Browns GM John Dorsey might not be as keen on Jackson coming back, and this sudden opening could grease the wheels to making the Jackson-to-Cincy thing possible. If Jackson is not in the picture but the Bengals are willing to go with someone Lewis has worked with before, his coaching tree is rather expansive and impressive.
Jay Gruden and Vance Joseph have appeared to be on somewhat shaky ground this season with Washington and Denver, respectively, but might not be available either. Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier has head-coaching experience and could be an option. So could members of Lewis’ current staff, such as defensive coordinator Paul Guenther and special-teams coordinator Darrin Simmons, who stepped in for Lewis one day this summer during a brief absence.
Of course, going outside the organization also is a strong possibility. It might be a time for new blood and a fresh approach as the results in recent years have become stale. Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin certainly will want to have a say in matters, but Brown and executive vice president Katie Blackburn have to be considered the final voices on any decision of this magnitude.
The Bengals have some young, unrefined talent but also might be entering a period of transition in the coming year. The next head coach will be asked to build on the foundation Lewis laid down, which can’t be overlooked, but also turn the page a bit. It would not be surprising to see an offensive-minded head coach be considered to replace him.