Did Mike Brown just give Cincinnati fans the middle finger? Or was it a pathway to real change?
From the outrage on social media (my default choice is always Twitter. Thank you for the ability to display outrage without nuance in 280 characters now), most of you are falling into the former category, rather than the latter. But I think the latter needs consideration.
Look, at the end of this conversation two things have really mattered to the Brown family since day one. First is keeping the Bengals franchise in the family. Second is making money with the franchise. And if the team can win championships working inside of those parameters, well OK.
Business first, everything second.
You may not like it. In fact, I KNOW you don't like it, but it's the way of the world in Bengal-dom.
Mike Brown doesn't give middle fingers. First of all, he's not cut from that cloth. He is old school, where a handshake means everything and respect and loyalty aren't far behind. But he also doesn't want to lose at anything, at least off the field. This is a man who's beaten the IRS in tax court, twice. Things have to be done his way.
Remember the first vestiges of NFL free agency? It was called Plan B. Rather than trying to meet then guard Max Montoya -- a terrific player, one of the top two guards in Bengals history -- at the middle of a deal, Brown held firm to his price point. Montoya wound up leaving the Bengals for the Raiders for about $50,000 more. His story is not atypical.
And the Bengals have never, as in ever, played the free agent game. Sure, from time to time, a middling veteran might find his way to sign with the Bengals. But name the last impact player that came here and made a real difference. I'll save you the trouble; there haven't been any. It's the way Brown plays the game.
The Bengals have a spartan front office. Mike Decourcy, the veteran Sporting News writer who once worked for the Enquirer, wrote this on sportingnews.com this week:
"They're still operating with a scouting staff that wouldn't suffice for a Division II basketball program. The team currently lists a Director of Player Personnel, three 'personnel executives,' one scouting assistant and two consultants in its player personnel department. The Seahawks list 10 scouts, in addition to the four people at the top of their player personnel department."
Less is more. It's always been that way for the Bengals.
Until that changes, will things really change? Working smarter can beat working harder sometimes. Aiming slingshots at howitzers has rarely worked, but maybe that's why Lewis keeps hanging around.
Lewis knows the limitations in his environment, and while he's probably voiced concern about it to his boss, he seems to accept it. The boss likes that. So the boss keeps Lewis around, because most anyone else who knows the ways of winning in the NFL might not be so silent or accepting. It's one thing to want something. It's another to fight for it. It's still another to be vocal about it.
Maybe there was someone out in the land of NFL assistant or unemployed coaches who'd be flashier and more appealing to the Bengals fan base.
Josh McDaniels, the brains behind the Patriots offense comes to mind (though how smart would that guy be without Tom Brady)? Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher have curb appeal and are nationally telegenic, but anyone who thought any of those guys would be candidates to coach the Bengals is going in an opposite direction from reality. What they need to win doesn't exist in Bengal-dom -- at least not now. They know it, and down deep, so does Mike Brown.
Like an old married couple who occasionally get the seven-year itch, Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis remain together because there's too much shared history and too little stomach to step into the unknown. Because of that, the past, is prologue.
Marvin says he's starting over from scratch. That much, from all of what's happened this week, seems true. The destination remains the same of the embarkation, and it's still more than three weeks until Groundhog Day.