** Hot take alert – The Bengals 2017 season is over, time to undertake a re-build starting with the man at the top **
The Bengals 2017 season is over. Outsiders may view that as premature, a 3-5 team surely stand an outside chance of putting together a 9-7 season and sneaking in through the back door of the playoffs? Not this team. Head Coach Marvin Lewis was on a short leash. The Bengals hierarchy were reluctant to hand out anything more than a stop-gap contract to the second longest serving HC in the NFL and now odds are they will move on.
Lewis has transformed a basement team from the 90’s and early 2000’s into a perennial playoff contender but his inability to progress past the wildcard round has become a running joke. Credit must go to the rebuilding job Lewis has done but his last two year’s have been epitomised by a number of strange decisions.
Failing to move on from veterans while promising rookies were left buried on the depth chart. Having both 1st rounder John Ross and 2016 2nd rounder Tyler Boyd as healthy scratches come gameday. Not maximising the potential of running back Joe Mixon and most crucially not addressing the dire state of the offensive line. All this signifies the need for a fresh start in Cincy, we take a look at some candidates that may start 2018 as the Bengals new head coach:
The Insider – Paul Guenther (Current Bengals defensive coordinator)
The Brown family (Bengals ownership) don’t ‘make a splash’ as a rule. They don’t give big money to free agents, they don’t overpay veterans and they seek continuity through the organisation. Position coaches become coordinators in Cincy and the favourite to step up to head coach has to be defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. Guenther got some buzz last year with several openings and the feeling is if he doesn’t take over from Lewis this year then he may seek pastures new.
Having seen coaches like Mike Zimmer, Jay Gruden and Vance Joseph walk out for head coaching jobs losing Guenther may be a step too far, especially now the timing seems right. The downside with Guenther is that he is a continuation of the current system and if things in the locker room have broken down as badly as some speculate a full overhaul may be best for all.
Return of the Hue – Hue Jackson (Current Cleveland Browns Head Coach)
There would be plenty of jigsaw pieces that would need to fall into place for Browns’ coach Hue Jackson to become the top dog in Cincy come 2018 but don’t discount it. Jackson has had two spells with the Bengals already and was close to taking the mantle in 2015 with Lewis moving into a Tom Coughlin role. The same could happen in 2018, Jackson and Lewis’s relationship plus the Brown family’s familiarity with Hue mean it would be easy to see Jackson return.
Critics will say Jackson has always struggled as a head coach and his inability to progress the Browns this year doesn’t reflect well on him, however his relationship with Andy Dalton must be highlighted. Dalton was at his best with Jackson as his coordinator and if the Bengals choose to stick with their current QB then, if available, Jackson would be a consideration.
The outsider – Jon Gruden (Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach)
This wouldn’t be a list of potential head coaches without Jon Gruden. Linked with every position that comes up Gruden is often heralded as a could-be saviour to many a franchise. This scenario is unlikely. Gruden has a good gig at ESPN, without the pressures of coaching, but you get the feeling he isn’t done with football at the sharp end.
The Bengals don’t seem a natural fit for Gruden. A mid-size market in the rust belt, while Gruden is a more big time in the sunshine kind of guy. So why include him? Well, he is familiar with the franchise, brother Jay was offensive coordinator for three years and left on good terms. In addition, the Bengals offense has talent. Gruden will want a team built to excite on offense and with AJ Green, Joe Mixon and John Ross in toe, the gig might appeal. If the Bengals end up with a top ten pick in the draft then Gruden would have a shot at his very own franchise QB to develop alongside the weapons already in place. A long shot sure but Cincy fans can dream!
Young and hungry – Mike Vrabel (Current Houston Texans Defensive Coordinator)
Sean McVay’s revolution in LA is food for thought for NFL teams hiring in 2018. McVay is younger than some of his players but with strong veteran leadership he has been able to enthuse and energise the Rams into being a real contender. The knock on effect could be that younger coordinators get a shot at the top job earlier than has traditionally been seen before. In this group are guys like Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel. Vrabel could become Bill O’Brien’s replacement but if O’Brien stays there will be plenty of suitors.
As an Ohio native and Buckeye to boot it would be a return home for the former linebacker. Part of the appeal would be the amount of power the new Bengals head coach is likely to receive. Like Vrabel’s former team the Patriots, Cincy is one of the few franchises to not have an official General Manager, giving the coach a heavy say in personnel decisions.
Follow Rory-Joe Daniels on Twitter, @RJDanielsNFL.
Bengals next Head Coach.