There is an old saying that “familiarity breeds contempt.” Loosely interpreted, those things we are familiar with we end up feeling a bit sour about after some time. A couple of Sundays ago, I spent time becoming acquainted with something I wasn’t very familiar with: the Cincinnati Bengals.
I found myself with a Sunday afternoon with not much to do. The kids were outside enjoying the very last gasp of above-freezing temperatures and on the spot, I decided I would actually watch a professional football game that did not involve my beloved Arizona Cardinals.
The Bengals were taking on the Chicago Bears. Up to this point, the Bears had only had three wins and were being led by a rookie quarterback. If there was anything designed as a sure win, this would certainly be one for the Bengals.
Well, it didn’t work out that way. The Bengals just couldn’t do anything right and the Bears throttled the Bengals. The talking heads said it was the worst home loss for the Bengals in at least a decade.
And throughout the 60-minute battle, there he was, dutifully marching the sidelines, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis.
For the uninitiated, Marvin Lewis has been the head coach of the Bengals since 2003. He is in his 15th year as the coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. Back in 2003, his roster had the likes of Jon Kitna, Corey Dillon and Chad Johnson (before he changed his last name). In those 15 years, he has compiled a record of 123 wins, 111 losses and three ties. He replaced Dick LeBeau, who compiled a record of 12 wins and 33 losses. And he replaced Bruce Coslet, who compiled a record of 22 wins and 39 losses. Without a doubt, Mr. Lewis has taken the Bengals from the laughingstock of the NFL to at least a level of sterling respectability.
But Bengals fans, far too familiar with Mr. Lewis have grown to be very contemptuous. They can look at a respectable record over 15 years and still see nothing but complete playoff ineptitude; an 0 for 7 record in the playoffs.
To add insult to injury is to those assistants that Mr. Lewis had who achieved success elsewhere. Former Bengals coordinator Jay Gruden has enjoyed some success in Washington (including a division title). Former Bengals coordinator Mike Zimmer has his Minnesota Vikings even fighting for a Super Bowl this year.
I will be the first to admit the next team I coach at any level of organized football will be my first. But even my own untrained eye can tell that 15 years is a long time as a head coach. In the 60 minutes in which I watched the Bengals, I get the feeling that Marvin Lewis may not have 15 years of experience as an NFL head coach; rather, he has one year of experience repeated 15 times.
The longer that Mr. Lewis sticks around, the less likely it seems that the Bengals actually have the ability to be successful in the league. It seems that everyone has figured him out and by extension the team. I mean, if you can’t beat a non-conference rival that is led by a rookie quarterback at home … well, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
The last time I felt this was back in December 2012, when the Cardinals flew up to Seattle to take on the Seahawks. The Cardinals were beat 58-0. By that time, the Cardinals were four seasons removed from their Super Bowl appearance. That was the point at which everyone knew that Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt was done; he lasted until the end of the season.
But the Bengals ownership, under the leadership of Mike Brown, is known for his loyalty. He’s known for giving second chances and sticking with this people. And well, if Mr. Brown was going to let go of Mr. Lewis, there were scores of opportunities to have it happen before now.
For Bengals fans, maybe familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, but it certainly breeds a string of competitive seasons that lead to a heartbreaking first-round loss in the playoffs.
William “Bill” Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.