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The complicated legacy of Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati

Marvin Lewis bengals legacy

It has been a week since the first reports that longtime Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis would step down at the end of the season became public. While we have not gotten confirmation from the relevant parties involved, we also have not gotten anything that approaches a denial.

With no playoff wins in 15 years and consecutive seasons of at least nine losses, the opinion of most fans on the potential departure of Lewis is either “good riddance” or “it’s about time.”

If the end is near for Lewis in Cincinnati, the sentiment in the above paragraph is not unwarranted, but it is also not entirely fair. Here is a closer look at the legacy Lewis may be leaving behind in the very near future.

What he walked into

Simply put, Lewis took over the worst franchise in professional sports when he was hired after the 2002 season. The team had not posted a winning record since 1990 and all but two seasons since then had featured double-digit losses. Naturally, the fan base simply did not care. The Bengals were irrelevant in their own city and home games were like funerals.

As bad as that sounds, words on a page alone do not do this period in Bengals history justice. Check out the 12 Days of Christmas parody below from John Bunyan on YouTube. It was done by a Cincinnati radio and television station towards the end of a 2-14 season in 2002. Many coaches would not have even considered this job, and who could blame them?

What he did

However, from the second Lewis was hired, Cincinnati was a different franchise. Perhaps his biggest impact was felt in the draft. Owner Mike Brown has long been known for total control of that aspect of the Bengals organization. In 1999, New Orleans offered its entire draft to Cincinnati in an effort to draft Ricky Williams. Williams did eventually wind up with the Saints, but Brown and the Bengals stayed put and took Oregon quarterback Akili Smith. Smith played four seasons in Cincinnati and never had a passer rating higher than 73.4.

Things were very different under Lewis. It was not so much drafting high profile names like Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton. It was getting guys like Marvin Jones, Geno Atkins, George Iloka, Mohamed Sanu and Domata Peko in the middle rounds. All those players became key contributors on playoff teams for the Bengals. Make no mistake, the owner’s eye for talent did not magically improve. The difference was Lewis.

A.J. Green
Photo from whodeyfans.com

Unfortunately, his 0-7 playoff mark is what Lewis will be remembered for most in Cincinnati. However, this franchise has been in the playoffs seven times with Lewis as its coach. That is the same number of postseason trips made by all other coaches in franchise history combined.

When Lewis was hired in 2003, every Bengals fan on the planet would have signed on the dotted line for seven playoff trips in 15 years. If any fan says different, they are lying. Of course, any fan would have liked to have seen a playoff win or two. Even so, prior to the Lewis era, the playoffs were a figment of Cincinnati’s imagination. Lewis turned them into a realistic expectation.

His time in Cincinnati has probably gone on a few seasons too long, but that is not his fault. If Lewis does indeed leave after this season, the organization will be in infinitely better shape than when he arrived. That should be the ultimate goal of any NFL head coach.

Looking ahead

Should the Bengals job become available this offseason, it will be one of the more attractive openings on the market. Whether it is Dalton or AJ McCarron, whoever takes over will inherit a serviceable NFL quarterback, one of the best wide receivers in the game, at least one solid running back and a defense with a few playmakers. That is more than 99 percent of head coaches get when taking a new job.

A good portion of that can and should be attributed to Lewis. Whenever his time in Cincinnati ends, Lewis will have done an incredible job.

 

Featured image from upi.com

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