When it comes to head-coaching stability, the AFC North takes the cake—even in spite of the Browns’ semi-annual game of musical chairs. The Pittsburgh Steelers are obviously well-placed with Mike Tomlin heading into his 10th season at the helm and no signs of him slowing down. The Ravens have had stability there for quite a while as well.
But the lion’s share of that stability lies in that other city in Ohio, with the Cincinnati Bengals and head coach Marvin Lewis, who has held his job longer than anybody in the league outside of Bill Belichick. After spending 15 years as a linebackers coach in various locales, Lewis moved up to the coordinator rank by 1996, and finally caught on with the Bengals for their head-coaching vacancy in 2003.
His 13 years of coaching experience with a single franchise stands as the second-longest active tenure—Tomlin’s is currently fifth, I believe, behind New England, Cincinnati, New Orleans, and Green Bay—and Bengals owner Mike Brown just assured that he will be around a bit longer, adding one year to Lewis’ contract that carries him through the 2017 season, which will be his 15th.
In spite of the fact that the Bengals have not, in fact, won a playoff game in 25 years, last defeating the Oilers on January 6, 1991 in the 1990 Wildcard Round, it should not be understated how dramatically the franchise has advanced since Lewis has been on board, and there is every reason to believe that any season could be the year that they push through.
For perspective, the Bengals had not even reached the postseason in the dozen years that passed between their 1990 playoff victory and his 2003 hiring. That is a dozen seasons of utter futility that Steelers fans can fortunately not even imagine. Pittsburgh, in fact, has not gone five consecutive seasons without at least one playoff victory since Chuck Noll took over and broke through in 1972—the only franchise that can claim such a feat.
The Bengals have not managed to win a playoff game just yet under Lewis. But at least they have gotten to the playoffs. In fact, they have reached the playoffs in five consecutive seasons, and in five of the previous season seasons. Seven of his 13 seasons have seen a playoff berth overall.
It may surprise you to learn that the Bengals have only had a losing record three times under Lewis, along with three 8-8 records. Over recent years, he has raised his overall coaching record to that of 112-92-2, for a winning percentage of .543, and since the drafting of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green in 2011, Cincinnati has averaged 10.2 victories per season
To the former Steelers linebackers coach and former Ravens defensive coordinator’s credit are four overall AFC North division titles, including having claimed two of the past three, while very nearly winning three in a row in 2014 before losing to the Steelers in the regular season finale to advance instead as a Wildcard.
His franchise is widely regarded to have among the deepest rosters in all of football, even after losing some notable free agents this past offseason. 2015 was their best in a generation with a 12-4 record, and they accomplished that without Dalton for a good stretch, who was developing into a very good quarterback before his thumb injury against Pittsburgh.
It makes sense, then, that Brown, among the most conservative owners who has often kept Lewis on a string by allowing him to play out his final year, would choose this opportunity to impart upon him a sense of continuity, extending his contract through the 2017 season. Of course, real stability might finally come if he manages to get the playoff monkey off his back.