For Better And Worse, Marvin Lewis Was The Bengals

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Do you even remember the Bengals before Marvin Lewis? The Dave Shula–Bruce Coslet–Dick LeBeau trilogy of sadness? It is no overstatement to say that Lewis led this franchise to its golden age in the Mike Brown era, nor that Lewis was this franchise for a generation ... nor that what Lewis and this franchise were, at their best, was adequate.

Lewis is out as Bengals head coach, after 16 seasons and zero playoff wins. It had been a surprise that he returned after a disappointing 2017—hell, it’s been a surprise a few times over his career—but collapsing after a 4-1 start and missing the playoffs for a third straight year was apparently too much. This was not an appointment for life, no matter how it might’ve felt at times. And, in true Mike Brown fashion, it was drawn up so he won’t have to pay Lewis a cent more than necessary.


There’s a lot to recommend Lewis. He leaves behind a 131-129-3 record, seven postseason appearances, six double-digit-win seasons, and four division titles. He has 15 more wins than the next two winningest coaches in franchise history combined. All of this under Brown, the cheapest and perhaps worst owner in the league, who refuses to hire a GM or build an indoor practice facility. He hired a slew of coordinators that went on to become head coaches. He was well-liked by his players.

But: the playoff thing. Lewis’s Bengals were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round each and every one of the seven times they made it. It’s the worst postseason record in NFL history, of course. And of the five other NFL coaches who started the year with at least a decade with the same team, none of them had fewer than seven playoff wins. It’s a hell of an accomplishment just to make the playoffs, let alone five years in a row, but at a certain point, it stops being a quirky inability to get over the hump, and starts just being Sisyphean. Many times, NFL teams will make a change for the sake of making a change, whether or not the issues fall on the coach. This is not one of those times.