As the Bengals attempt to make it to the postseason for the first third straight year and to win their first playoff game since the week before they wrecked Bo Jackson’s hip in January 1991, the franchise’s unlikely success in 2011 and 2012 traces in large part to the manner in which coach Marvin Lewis viewed his return following a 4-12 season in 2010.
His contract had expired, and Lewis explains to Albert Breer of NFL Network that the veteran coach regarded the continuation of his employment as the equivalent of being fired and starting over in a new place.
“I was basically able to start again here, and that’s when I said, if both sides agreed that I would come back for the 2011 season, I was gonna have an opportunity to do something other coaches don’t ever have an opportunity to do, and that’s restart and re-function in the same spot,” Lewis said. “You normally have to move.”
Lewis used his fresh start in Cincinnati as a vehicle for changing the team’s approach to player acquisition. Talent-but-troubled athletes who would have landed with the Bengals in prior years would now be shunned.
“I don’t think Chris Henry would be picked today,” Lewis said, in reference to the receiver who arrived via round three of the 2005 draft, who received multiple second chances, and who later died after falling from a moving truck during a domestic dispute. “Chris would have a harder time today, just because we’d be more skeptical on whether he could handle the day-to-day of being a good teammate.”
Lewis and the front office realized that problem players were holding the franchise back.
“I think there was always a feel that it was a ‘boys will be boys’-type situation,” Lewis said, referring to Henry and 2005 second-round selection Odell Thurman. “Some boys just can’t get over that. And unfortunately, the organization had to learn that, and it took a hit with those two kids, unfortunately. . . . You gotta be sure he’s gonna mature into the right person.”
The Bengals are now maturing into the right team, and they could be on their way back to the Super Bowl, for the first time in 25 years.