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Stephen A. Smith way off base about why Marvin Lewis hasn't been fired

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CINCINNATI (WKRC) - I understand wind-bag Stephen A. Smith's role on his ESPN show First Take is to be a provocateur and sling as much B.S. as any Texas cattle rancher could conceivably sling, but his comments on Monday about why Marvin Lewis is still employed as Bengals head coach are off base and irresponsible.

Smith went on a brief rant about the Bengals' poor performance on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys and began to tie that into recent playoff failures (all of which is fair), but then said that the reason Lewis is still the team's head coach is because he's black (which isn't fair).

"If it was a white coach, they'd have been out of here by now," Smith said. "How this man still has this job is beyond me. And yesterday was the latest example of this because again they disappoint you when you don't expect them to. It's who they are."

If Smith knew anything about the inner workings of the Bengals (and I don't expect him to know them, but because he doesn't then he shouldn't make such an irrational statement) then he would understand that the reason Lewis still has a job isn't because of race, it's because this is an organization that just doesn't like change very much.

There have certainly been some points in Lewis' 14-year career as the Bengals head coach where the organization had an opportunity to let him go, and I even advocated him resigning if the organization didn't fire him after the way the 2015 season ended.

That wasn't just because the team lost to the Steelers to make Lewis 0-7 in the postseason (the most playoff losses without a win by a coach in NFL history), but it was the way the way players' actions in that game caused them to lose. Those actions came after Lewis had said the Monday before the game that the issue of avoiding the chippiness with the Steelers that had occurred in previous meetings had been addressed. But as we all saw a handful of players apparently didn't get that message or perhaps even worse didn't care about that message, because they knew there wouldn't be any repercussions from Lewis for their actions.

Despite my stance, I also understood why Lewis was brought back, and it wasn't because he's black.

It's hard to fire a coach after five straight playoff appearances even if that coach went 0-5.

The grass isn't always greener when it comes to coaching changes. Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, there's been just slightly above a 50 percent success rate for a new coach leading a team to the playoffs in his first year after replacing a coach who led that team to the playoffs the year before.

Look, it's hard to ignore the 0 in the win column for Lewis when it comes to the playoffs, and it's fully understandable for people to question the wisdom of the Bengals still keeping his as head coach.

That said, when you look at his employment in the macro rather than the micro there have only been a couple clear points where the organization should have gotten rid of him and both times the team bounced back to make the playoffs the next season:

  • In 2008 after the Bengals went 4-11-1 following a 7-9 record in 2007 and an 8-8 mark in 2006, all of which came after he led the team to the playoffs in his third season in 2005. The 2005 season marked the Bengals' first playoff appearance since the 1990 season so Lewis had built enough cache to warrant one more chance in 2008. He rewarded the organization for keeping him in 2009 as he led the Bengals to the playoffs.
  • In 2010 after the Bengals went 4-12 and were a dysfunctional mess. That mess, however, led to what has been dubbed the "re-boot," where some inner organizational changes were made in the football operations, and starting in 2011 the Bengals haven't missed the playoffs since.

Lewis has accomplished some great things in his first 13 seasons as head coach: seven playoff appearances, including six in the last seven seasons and five straight. That is no easy task and it shouldn't be taken for granted because only 23 head coaches in NFL history took teams to the playoff in more seasons and only four took teams to the playoffs more times in a shorter span:

  • Tony Dungy made 11 appearances in 13 seasons.
  • John Madden made eight in 10 seasons.
  • Dennis Green made eight in 13 seasons
  • Mike McCarthy has made eight in 11 seasons

In case Stephen A. Smith is wondering, those are pretty good reasons why he is still the team's head coach.

I have my own issues with Lewis from a media perspective: he is a bit of a bully, he is a condescending and he isn't always clear in his message.

That has nothing to do however with what I think of him as a coach, and not once have I thought he is still the head coach is because he is black.

I can understand anyone for thinking a coaching change is long overdue and for wanting a change if the Bengals don't even make the playoffs this season. All those are fair beliefs, especially when the trump card of 0-7 in the playoffs is played.

This is simply an organization that doesn't like change and there just haven't been enough clear-cut times to fire Lewis. The Bengals haven't gone more than three years in between playoff appearances in his tenure.

Don't forget that Dave Shula was allowed to return for a fifth season despite going 18-46 in his first four seasons and ultimately being fired after a 1-6 start in his fifth season. Bruce Coslet was allowed to return for a fifth season despite going 21-36, including a 5-25 mark in seasons three and four. He was ultimately fired after a 0-3 start in his fifth season.

Both situations cried out for them to be fired long before they were, and don't think for a second they were retained for as long as they were is because they are white.

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The Bengals just don't like change, period, especially when that change is irrational in the face of Lewis' overall success.

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