Bengals' Locker-Room Culture Called 'Worse' Than College-Level in SI Report

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistNovember 24, 2020

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor watches during the second half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)
David Richard/Associated Press

With the Cincinnati Bengals still reeling from Joe Burrow's season-ending knee injury on Sunday, the organization reportedly has problems that go well beyond their franchise quarterback's health. 

In a report from Sports Illustrated's Elise Jesse, the Bengals' locker-room culture under head coach Zac Taylor is described as "college-level." 

An anonymous member of the team went further than that, calling it "worse" than a college-level culture. 

"Multiple people within the organization believe players are staying quiet because they don't want to lose playing time," Jesse wrote. "They say that there is very little trust between the players and the coaching staff."

After selecting Burrow with the first overall pick in the 2020 draft, there were a number of stories about the Bengals wanting to change their culture. 

"Four of their final five picks were made on defense—three linebackers and a defensive end," ESPN's Ben Baby wrote in May. "A cursory look at their respective bios and post-draft interviews with Bengals coaches revealed each pick had leadership traits that were tangible—all four served as a team captain for their college program."

Another indication of Cincinnati's attempt to change things up came in free agency. The organization was notorious for not spending big money on the open market. They spent a combined $145 million on six players during the offseason. 

Despite those changes, the results have largely been the same for a franchise accustomed to losing. The Bengals are 2-7-1 after Sunday's loss to the Washington Football Team.

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Carlos Dunlap, who was drafted by the team in 2010, was traded to the Seattle Seahawks on Oct. 28. Jesse wrote that the two-time Pro Bowler and the coaching staff had issues related to his usage in a Week 2 loss to the Cleveland Browns:

"When the Bengals lost to the Browns 35-30 in Week 2, sources say Carlos Dunlap was not keen on going back into the game after the coaching staff held him out for more than a quarter. 

"Instead of pulling the two-time Pro Bowler aside and talking to him directly afterward, the coaching staff held a team meeting. They singled-out Dunlap in hopes of setting the standard for the team, but multiple players were rubbed the wrong way when they watched this situation play out."

Jesse noted that some Bengals players "steered clear of aligning themselves with Dunlap due to politics inside the locker room."

Wide receiver John Ross III, Cincinnati's first-round pick in 2017, wrote in a since-deleted tweet that he wanted to be traded by the team prior to the Nov. 3 deadline. 

"It's not a secret that i have requested a trade," he said. "Trade me if this how y'all feel. I'm healthy and eager to play. I know I can be productive. It's hard to love something when you're not actually participating in it. Believe me, its not football that I don't like."

Ross didn't get traded and hasn't played since Week 6 because of a foot injury. 

According to Jesse, the issues between the players and coaches extend beyond the head coach. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo is described as "unapproachable," while offensive line coach Jim Turner "utilizes abusive language according to multiple members of the organization."

Turner has a long history of bad behavior during his coaching career long before he was hired by the Bengals. He was suspended two weeks by Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin in 2016 for putting together a presentation for a women's clinic that included sexist language. 

The Miami Dolphins fired Turner as their offensive line coach in 2014 after Ted Wells' independent investigation into bullying and misconduct in the locker room found he "tolerated and even participated in the harassment of Miami players."

Taylor, Anarumo and Turner are all in their second season with the Bengals. Taylor was hired as head coach in February 2019 after spending the previous two years as a Los Angeles Rams assistant under Sean McVay. The 37-year-old had not been a head coach before.

Since taking over for Marvin Lewis, Taylor has gone 4-21-1 with the Bengals. His .173 winning percentage ranks last among all active NFL head coaches.