CINCINNATI – ESPN's Stephen A. Smith went off on Bengals coach Marvin Lewis Monday, saying the Bengals ought to fire Lewis but won't because he's black.
"If it was a white coach, they'd have been out of here by now," the black commentator said in a fiery condemnation of Lewis following the Bengals' dismal performance against the Cowboys Sunday.
"How this man still has this job is beyond me. And yesterday was the latest example of this because again they disappoint you when you don't expect them to. It's who they are."
Like some fans, Smith called for Lewis' firing after the Bengals' playoff meltdown against the Steelers last January, saying he had lost control of his players. Smith repeated the call on ESPN's "First Take" show Monday.
"They've got talent all over the place that anyone else should want. But there is something missing from this bunch and I believe it a head coach that they're fearful of holding them accountable," Smith said. "I believe it is a head coach that has come up short on too many occasions.
"I am not saying that Marvin Lewis doesn't know football. I am not saying he doesn't have the acumen to be a head coach...I am saying when it comes to being a leader of men, in terms of galvanizing them to maximize their potential in a focused and cohesive manner, this man has religiously and continuously failed to show up," Smith said.
Earlier in his diatribe, Smith said Lewis, the franchise's only black head coach, worked cheap and accused him of being a company man, asking players to stay with the Bengals for less pay rather than seeking richer contracts as free agents.
"The chances are the only reason he still has his job is because he's one of those dudes who's willing to come cheap," Smith said. "Whereas other coaches get paid six or seven million a year, Marvin Lewis will accept three or 3 and a half and then have the audacity, the temerity, the unmitigated gall to go to other players and to talk to them about how they should be willing to settle for less.
"Trust me, I know this because I know members of the Cincinnati Bengals locker room who have personally told me that Marvin Lewis has gone up to them trying to encourage them to accept less than what their market value may be because that's something that he would do."
Smith repeated Lewis' playoff failures – 0-7 during his 13 previous seasons with the Bengals, including one-and–dones the past five years. He was more to the point after the last-minute loss to the Steelers last January, when stupid personal foul penalties against Vontaze Burfict and Pacman Jones set up the Steelers' winning field goal.
Smith said the Bengals acted "like a bunch of hooligans."
"It came across as Marvin Lewis being devoid of the necessary control you're supposed to have over your team as a head coach," Smith said then. "You showed that you didn't have that. If you can't exercise control, what good are you?"
Former Bengals star Boomer Esiason, who was on the CBS broadcast team for the playoff game, had the same criticism of Lewis in the post-game show.
It's hard for anyone but the players and coaches to know if Lewis has lost control, whether he holds players accountable for poor performances like Sunday's – be it in the locker room or in private meetings. Lewis never criticizes players publicly – not even Burfict and Jones after the playoff game – which commentators and fans take as a sign that he's too soft.
It was no different after the Cowboys' game. A reporter asked Lewis if he was surprised to see his team get run over so completely.
"You want the press conference answer or the honest answer?" Lewis said.
Asked for the honest answer, Lewis said, "Can't give that one."
Compare that to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin after their 34-3 loss to the Eagles two weeks ago.
"We got our butts kicked," Tomlin said."We all got to take responsibility for that, starting with me."
How the Bengals respond against Tom Brady and the Patriots in New England on Sunday should tell a lot.
Last January, Smith called for the Bengals to promote offensive coordinator Hue Jackson to head coach, but that's not going to happen now, since Jackson took the head coaching job in Cleveland a few days later.
Now the Bengals don't have a head-coach-in-waiting. So even if the Bengals wanted to fire Lewis – say, if they get blown out again in New England - - there's no one to turn to.
But that wouldn't happen anyway. Bengals owner Mike Brown, who hired Lewis as the franchise's first black coach in 2003, is too loyal to Lewis for turning the franchise around after The Lost Decade of the '90s.
Besides, neither Mike Brown nor his late father Paul Brown, the team's founder, ever fired a coach during a season, though three resigned (Bill Johnson in 1978, Dave Shula in 1996 and Bruce Coslet in 2000).