In November of 2012, I wrote a piece called "Marvin Lewis is Straight-Up Teflon: No matter what happens in Cincy, Marvin Lewis' job is good money."
Despite the culture of instability, quick hooks and the constant coaching carousel that has plagued the way win-now NFL franchises treat their sideline generals, Lewis has defied all the odds. He’s the second-longest tenured coach in the league. Only Bill Belichick (16 years with New England Patriots) has served as a HC with the same team longer than Lewis who has survived 13 roller coaster years with the Bengals. The fact that Lewis is an African-American coach with no championship rings to sustain an audience or implore job security like a Mike Tomlinson, is even more impressive.
At the time of that piece, Lewis had a losing career record of 74-79-1 and was smack dab in the middle of another roller coaster season and the media and public outcry for his ousting was once again popping. Despite some rough four-win seasons, at that point in his regime, Lewis had also led the Bengals to two AFC North titles, and finished the 2012 season as a respectable 10-6 playoff team. Lewis had a young, promising second-year gunslinger called the “Red Rooster” who most people wanted to doubt more than they were willing to believe in him and trust Lewis’ acumen as a talent evaluator. He also had an emerging All-Pro receiver in A.J. Green and the youth movement was falling into place.
Most didn’t want Lewis gone because he sucked. It’s just that in these modern times, the sports mind is trained to turn on any player or coach who doesn’t achieve that coveted “championship” within a certain time frame. Under Lewis, the talented Bengals have consistently been someone's sexy choice to surprise and get back to the Super Bowl for the first time since Joe Montana put a last second dagger in their hearts back in 1988.
Lewis had some solid seasons, but he also had to deal with a whirlwind of issues totally unrelated to football and the way he navigated those tough times, endeared him to his owner even more and allowed for a continuity that has culminated in this season’s 6-0 start. A consistency that has churned and churned like butter and is now ready to spread a championship caliber clamp down on NFL foes.
The 2012 article explains why Lewis has survived in Cincy:
“Hard to imagine Lewis coaching anywhere else. Only (Bengals owner) Mike Brown can truly appreciate Lewis for the BS he’s had to overcome, and his decade-long service to the franchise.
Plus, if Lewis left Cincy, there’s no guarantee another head gig would pop. His teams are up and down like Lisa Rey in “Player’s Club” and were racking up Robert Downey Jr. arrest numbers for a stretch.
Marvin Lewis has probably felt more like the head of a psyche ward for an Ohio state correctional facility than Bengals’ coach. Lewis survived the Ocho Cinco era, which was rife with drama. The ignorance was highlighted by an early 2009 playoff exit and the bizarre death of troubled Chris Henry.
The Cincy soap opera hit rock bottom in an eight-day span in July 2011, when Bengals running back Cedric Benson was bagged for assault, safety Marvin White was cuffed-up at his child's Louisiana day care center, and cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones was arrested after the famed “Bandz A Make Her Dance” strip club incident. The wildin' out brought the Bengal’s arrest total to 37 since 2000, ranking them second behind Minnesota (40), according to a database maintained by the San Diego Union-Tribune.
That was Lewis’ Bone, Thugs and Harmony squad. There was a lot going on during that time and most heads thought Lewis would either be fired for lack of control, or quit due to stress. Brown and Lewis’ relationship has never been all rosy. The two have had philosophical differences, but shared a mutual respect. Lewis has gotten more vocal about his direction for the team, and Brown has responded with an improved player personnel department and infrastructural changes (and publicly surrendering full control to Lewis in 2014). The Bengals’ culture is also changing for the better. The continuity at the top, that Brown mentioned, is there as well.”
It set the stage and gave insight into how a rise like this could only happen for a franchise with an ownership that was oblivious to outside pressure and so egotistical and rationale as to believe that its decision was the only decision. The best decision.
It's more plausible that Mike Brown just took a page out of The Rooney’s book of heart-first leadership and hands-off management. Maybe he studied how they gave Bill Cowher 14 years, a lot of wins, a lot of negative criticism and some gut-wrenching losses, before he retired on top.
His Super Bowl victory was enhanced because of the background story. He wasn’t some hired gun who had three years to turn the franchise around. Cowher was allowed to lose big and learn and grow into a championship HC because his ownership valued the opinion of the players and the man behind the numbers. Slow and steady still wins the race in the NFL and Lewis is proof.
Lewis hasn’t missed a playoffs since going 4-12 in 2010. His losing record from 2012, has since transformed into a 106-90 record with six playoff appearances and four division c’hips.
The inconsistencies and ills of the past are a thing of the past. Lewis still reigns as the King of Ohio and he finally has worthy of Super Bowl consideration. However, he’s running out of excuses. At the very least, the Bengals have to advance to the AFC Championship or dethrone the mighty Patriots somewhere along the way. How many more chances will Lewis get to make good on the loyalty the franchise has shown him ? It’s now or never.
Andy Dalton is emerging as the real deal and licking his chops to show his playoff worth. He has deadly targets everywhere in Green and Jeremy Hill. Tyler Eifert has blossomed into a Top 3 tight end and Giovani Bernard’s speed in the backfield makes their offense unpredictable and lethal.
The Bengals have slayed all competition as they enter this Sunday’s game against AFC North Division-rival Pittsburgh. If they crack the Steelers, the Bengals will be 7-0 for the first time in team history.
Lewis has proved that his recipe works. His 13th season is shaping up to be his best ever. They have games coming against Arizona on November 22nd and Denver on Dec, 28 that will be signature contests. They have a quality win against Seattle to their credit, but the big dogs lurk on the horizon.
We will find out if Cincy is bluffin' gangster again or if they are really ready to be made men.
You have to figure one of these seasons will be a gold rush for Lewis. He’s never looking over his back. Just into the future and that gives him an advantage over most head coaches. It’s all about the game plan and how the Bengals claw their way back into championship contention after more than 30 decades of reliving a nightmare.
This a huge year for Bengals fans, but it’s a legacy season for Lewis. Is he finally going to justify the 13 years of immunity and reward Cincy fans with a title ? Will this era’s Bill Cowher go out a winner ? It’s the only obstacle he has left to accomplish as a leader.