Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 7/4/12

GEORGETOWN, KY - JULY 31: Marvin Lewis the Head Coach of the Cincinnati Bengals is pictured during the Bengals training camp at Georgetown College on July 31, 2009 in Georgetown, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
While much of the debate around the Cincinnati Bengals this offseason has focused on questions concerning Andy Dalton’s arm strength and his offseason focus on improving his deep ball, not enough attention has been given to a head coach entering his lame duck contract year. Dave, you brought up what should have been the biggest offseason priority, securing Marvin Lewis. For a man that reversed the fortunes of a moribund franchise to become one that reached the playoffs for two of the past three years, why is there a hold up?

During negotiations for Lewis’s last extension, a two year deal signed last year, many believed that he had become fed up enough with owner Mike Brown to leave. He was interested in greater control over personnel, because players like Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, aka Batman and Robin, hardly reflected his blue collar, workman like attitude and mantra of “do your job.” He had made it no secret that he wanted to build an organization similar to New England’s, and his favorite players reflect their hallmark versatility and team-focused attitude.

The other demand was an indoor practice facility. Not only does a team risk needless injuries by practicing in cold or wet weather, but it is absolutely insane that a franchise whose greatest game was known as “The Freezer Bowl.” Although many teams enjoy the ability to practice inside, the notoriously tight-fisted Brown had no interest opening the coiffeurs. Lewis relented and signed a two year extension that allowed for some say in roster decisions.

After a draft and free agency period that included players with high intangibles to match their abilities, like wide receiver A.J. Green, quarterback Andy Dalton, and linebacker Thomas Howard, along with a contract extension for defensive leader Leon Hall. Lewis managed to secure Dalton while Brown preferred another quarterback with loads of ability but character concerns, Ryan Mallet, a player perfect for Brown.

How much power does Lewis truly have in personnel decisions? Could he trying to parlay this past year’s success into a greater role? And what implications could be read into second year offensive coordinator Jay Gruden’s refusal to participate in interviews for head coaching vacancies this past offseason? His hometown Jacksonville Jaguars would have certainly loved to have him jump-start the much maligned Blaine Gabbert’s career. And when will the ghost of Paul Brown visit his son like in A Christmas Carol?

Dave’s Response

You certainly provide great inside into the Bengals organization, Shawn. Personally, I love hearing insight that a fan for that team can provide. These issues of Marvin Lewis versus Mike Brown and the practice facility never appear on major networks such as ESPN.

Since I have not been to Cincinnati in over ten years, I cannot give the same sort of illumining insight as Shawn has given the readers above, but I can provide an outsider’s perspective from someone that closely follows the NFL and in particular the AFC North.

What fans around the NFL sometimes forget is how important owners really are to their teams. Sure, owners do not have major decisions to make, unless you are Jerry Jones, but usually it is the decisions they do not make or the decision they allocate to someone else that makes the difference.
Cincinnati is a classic case of a team with a great head coach and a pretty talented club. But why do they have trouble competing with Baltimore and Pittsburgh? Management. Owners that admit they do not know as much about football as their employers are the best owners.

The Bengals are an up-and-coming team; they have young pieces in Dalton and Green and had a great draft. Despite what everyone claims, Pittsburgh and Baltimore are not going anywhere, so Cincinnati will have a tough time winning the division. But finally, it looks like bright times are upon the jungle again. Will Brown set aside his ego to let that happen?

To conclude, Shawn mentioned the young offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. Maybe it is because of his brother John, but he is one of the bigger name coordinators around the league now. The situation could remind fans of the 2010 Dallas Cowboys with head coach Wade Phillips and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. Could Gruden have refused to look into head coaching jobs because he believes he is in line for the Bengals job? Is that why Lewis was not resigned? These off-the-field questions created from a lame duck coach will distract a team enough to hinder its ability to reach its full potential.

Shawn’s conclusion

It is nice to be able to have problems like too many good coaches, thanks to Marvin Lewis. He has given the fans something that they had not had since the early nineties: hope. The lower expectations are the biggest reason why Lewis has a better shot of sticking around than Wade Phillips.

Like Jason Garrett, however, Jay Gruden is an extremely talented offensive coordinator that could be the next big thing. A young coach who runs the same offense as Gruden and commands a similar enthusiasm from his players, Jim Harbaugh, had quite a successful year in San Francisco. Having faced his brother twice a year to less than stellar results, this may make the Bengals reluctant to let Gruden go.

Since Lewis’ weak points as a coach have always been game management and pre-snap discipline, and because defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has not been perceived as head coaching material due to his prickly demeanor and unfiltered opinions, the logical move would be to promote Lewis to a GM/head coach emeritus role. It would be a similar situation to Mike Holmgren when he ascended to the front office with the Seahawks, although Mike Brown surely would require remaining hands-on. It would also reward Zimmer with greater freedom by working for an offensive-minded coach.

The Gruden hiring was highly criticized at the time and has worked out well, despite his previous lack of experience. Would such a conservative franchise pull the trigger on such a maneuver? If Brown promoting his daughter, Katie Blackburn, to executive vice president and conceding more power is any indication, the Lewis/Gruden power duo may continue to run the ship. If not, they have safety valve Hue Jackson waiting in the wings to step up in Gruden’s role.

Dave, you are right about distractions aplenty within the coaching ranks. Bengals fans can only hope that this matter gets resolved before training camp kicks off.

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