This is a simple but an important question. Marvin Lewis is going into his 10th season as head coach of the Bengals. Only two other coaches — Bill Belichick and Andy Reid — held their current job when he became the HC in 2003. In fact, only 7 current head coaches have more experience than Marvin has. In an era of disposable staff, he has found unusual longevity.
Given that Marvin’s overall regular season record as HC currently stands at 69-74 (.483), that longevity is particularly unusual. The NFL is a win-now entity, and guys who hover around .500 generally do not get such a long period to establish a winning record. But when he agreed to work for Mike Brown, Marvin had to know that he was signing with a man who places atypical value on continuity.
Also working against his favor is his 0-3 postseason record. Getting to the playoffs was great in 2005 after suffering through the Lost Decade, but three quick exits have left simply making it to the dance feeling empty. Fans have tasted success and raised their expectations. To this point, Marvin has not delivered on them.
We cannot properly judge Marvin’s time as coach without taking into consideration the condition of the team before he arrived. His 69 wins in 9 seasons tower above the mere 52 wins in 11 seasons amassed by the trio of HCs before him. (That is 11 fewer wins than the anemic Browns have collected over the past 11 seasons.) He may not yet have taken the team as far as fans want to go, but he has certainly managed to outshine Shula, Coslet and LeBeau by comparison.
Another factor in assessing your opinion of Marvin is sure to be the man who employs him, Mike Brown, whom Marvin must please while trying to build a winning team. In many ways, Brown is like the moving sidewalk at the airport, constantly dragging the team toward the putrid through his infatuation with “redeeming” troubled players and refusal to keep pace with other teams in staffing and facilities.
Though we may never know for sure, many fans believe that Marvin’s greatest success with the team has not been on the field but in getting the black-thumbed owner to relinquish much of the operation of the team. There is no denying that the vibe of the organization is not what it used to be. The recent outstanding draft classes, the avoidance of players with character issues and removal of locker room distractions, and an overdue overhaul of the coaching staff are taking the team in a new direction, one that he had begun to find a few years into his tenure but was derailed by clowns and dopes.
Those who would prefer to move on from Marvin are at odds with the great Bengal and uber-commentator Cris Collinsworth, who told Dan Hoard that he is one who believes in Marvin. He is one who thinks that Marvin has finally brought the Bengals to the threshold of being a significant factor in the NFL. Will this be the season that he finally makes his mark on the league?
I hope he does, not simply for a winning season and some swagger rights, but for the leverage it will give him with the team as he negotiates another contract after the season. Whatever medicine he has been feeding the organization, one more heaping helping could be the final dose he needs to build a lasting winner.