Marvin Lewis has led the Cincinnati Bengals to a 3-5 record and third place in the AFC North at the halfway point of the 2012 NFL season, and once again Lewis and Co. are looking up to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens instead of moving past them.
Lewis is now in his 10th season as the head coach of the Bengals, and whispering of his firing from the fanbase has quietly begun after his promising team has yet again fallen flat on its face, dropping games to the likes of the Miami Dolphins (4-4) and Cleveland Browns (2-7).
Owner Mike Brown brought back Lewis this past offseason after he and his staff managed to qualify for the postseason for the second time in a three year span, but this time with rookie quarterback Andy Dalton at the helm of the offense.
If recent trends are to be believed, expectations for the 2012 season should have been low coming in no matter how great things appeared on paper. In nine seasons Lewis has never led the Bengals to consecutive playoff appearances, in fact, he's never led the team to back-to-back winning seasons either.
At the halfway point in the 2012 season Lewis' record stands at 72-79-1, or .477 percent. He's led the Bengals to the .500 mark only three times (2005, 2009, 2011), all of which culminated in playoff appearances—and losses.
Lewis has the most wins of any coach in Bengals history, but he has also had more opportunities than any other candidate to obtain that position within the organization's history.
In reality, Lewis is somewhere on the totem pole of head coaches behind Paul Brown (55-56), Forrest Gregg (32-25) and Sam Wyche (61-66), and could only be considered that high thanks to the miserable performances of Dave Shula (19-52) and Bruce Coslet (21-39).
While it's easy to paint owner Mike Brown as someone who cares more about the bottom line than putting a competitive product on the field each week, he's done an admirable job as of late bringing in players via free agency (for better or worse), drafting properly and re-signing major talent to long-term deals (Andrew Whitworth, Leon Hall).
Much of the credit for Brown's supposed change goes to Lewis, who has a knack for making proper personnel decisions. Where Lewis seems to fall short is game management and motivating his players properly.
It wasn't long ago that the Bengals had the most dysfunctional locker room in the NFL and led the league in arrests. Me-first players such as Chad Johnson and Co. ran rampant, and Carson Palmer elected to retire rather than take another snap as a member of the team.
A staple of the Marvin Lewis-era in Cincinnati has also been questionable game management in terms of challenges and timeouts. Lewis is hit-or-miss on challenges, and the team has routinely mis-managed timeouts.
Another great way of judging a head coach with a tenure similar to Lewis' outside of the win-loss category is how many assistants in his coaching tree have went on to find success. For Lewis, both Leslie Frazier and Hue Jackson went on to have unsuccessful head coaching positions.
For comparison's sake, Tony Dungy had 13 extremely successful years coaching with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts, and coaches from his staff such as Jim Caldwell, Herm Edwards, Lovie Smith and Mike Tomlin went on to forge their own NFL careers after branching out from Dungy's tree.
None of this is to say that defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden cannot or will not move on to bigger things, but something about the staff surrounding Lewis for the past nine years has been mediocre at best.
If the time has come for the Bengals to move on from Lewis, is an in-house option truly the best option given the mediocre staff? Zimmer was a hot-topic to take over before Lewis re-signed, but even he is struggled to turn a scrap-heap of talent into an elite unit like we are used to seeing.
Gruden has already seen head coach spotlight after easing Dalton's transition to the NFL a year ago, but has fallen into somewhat predictable play-calling and failed to further progress the offense after opening up the playbook this offseason.
Is Marvin Lewis Still the Best Option for the Cincinnati Bengals?
Brown seems content with keeping Lewis at the helm of the franchise, but is that simply because he is the best Cincinnati can attract?
It appears as if Brown seems to believe Lewis has a strong plan in place and that continuity is the way to go, but how long until this now decade-long plan pays off? Running back, a No. 2 wide receiver and the secondary were issues going into last offseason, and Lewis and Co. have failed to majorly right those issues this season.
The rumblings of an indoor practice facility and Lewis supposedly gaining more power have all but evaporated, and the Bengals are seemingly once again destined for an 8-8 finish under Lewis in 2012.
There's a vastly talented youthful roster in place in Cincinnati, but also a nonchalant head coach who shows no fire or ounce of emotion in press conferences. A coaching change is needed, but more importantly a culture change is needed.
Lewis' Bengals simply appear to go through the motions on the field—in the same way Lewis appears on the sidelines and to the media.
A young roster such as the Bengals needs a motivator, not a team-building personnel man who struggles managing the game and keeping control or motivating his own players.
Marvin Lewis isn't the best option for the Cincinnati Bengals anymore, but whether Mike Brown has the ability or willingness to move on to better options is a question that has taken almost a decade to answer.