The Cincinnati Bengals, and their fans, had to wait out some tense moments after this past season ended, when other franchises filled their head coaching vacancies. Both defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden were candidates for open spots around the NFL. Though both were interviewed, ultimately they returned to Cincinnati to pick up where they left off after 2012, much to the delight of the fanbase. Meanwhile, head coach Marvin Lewis is set to start his 11th season leading the Bengals. Though he has plenty of detractors, he has made the playoffs in three of the last four years and his input on personnel is one of the keys to the team’s turnaround. For the first time in a while, there is a general sense of optimism surrounding the team, with the theme of continuity in both the roster and the coaching staff standing front and center. What happens, though, if the worst case scenario were to come to fruition?
The Bengals followed up their 2009 playoff season by going 4-12 and their 2005 playoff season by losing their final three games and going 8-8, so there is some history of letdowns. Many people thought Lewis may lose his job after the 2010 debacle, but he was retained and it turned out to be the right move. Now the expectations are higher than ever, after two straight playoff trips, and with the lack of moves in free agency, fans will be livid at a bad year. Another drop to just four wins would be unacceptable, and the rumors would begin again that Lewis would be let go. Add to this that Gruden and Zimmer could also be either fired by a new regime or leave for a promotion somewhere else and Cincinnati would be in complete disarray.
The Bengals have a young team, led by a quarterback who is at a crossroads. Andy Dalton is entering his third season, and a change in the offense could hinder his growth, leaving the team without a workable starting quarterback as well. This nightmare scenario is certainly a worst-case one, but with the franchise’s history, it’s plausible. A down year for the Bengals would certainly put fans in a bad mood, but a knee-jerk firing of the staff could be far worse. The team has no reason to believe they are going to take a step back in 2013, as everything points to the opposite. One of the keys to future success will be continuity with the coaches, even if the team regresses.