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CINCINNATI -- Mike Zimmer is saying goodbye to Bengal-dom.
On paper, it doesn't look good. Zimmer has been overwhelmingly successful as the Bengals defensive coordinator. In six seasons as the team's defensive leader, he has taken potential -- something the Bengals have always been long on -- and converted that into reality.
Through the absurdity of Ochocinco, T.O. and the Carson Palmer saga, the one constant has been the defensive side of the ball.
Zimmer has not only constructed, year-to-year, solid defenses, he has resurrected careers along the way. Chris Crocker, Tank Johnson and Adam "Don't Call Me Pac-Man Anymore" Jones all found new life in the Queen City after the rest of the NFL had left them for dead.
Rey Maualuga has made millions more than anyone ever thought, thanks in large part to Zimmer's coaching and patience. Vontaze Burfict found a true believer in Marvin Lewis, who provided a pathway to the NFL for the draft day after thought. But it was Zimmer who coached Burfict into a Pro Bowl player, destined to make many millions in a very short time.
In 2013, Zimmer's best defensive lineman, Geno Atkins, went down with a blown knee midway through the season. His best cover cornerback blew an Achilles out, again. Leon Hall missed more than half of the year.
All Zimmer's defense did was flourish
If the Lewis contract extension of 2011 brought stability to an unstable organization, the byproduct of that was Zimmer could continue coaching his defense the way he wanted. That, in turn, brought a system to Bengal-dom.
During the "BZ" (Before Zimmer) era, the Bengals careened from one defensive coordinator to another, one system to another. Since 2011, though, the organization has drafted players who fit the system.
That's why when Maualuga was sidelined for three games this season -- and Vinny Rey stepped in -- the defense didn't miss a beat. And that's why Zimmer's departure will be a loss.
But it won't be a devastating one.
When you have a system, it transcends any one individual, even a coach.
The definitive franchise in the NFL has been the Pittsburgh Steelers. They've had three head coaches in the last 45 years. The Steelers have had a system since the mid-'70s. It's what allowed them to find Greg Lloyd, playing in the obscurity of Winston-Salem College, Dwight White from Texas A&M-Commerce and Mike Wagner from Western Illinois.
Sure, they've had their share of busts. Who could forget their first-round pick in 1991, Huey Richardson? But the system they've used, the stability of their coaches and scouts that implement it, is a large reason why that franchise has won six Super Bowl championships.
My guess is the Bengals' new defensive coordinator, linebackers coach Paul Guenther, will continue with the system that Zimmer has implemented. And because of that, and the continuity of the other defensive assistant coaches, the Bengals defense will be fine.
Paul Brown's famous line "everyone is important but no one is necessary" applies here. No one is bigger than the game, particularly if the game is played the right way.
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