There usually is a surprise move or two during the firing-and-hiring cycle for NFL coaches. More often than not, that involves a coach being unexpectedly fired. The surprise move of this coaching cycle, at least so far, is the Cincinnati Bengals’ decision Tuesday to retain Marvin Lewis as their coach.
It was the right move for the Bengals, even with their lack of playoff success in 15 seasons under Lewis and their shortage of success of any kind in the past two years.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. There had been reports in recent weeks, unequivocally stated, that it had been mutually decided that Lewis would not remain the Bengals’ coach. His contract was expiring. There was talk of him taking a front office job, perhaps in Cincinnati, or maybe working for the league office.
But Lewis denied that anything had been decided. And after Lewis met Monday with Bengals owner Mike Brown, the team announced Tuesday that it had signed Lewis to a new two-year deal through the 2019 season.
“Marvin Lewis has been an important member of the Cincinnati community and the Bengals family for the past 15 years, and we are happy to have reached this agreement,” Brown said in a written statement. “Marvin has made significant contributions during his time here. While recently we have fallen short of our expectations, we have full confidence in Marvin to re-establish winning football in 2018.”
It is easy to find fault with what Lewis has done in Cincinnati. He does not have a playoff victory, with a postseason record of 0-7. The past two seasons, the Bengals have found the wrong way to avoid losing in the playoffs: They missed the postseason, going 6-9-1 last season and 7-9 this season.
But don’t forget what the Bengals were before Lewis arrived: a laughingstock. They hadn’t reached the playoffs in a dozen seasons when he was hired. After two more non-playoff seasons, Lewis took the Bengals to the postseason in 2005. He got them back to the playoffs six times in seven seasons between the 2009 and 2015 seasons. He had four straight seasons with 10 or more victories. He made the Bengals respectable and relevant.
“My family and I are very grateful for the opportunity to stay in Cincinnati and continue my career with the Bengals,” Lewis said in a written statement. “My job is to win a world championship. We have a talented roster full of veteran leaders and emerging young stars, and I am committed to making the necessary improvements to put this team in the best position to win.”
The job only gets harder from here. Respected defensive coordinator Paul Guenther appears headed elsewhere, perhaps to join Jon Gruden’s coaching staff in Oakland.
This season ended on a high note for the Bengals, however, with quarterback Andy Dalton’s fourth-down, final-minute touchdown pass Sunday in Baltimore that knocked the rival Ravens from the AFC playoffs and secured a wild-card spot for the Buffalo Bills.
The expectation next season will be for Lewis and Dalton to get the Bengals back to the playoffs. And maybe — just maybe one of these years –they actually will win a postseason game together.
They deserved the chance to keep trying. Those who wanted to see Lewis ousted don’t remember what the Bengals were before him.
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