The Cincinnati Bengals need a fresh start.
That means they don’t need Hue Jackson.
On his way out the door Monday, now former Bengals coach Marvin Lewis endorsed his friend, previously head coach of first the Oakland Raiders and then the Cleveland Browns, for Cincinnati’s new opening.
Never mind that Jackson was fired by both the Raiders and the Browns. He lasted one season with Oakland, going 8-8. He lasted 40 games with the Browns, winning just three before being dumped halfway through this season. The Browns responded by going 5-3 while Jackson returned to Cincinnati where he was once enjoyed success as Lewis’ offensive coordinator.
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But the Bengals need a clean break from the Lewis regime, one that lasted 16 years without a single playoff win. The fan base made that clear this season. Cincinnati finished next-to-last in average NFL home attendance. Only the Los Angeles Chargers, who play in a make-shift soccer stadium while their new digs are under construction, drew smaller crowds.
That fan base won’t be happy with Jackson, nor should it be. After Lewis’ long tenure, and the longer leadership of owner Mike Brown, the Bengals need someone new as the face of the program. Preferably, that someone will be a young, energetic coach — probably one with an offensive background — who can give the franchise a much-needed shot of excitement.
That’s not to judge Lewis too harshly. He took the steering wheel at a time when the Bengals were the Bungles, a joke of a franchise. He won four AFC North titles and reached the playoffs seven times, where he went 0-7. In truth, his tenure never recovered from the 2015 AFC Wild Card playoff loss to archrival Pittsburgh in which the undisciplined Bengals committed stupid penalty after penalty.
Three straight losing seasons followed – 6-9-1 in 2016, 7-9 in 2017 and 6-10 this year. Lewis lost effective coordinators on offense (Jay Gruden and Jackson) and defense (Mike Zimmer and Paul Guenther) and ended up firing their replacements during the season. Offensive coordinator Ken Zampese was let go two games into last season. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was sacked nine games into this season.
Now Lewis is out, a year too late as it turns out. Most thought he was gone at the end of last year, only to be be surprised Brown signed his coach to a two-year extension. At the Bengals’ annual pre-camp luncheon in July, Brown said he was impressed by the way the team played at the end of 2017. He believed that would carry over into 2018.
It didn’t work out that way. Brown did not speak to the media on Monday. And while it’s admirable he has apparently tried to follow the Steelers’ model of coaching continuity, long-suffering Bengals fans deserve someone fresh and new. We’ll see if that is what they get.