Opinion: Why It May Be Best for Marvin Lewis to Step Down
The sudden blast of wintry winds this week reflected the dour mood of Cincinnati, as its people trudged ahead after watching their team lose in the first round of the playoffs for the fourth straight season. Questions abound for the Bengals as the frustration that fans feel at this point is slipping into resignation and indifference. Annually ending the holiday season with a disappointing playoff loss further weakens the always-tenuous enthusiasm the city has for its team.
This is always a time of close scrutiny of the various tiers of influence within the Bengals organization so that fans and commentators can properly allocate blame for the team's inability to break through to higher ground. The process becomes a hostile performance review where often times jobs are called for by the public, but in Cincinnati, rarely does it transpire that way.
Owner Mike Brown is often glazed over in such a discussion because he's a constant force that no one can fire, so why bother? Those that say his way of business is good enough to keep the ship afloat but not good enough to win rings have plenty of years to back that claim up at this point. His hiring of Marvin Lewis all those years back steadied a tail-spinning franchise, but such steadiness may keep the team closer to the middle of the pack than many would like.
The closing of this season presents a rather clean-cut exit ramp for Lewis if he were interested in a change. He currently heads into next season with a lame-duck status that rarely inspires confidence in anyone on the team when the situation unfolds. Also, at this point, he may have maximized this group to his fullest potential.
Despite the youth in many of the core members of this team, its window of opportunity is closing.
After four seasons, we now fully know the capabilities of Andy Dalton. Over the previous three seasons, he continued to play well enough to appear that he was indeed improving year by year. This year, however, he plateaued firmly into mediocrity and proved that he needs a full compliment of receivers and perhaps his former coordinator Jay Gruden to play at a respectable level. Not only are his physical attributes average at best, his leadership skills are now questioned after another playoff loss and host of complete beat-downs of confidence this season.
That being said, it's hard to blame Marvin Lewis for Andy Dalton. When Carson Palmer quit the Bengals, the team needed a quarterback. They hired Gruden, he wanted Dalton, and out of that quarterback class, he is still not a bad pick. Gruden developed him and they put up quality stats and won games. Even then, though, we could see Dalton's limitations and knew it would take a great supporting cast for him to get to the next playoff round.
By the time the Bengals got to the playoffs this time, they were too injured to hang with a good team like Indianapolis and flinched once more in the face of success. In the locker room after the game, those individuals had to have looked at each other with doubt that they can overcome this road block they face each year.
From the outside, it seems so daunting for Marvin Lewis to come back, breathe the spirit back into a deflated, tired and surly team, find and develop a quarterback to compete with Dalton in training camp, quiet the critics about the playoff failures, and convince the Bengal faithful that he can do it this time.
If he carries on leading the torch to this franchise it will in a sense be the beginning of this fourth term with the team.
He made football fun again in 2003 when he first came on, patching together a roster of B-list free agents and wild young personalities to form a competitive team seemingly overnight. Carson Palmer skyrocketed onto the scene and looked like a can't-miss superstar with a heavy arsenal of play-makers around him. The 2005 team is still the best Marvin Lewis team ever in many's opinion, but a blasted Palmer knee in his first series of his first playoff game began a disturbing trend throughout the decade. That season was the peak of his first term and that particular group was never the same after the postseason loss.
The team then grew stale with the same characters and miserably crumbled in 2008 when Palmer was injured again. Marvin rebooted his team into a power-run offense and brought in Mike Zimmer to hammer out the defense. That era peaked in 2009 when the Jets out-powered them at home and kept the curse in tact. It ended with a terrible season in 2010 when Batman and Robin laid an egg and Palmer said he would rather not play football than move forward with the Bengals.
The Andy Dalton-era was ushered in with Gruden at his controls and they found surprising immediate success but peaked a season ago when the lost to San Diego. That was their best chance with this cast of characters. Zimmer left after that, taking some serious bite out of a top defense and the offense tried to switch to a running team with mixed results.
Now it seems a decline is back in effect and feels a little stale again. Can this still be fun for Marvin Lewis? Does he enjoy trying to fix the cracks on the same facade over and over again? It's all so tiresome to even think about.
Yet, when asked after the game if he's coming back next season he said that was his plan. Should we be surprised if that is the plan? It's a well-paying gig with seemingly promised job security. That tune may change some, though, as the next few weeks unfold. Without him, this franchise may experience some rocky turbulence before finding respect again and could take years, but with him, the first round of the playoffs may be all you ever get. Sometimes both sides need to admit that each to live a little and see what else is out there.
Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor
Photo: Marvin Lewis via Wiki Commons