On Monday, Marvin Lewis stepped down as the Bengals' coach after 16 seasons. Cincinnati never won a playoff game under Lewis but they qualified for the postseason seven times; prior to his arrival in 2003, the team hadn't made the playoffs since 1990. And he leaves as the winningest coach in team history with a 131-122-3 record.
But now the question becomes: Who's next?
And if Lewis has anything to say about it, it will be Hue Jackson, the man who returned to Cincinnati midway through the season after going 3-36-1 as the Browns' head coach.
"I think he's more than qualified," Lewis told reporters Monday. "I think he's been in a couple of difficult situations, and that's tough, and it hasn't broke his way. But I think he's an excellent football coach, he's a great motivator. He's detailed. So I think he deserves an opportunity. If not here, somewhere else."
Here's the thing: Before Jackson took the Browns job before the 2016 season, he was widely regarded as an innovative offensive mind who worked well with young quarterbacks. He was the Raiders offensive coordinator in 2010 and went 8-8 as the Raiders' coach in 2011. From 2014-2015, he was on Lewis' staff as offensive coordinator, and those teams finished 10-5-1 and 12-4. But it all went sideways when he took the Browns job. One win in '16, no wins in '17, and a 2-5-1 record got him fired in '18.
Jackson spent the days following his dismissal on television defending himself and deflecting blame. It wasn't a good look, especially given that the Browns went 5-3 in a post-Hue world. But Jackson wasn't out of work long; some two weeks later, Jackson was hired by the Bengals as special assistant to Lewis.
"Hue is here to, you know, right now he's trying to find, you know, just get, uh, immersed back into what we're doing, how we're doing it and the added morsels to me about things he, you know, observes," Lewis told reporters at the time. "That way he can assist with players on the field and with us defensively with the implementation and development of the plan and, you know, he'll continue to look at things analytically. He's got a lot more exposure to that than I've had, and that's helpful because we have the data and just how they continue to use the data correctly. And so that's good and he's been involved in that quite a bit, so that's another added plus exposure to things."
The Bengals lost seven of their final eight games.
So will Jackson end up succeeding Lewis? Owner Mike Brown knows Jackson well and it wouldn't be a surprise if he's a serious candidate. But the Bengals will also look outside the organization; according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the team has requested interviews with Patriots' offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Rams' quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor and Rams' pass-game coordinator Shane Waldron.
Whomever gets the job will have to figure out how to jumpstart this offense (and that includes determining if Andy Dalton is worth keeping around) and fix a defense that was among the league's worst last season.