Best Coaching Hires In Bengals’ History
By Doug Orth
In the history of the Cincinnati Bengals, there has been some degree of consistency and some degree of greatness. Unfortunately, for those people who chant “Who Dey” on a weekly basis during the football season, there hasn’t been a great deal of both at the same time. Perhaps nowhere has that phenomenon played out more than at the head-coaching level. For example, Marvin Lewis has directed the Bengals to two AFC North titles, but is 0-4 in the playoffs. Sam Wyche guided Cincinnati to a Super Bowl, but won less than half of his games overall and saw perhaps the best team in franchise history fall just short against the San Francisco 49ers in 1988.
In fact, it could even be said the Bengals have given more great coaches, coordinators and concepts to other teams than they kept for themselves throughout their existence. While coaching legend Bill Walsh actually began his pro-coaching career as an assistant for the Oakland Raiders in 1966, he began to develop the core concepts of the “West Coast Offense” during his seven-year stay in Cincinnati from 1968-75. When team founder Paul Brown passed Walsh up for a promotion in 1975 following his retirement, Walsh eventually got the head-coaching job in San Francisco four years later. Among many other notable achievements, Walsh went on to win three Super Bowls with the 49ers and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
While the record book will show that Dick LeBeau failed as a head coach in Cincinnati, it hardly diminishes the fact that the father of the “Zone Blitz” – who is already in the Hall of Fame as a player – has built a Canton-worthy resume as an assistant. Over two stints and 11 combined years as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive coordinator, his unit has yet to finish outside the top 10 in total defense and has placed among the top 10 in scoring defense nine times.
Be that as it may, it is not all gloom-and-doom for the nine coaches in the 45-year existence of the franchise. Lewis enters the 2013 season with a 79-80-1 regular-season coaching record and is pushing hard to join Forrest Gregg as the only head coaches in team history to sport a winning record that coached for at least three full seasons. Lewis inherited an awful team prior to the 2003 season and guided it to an 8-8 record without one single pass attempt from No. 1 overall pick Carson Palmer. Two years later, Lewis ended the team’s 14-year playoff and division-title drought. Given the abysmal state of the team prior to his arrival, Lewis probably deserves a key to the city for directing the Bengals to more winning seasons (four) than losing ones (three) under his watch.
A list of all-time great Bengal coaching hires would not only be incomplete – but almost meaningless – if it didn’t include the first one in franchise history (Brown). It goes without saying that while his coaching record in Cincinnati wasn’t all that impressive (55-56-1 in the regular season, 0-3 in the playoffs), Brown’s impact on the game as a whole was incredible. Brown is credited with being the first coach to use game film to scout opponents, hire a full-time staff of assistants and played a big role in breaking pro football’s color barrier. He also invented the modern facemask, the taxi squad and the draw play.
Although Wyche and his contributions are generally considered more of a footnote in NFL history – at least when compared to the innovations of Walsh and LeBeau – it is easy to forget that he was the man responsible for introducing the no-huddle attack as a standard offense. Prior to Cincinnati’s “Sugar Huddle”, NFL teams only used the no-huddle as a means to move the ball down the field at the end of each half. Once again, another team benefitted from this approach more than the Bengals – the Buffalo Bills of the early 1990s – but it laid the groundwork for the next wave of football minds - like former University of Oregon and current Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly – to use tempo as an offensive weapon. Despite Wyche’s creative offensive wrinkles, his teams were unable to post consecutive winning season during his eight-year stint in the “Queen City”, although he does own three of the franchise’s five postseason victories.
Position coaches typically neither have the longevity nor the resume to be considered for all-time honors with one team, but one of Brown’s many great personnel decisions included the 1984 hiring of RB coach Jim Anderson. Over the next 29 years, Anderson’s pupils made 10 Pro Bowls and recorded 18 1,000-yard rushing seasons. While Anderson certainly had great talent to mold on a few occasions (Corey Dillon and James Brooks come immediately to mind), the newly-retired Anderson also made 1,000-yard rushers out of average NFL talents such as Cedric Benson and BenJarvus Green-Ellis.