Marvin Lewis Extension Is a Commitment to Mediocrity by Bengals

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystJanuary 3, 2018

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis addresses the media after an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)
Gary Landers/Associated Press

It's been a weird week of coaching changes (and non-changes) across the NFL. Hue Jackson still has a job in Cleveland, because nothing makes sense anymore. Jon Gruden will reportedly soon have one in Oakland that will pay him approximately all the money ever, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

On Tuesday, the sojourn into Bizarro World was completed. We are so far through the looking glass that even the Mad Hatter and the March Hare are shaking their heads.

And the wildest part is that the finishing touch that put things over the top shouldn't surprise us.

Because Bengals gonna Bengal.

As the team was all too happy to point out, on Tuesday the Bengals re-signed head coach Marvin Lewis to a two-year contract extension:

Cincinnati Bengals @Bengals

NEWS: #Bengals sign Head Coach Marvin Lewis to a two-year contract, running through the 2019 season. https://t.co/FwdMelWeec

We'll get to those numbers they're so proud of in a minute.

After the announcement, Lewis unleashed his finest coachspeak through that same outlet.

"My job is to win a world championship," Lewis said. "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."

If you can read that first part aloud without laughing, you're a stronger person than this writer.

The news that Lewis will be back next year flies in the face of what we heard not even a month ago. As ESPN's Adam Schefter relayed in the long ago days of mid-December—on the same day the Bengals were rolled by 27 points by the Vikings—Lewis was to leave the team after the 2017 season.

Per ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell, Cincinnati wideout A.J. Green indicated the report didn't sit too well with some of his teammates. And after the Bengals rallied to win their last two games (the second a thrilling last-minute victory in Baltimore that knocked the Ravens from the playoffs), owner Mike Brown apparently had a change of heart, committing to the longest-tenured head coach in team history for two more years.

In doing so, Brown also committed to at least two more years of mediocrity on the shores of the Ohio River—if the Bengals are lucky.

Marvin Lewis Career Record
YearsRecordPct.Division TitlesPlayoff TripsPlayoff Wins
Pro Football Reference

Yes, Lewis has coached Cincinnati for more games than anyone else. He's won more games too—125, if you're counting. Seven times Lewis has led the Bengals to the playoffs, including in five straight seasons from 2011 to 2015.

He's also lost many more games than any coach in Bengals history—112, in case you're still counting. But hey, a .527 winning percentage and playoff trips in fewer than half his seasons don't tell the whole story.

What about all his success in the postseason?

What about it, indeed.

Marvin Lewis Postseason Results
2005Pittsburgh SteelersLost 31-17
2009New York JetsLost 24-14
2011at Houston TexansLost 31-10
2012at Houston TexansLost 19-13
2013San Diego ChargersLost 27-10
2014at Indianapolis ColtsLost 26-10
2015Pittsburgh SteelersLost 18-16
Pro Football Reference

No coach in the history of the NFL has coached as many postseason games as Lewis without winning one. The Bengals have lost playoff games under Lewis in every way imaginable.

They've lost four of those seven games despite playing at home as the higher seed.

They've lost close games and blowouts. It's been more the latter than the former—the Bengals have been outscored 176-90 in those seven games. But that doesn't mean Cincy can't pull defeat from the jaws of victory too—their last playoff loss was an abject lesson in Lewis' steadying effect on his troops.

That was sarcasm. Cincinnati blew it in the 2015 wild-card playoffs against the Steelers because the Bengals' chucklehead brigade lost its cool and personal-fouled the Steelers right into the next round.

At the time, Chris Chase of For The Win had this to say about Cincinnati's epic meltdown—the team's second postseason home loss to Pittsburgh under Lewis:

"Now the 25-year playoff losing streak continues in Cincinnati, and the man at the helm has to be to blame," Chase wrote. "Again, [Vontaze] Burfict and [Adam] Jones are the selfish children whose actions lost the game, but Marvin Lewis—a fine coach and a fine man—is the father figure who needed to make sure it didn't happen. When you've lost control of your team, you've lost your team. Usually, your job comes next."

Gary Landers/Associated Press

Here we are two full seasons later, and still no one has been blamed for much of anything.

Not that a lack of discipline has in any way been a one-shot deal with the Bengals, in part because the team has consistently added players with character red flags. Burfict. Jones. Joe Mixon in the 2017 draft.

The list goes on and on. And while Lewis isn't the general manager, he most assuredly has Brown's ear.

It's also not like the Bengals are even making their annual one-and-done pilgrimages anymore. Over the last two seasons, Lewis is 13-18-1. The 2017 Bengals finished the season sixth in the NFL in penalty yards, dead last in total offense and tied for 12th in giveaways.

Oh, and in the two games preceding the "rally" that saved Lewis' job, the Bengals were outscored 67-14 by the Bears and Vikings and looked every bit the part of a team that had quit.

For all the criticism I've lobbed at Lewis so far, I can't say he isn't loyal to his players.

Except I can. Just in 2017, Lewis threw running back Jeremy Hill under the bus for having the gall to undergo surgery on his ankle. Ditto for rookie wideout John Ross, who barely played despite the top-10 pick the Bengals invested in him in April.

Lewis spent most of the campaign coaching like a man who didn't want to do what he does anymore. No one was surprised by the news he would not return. None of the Bengals fans I know (and living in Ohio, I know quite a few) shed a tear about it.

They're crying now, though.

They're crying partly because with Lewis extended, well-respected defensive coordinator Paul Guenther—like Mike Zimmer before him—is out the door, per Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports:

Jason La Canfora @JasonLaCanfora

With Bengals extending Marvin Lewis, well-respected defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, a free agent, is leaving to explore other options

Guenther likely would have been one of the leading candidates to succeed Lewis. Except Lewis is never leaving. So Guenther is.

Mostly, they're crying because Brown just sent the clearest message yet that winning isn't close to his No. 1 priority. He wants a coach he's familiar with. A coach willing to work cheaply (relative to his peers). And a coach who won't rock the boat the next time Brown shows how awful he can be at times at playing general manager.

Give Brown those things, and apparently making the playoffs doesn't matter. Seven wins or 11, Lewis is his guy. The guy who will coach Cincinnati for at least two more years.

It will be two, too, because Brown isn't about to pay a coach to sit at home.

Mike Brown is who he is. So is Marvin Lewis—the sample size is plenty big enough to know what comes next.

Nick Wass/Associated Press

Maybe six wins. Maybe nine. Best case 12 and more Wild Card Round disappointment.

In other words: a commitment to mediocrity.

Because Bengals gonna Bengal.