Being an NFL head coach has to be one of the most stressful jobs in the entire world. As the head man of an NFL roster, you’re responsible for much more than the creation of a weekly game plan and the creation of a starting lineup. You also have to deal with a bevy of personalities and constant scrutiny from your fan base. This position’s difficulty speaks volumes to the reason why many head coaches don’t last more than one or two seasons with any given team. For those who are able to handle the pressure of the job, however, a long tenure in one city usually results. That’s certainly been the case for the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals for the past 13 seasons.
Since Marvin Lewis arrived in Cincinnati in 2003, he has turned a franchise that hadn’t done anything in over a decade into a perennial fixture in the postseason, qualifying for the playoffs seven times since 2005 (including an appearance in each of the past five seasons). This type of success has earned Lewis a lot of respect around the league, despite the fact that he has yet to earn a single playoff victory in any of those appearances. Saturday night’s crushing loss to the rival Pittsburgh Steelers could be the final blow to Lewis’s frustrating tenure with the Bengals. Here’s why Cincinnati would be wise to move on from the second longest tenured coach in the league today.
Inability to win when it matters
In the regular season, Lewis has a more-than-respectable overall record of 112-94-2, which has led the Bengals to four division championships. During that timespan, few coaches can say that they’ve had that type of success. Furthermore, Lewis’s Bengals have only had three losing seasons during his 13 years with the team. They’ve captured 10 or more victories six times during his tenure. Regular season success isn’t something that works against Lewis as his job may be on the line. It’s what his teams have done when the moments get bigger that is concerning about his effectiveness as a coach.
First off, the Bengals have been notorious for blowing primetime, nationally televised games under Lewis. In fact, following the team’s road loss to the Arizona Cardinals this season, the Bengals fell 13 of the past 14 times in their primetime road games. Outside of the regular season, the Bengals have continually failed when their season is on the line in the postseason.
An 0-7 record in the playoffs would get just about any coach in the NFL fired, which is where Marvin Lewis’s playoff record stands after losing to the Steelers. The inability to get a team over the hump and into true championship contention has seen even the most successful coaches lose their jobs in the past (just look at John Fox’s tenure with the Denver Broncos). The NFL is a “what have you done for me lately” league and for Lewis, he simply hasn’t done enough for the Bengals, despite his regular season success.
The handling of Vontaze Burfict
One of the most important jobs as an NFL head coach is to manage your players and keep them in check. In the case of Vontaze Burfict, Marvin Lewis failed to do this. Burfict, a talented yet very emotional linebacker in his fourth season out of Arizona State, has shown time and time again that he is a legitimate danger to his fellow players on the field.
In the playoff loss against Pittsburgh, he made some undoubtedly critical plays that nearly won the game for the Bengals. When it mattered most, however, Burfict’s inability to control his emotions cost his team a shot to continue playing for the Super Bowl. On the Steelers’ game-winning drive in Saturday’s game, Burfict committed a flagrant, frightening penalty on Antonio Brown that cost the Bengals 15 yards and put the Steelers within field goal range (which was followed by another 15-yard penalty by Adam Jones).
The penalty on Burfict speaks volumes to the type of player that he is. Despite his positive efforts earlier in the game, it’s questionable that Lewis should have ever kept him on the field. Lewis knew about the history of Burfict and the Steelers. He was aware that Burfict has been unable to control himself and focus on the team’s goals. This situation is the type of thing that can get a coach fired, and for the Bengals, it could be the biggest indicator that it is time to move on from Marvin Lewis.