CINCINNATI — The Bengals have parted ways with longtime coach Marvin Lewis, who endorsed his friend Hue Jackson as his replacement.
Lewis had one season remaining on a contract extension he signed last year. In a statement, the team said the decision was mutual.
The 60-year-old Lewis coached the Bengals for 16 seasons and had a 131-122-3 record with them. Although he leaves with the most wins in franchise history, his 0-7 record in the playoffs and 8-26 record against the Pittsburgh Steelers looms large over his tenure.
“I didn’t deliver what the No. 1 goal is, and that’s to be world champions, and we did not get that done,” Lewis said at the news conference. “A lot of positives, but that’s the one goal as a coach you look forward to doing. Mike and I both decided it’s time. I think it’s a tough moment for both of us, but we both realized.”
The Bengals brought back Jackson as a special assistant after the Browns fired him during the season. Jackson is close to Lewis and has spent three stints on his staff, including a two-year stretch as offensive coordinator before he took the Browns’ head-coaching job in 2016. Given Jackson’s failure in Cleveland — three wins in two-plus seasons — many fans would view his elevation to head coach as more of the same.
Lewis lobbied Monday for the Bengals to interview Jackson for the head-coaching job.
“I think he’s more than qualified,” Lewis said at the news conference. “I think he’s been in a couple of difficult situations [in Oakland and Cleveland], and that’s tough, and it hasn’t broke his way. But I think he’s an excellent football coach, he’s a great motivator, he’s detailed. So I think he deserves an opportunity, if not here, somewhere else.”
Speculation about Lewis’ future has clouded the past few years, particularly as the team struggled to return to the success it had from 2011 to 2015, when it made five straight playoff appearances. The Bengals re-signed Lewis last season despite mounting dissatisfaction from a fan base that has not seen a playoff win since the 1990 season.
“The team is very appreciative of all that Marvin has accomplished over the past 16 years,” Bengals president Mike Brown said in the statement. “Personally, I am very fond of Marvin and will miss working with him. He is a friend and a colleague, and I thank him for what he has meant to this franchise. But it is time to turn the page and look toward the next chapter for our organization, and we are excited about what the future holds for the team and our fans.”
A large portion of the fan base did not return following the decision to re-sign Lewis, and attendance at Paul Brown Stadium dropped to its lowest levels since the 2011 season, despite a 4-1 start that sparked hope the Bengals could return to the playoffs this year.
The attendance numbers at home games continued to drop as the season went from promising to disastrous.
The defense struggled badly enough to warrant the firing of defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, and injuries plagued the starting lineup.
By the end of the season, 18 players were on injured reserve, including quarterback Andy Dalton, star wideout A.J. Green, starting tight end Tyler Eifert, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and linebacker Preston Brown.
Lewis picked up the defensive coordinator reins this season for the first time since 2002, when he served a one-year stint as the Washington Redskins‘ defensive coordinator. Lewis’ defensive prowess was the reason he began attracting interest as a head coach in 2000. As the defensive coordinator of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, he led one of the best defenses of all time to a win in Super Bowl XXXV.
Although the defense showed improvement after Lewis took over this year, the team did not take a big enough step forward to warrant keeping him for another season. The defense finished last in the NFL in yards allowed and 30th in points allowed.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.