CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown knows a lot of fans weren't happy with his decision to bring Marvin Lewis back for a 16th season.
The team's recent record of five straight first-round playoff exits followed by two consecutive losing seasons left Cincinnati sports lovers -- including some in our office -- channeling their stinging disappointment toward Lewis as head coach.
Still, Brown puts his faith in Lewis. As the Bengals head into training camp Thursday to begin preparations for the 2018 campaign, Brown believes his decision will pay off in the end.
"We've been through a lot together," he said at the annual pre-training camp media luncheon Tuesday at Paul Brown Stadium. "We know each other. We're comfortable with each other. I have confidence in him, and I think he's going to right our ship this year and move forward."
Brown admits he might just have more patience than others.
Lewis, at 125-112-3 in 15 seasons, is the longest tenured coach in Bengals history by eight years, lasting twice as long as Paul Brown and Sam Wyche despite going 0-7 in the playoffs. Of current NFL head coaches, only New England's Bill Belichick has been with his team longer.
"We've had ups and downs," Brown said. "We've had times we didn't agree on things. We worked through it. I know that last year didn't satisfy our public. I know the year before didn't.
"We had five pretty good years before that. I think I know the success and failure in this business isn't always the head coach. He's a big part, but he's not all of it, and I think that's true when you succeed and maybe when you're a little bit short of where you want to be. So, I have come to be a little more patient. Maybe I'm not right. There's people that think that way. I put my bet down. We'll see how it turns out."
Cincinnati started 0-3 last year, and heading into a Week 15 game at Minnesota -- following a 33-7 loss to the Chicago Bears for the worst home defeat since 2008 -- a major national news outlet reported that Lewis would not be back for another season.
Lewis denied the report later that day, after a 34-7 drubbing against the Vikings for a third straight loss, and the Bengals finished with a pair of wins against two playoff hopefuls. Brown said that played a factor in his decision.
"I think it's only fair that you run the whole race and you don't declare the winner in the 100-yard dash with 80 yards," Brown said. "You let them finish it out. We did that. I know the call was controversial. I'm sticking with it. That's what we did. I'm thinking still that it's the right thing, and it will pan out or not. We'll see but I think it will."
Instead of starting clean with a new head coach, the Bengals stuck with Lewis and almost completely overhauled the rest of the coaching staff.
Bill Lazor, who replaced Ken Zampese after a Week 2 loss to Houston last year, returns for his first full season as offensive coordinator, but Teryl Austin replaced defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, and the team has new assistants overseeing the wide receivers, offensive line and defensive backs.
Brown thinks those changes will be enough.
"We have changed our whole offensive system," Brown said. "We have changed our defensive system. Usually that's associated with hiring a new head coach. We did it a little bit differently. We brought in new coordinators and let them have their chance at it.
"This will make us look different. It will be a challenge to digest for our players. It usually takes a little time, and I will be holding my breath some as we start out with it. There will certainly be a few ups and downs with it, but it should produce real change with the football team. We're trying to have change, and we're trying to see if something a little different will be better."
As far as player personnel, the Bengals addressed their biggest area of concern by acquiring left tackle Cordy Glenn and drafting former Ohio State University center Billy Price in the first round.
Brown cited those additions, along with high expectations for young players such as running back Joe Mixon, wide receiver John Ross and cornerback Will Jackson, as reasons this year will be different.
Surrounding quarterback Andy Dalton with better players should help.
"The most important thing is how our quarterback plays," Brown said. "Last year was not a good outing for him. There are a lot of reasons for that. I think we've tried to address that. If he plays the way we know he can -- I have confidence he can play well -- I think we will be a team to watch."
It's difficult enough to maintain fans with other "distractions" around the NFL, such as long-term concerns of concussions and the issue of players kneeling during the national anthem, Brown said.
Winning is the best way to bring focus back to the field and fill seats in the stadium.
"I think our fans are good fans," Brown said. "I think we disappointed them. They let us know it. We have to win them back. The ways we can win them back, well, I think the biggest way is to win on the field. Is that the whole answer right now? Probably not. But it's the one way that occurs to me as most important right now."
But what is Brown's benchmark for success? It seems to change season to season.
"I'm realistic," Brown said. "I know there are 32 teams that all want to win the Super Bowl. If you have a horse race and you come in somewhere other than first place, how acceptable is that? Not totally acceptable.
"Only one team is going to come in first place and then you have different gradations after that. It is not easy to reach the playoffs. It's not easy to win out in the playoffs. It is something of an achievement to get there. It's not the goal you have overall, but it is an indication of a form of success if you get there. I want us to get to the playoffs, and then we'll see."