To commemorate the 50th year of the Bengals, we’re looking back at nine Epic Events that shaped the history of the franchise. Not Epic Moments -- although there are some of them on the list -- but events that had long-lasting effect.
One story will publish each day from now until the Bengals' season opener on Sept. 10.
No. 9: Hiring Marvin Lewis
On Jan. 14, 2003, the team named Marvin Lewis the ninth Bengals coach in history. The club was coming off a 2-14 year and hadn't had a winning record in 12 seasons.
The hiring was momentous: Lewis was the first black man to lead one of Cincinnati's professional teams. Lewis was 44 at the time and was the first coach hired from outside the organization.
“We turned over a new leaf,” team president Mike Brown said.
Lewis proved quickly that he would not merely be a footnote on history. As a result, Lewis is still the coach 15 seasons later. He is the longest tenured-coach team history and second longest tenured in the current NFL, behind only New England’s Bill Belichick.
To do that, Lewis had to be successful -- and he was from the start.
He led the team to an 8-8 record his first year; it was the biggest turnaround in the NFL that year. He matched it his second year.
His third year, the team went 11-4 and ended the 15-year playoff drought. Lewis had gotten the team back to respectability; he changed the culture of the locker room.
The 1990s are often referred to the Lost Decade for the Bengals. Lewis led the franchise out of that -- first to respectability, then to perennial playoff contender.
From 2009 to 2015, the Bengals made the playoffs five of six years. However, they lost in the first round all of those years. Lewis has to snap that streak of playoff failures to be considered among the coaching elite.
Lewis’ tenure has been thorny at times: There was that awkward press conference in January 2011 to announce a two-year extension after a 4-12 season. Neither Mike Brown nor Lewis looked like they wanted to be there.
But the Bengals went 9-7 that year with a rookie quarterback, Andy Dalton. That began the good run.
Lewis goes into this season on the last year of his contract. The team is coming off a 6-9-1 season. Expectations are low.
Could this be it for him?
“Marvin’s been here 15 years,” Brown said. “He’s knows me, and I know him. We have a very strong relationship. He’s earned his spot here. We’re comfortable with him. I think he’s comfortable here, too.
"We’ve had this situation on and off (with the contract) through the years," Brown said. "It probably adds a little bit of pressure and is a talking point. But, in the past, it has worked out. I’m not uncomfortable with it. I don’t think he’s that uncomfortable with it either.”
Lewis told WCPO's Tanya O'Rourke on the Flying Pigskin podcast that he isn't done coaching, but his 2016 future is unclear. He said contract negotiations end once the focus turns to football.
Whether it is Lewis’ last year or not, it’s hard to argue with the impact he’s had on the franchise.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.