Marvin Lewis walked off the field Sunday following the Cincinnati Bengals' dramatic victory not knowing what the future held. He described his situation as "complicated," as far as how Lewis and Bengals owner Mike Brown will proceed from here.
On Monday, it appeared that little more had been cleared up. There currently are six head-coaching vacancies in the NFL. Will the Bengals make it seven?
"There’s a direction the owner wants to have," Lewis said. "He’s hired me to do a job and we’ve got to make sure we stay aligned in that. And if his direction is different than my direction, it’s probably not good. And so we just have to make sure we’re all on the same page."
Lewis, whose contract is expiring, said he and the team have mutual interest in extending their relationship — but as head coach? That part isn't perfectly clear, but that's the assumption. It sounds like Lewis would fight for more control over matters such as personnel or staff hires, but even that hasn't been worked out.
In speaking to the media Monday, Lewis treated his talk in typical postgame fashion, as if nothing had changed, discussing the ins and outs of the Bengals' 31-27 victory over the Baltimore Ravens that knocked their AFC North rivals out of the playoffs. It was the Bengals' second straight victory over a playoff-hunt team, giving the Bengals a 7-9 record to finish out the season.
It has been widely speculated for weeks that Lewis would be finished as Bengals coach — first when the team started 0-3, again when they fell to 3-6 and even more when they stood at 5-9 following a loss to the Chicago Bears that felt like the final nail.
But it's not certain where things stand now. The longer Lewis spoke, the more it sounded like he could remain head coach as long as some things change elsewhere in the organization. Lewis indicated that he and Brown will talk more, as they have done pretty much every day the past 15 seasons. So why the delay here — especially with so many other vacancies around the league?
"I don’t know that there is a delay or sticking point," Lewis said, "I just know that we’re ..."
And then he paused for a moment.
"See, I almost said something stupid there," Lewis continued. "I caught myself. This isn’t a paper route, and not that that’s bad, OK? I just think there’s things that I think both of us want to feel good about."
Lewis, 59, has been head coach since 2003, and he helped revive a Bengals franchise that was mired in years of misery when he arrived. The team had made the postseason only one time in the previous 16 seasons with a combined record of 88-168.
In his 15 seasons as coach, Lewis has amassed a record of 125-112-3 in Cincinnati and led the Bengals to seven playoff appearances. But Lewis’ 0-7 playoff record — and the Bengals’ failures the past two seasons — have been the biggest knock against him returning. The Bengals were in playoff contention and could have reached the .500 mark entering December, but they lost three straight games to start the month.
Reports surfaced a few weeks ago that Lewis could step down following the season to seek other opportunities, perhaps in an NFL front office elsewhere. He denied them at the time and really never has expressed any interest in joining a front office, either in Cincinnati or elsewhere.
It was hard not to see how perilous his and his assistants’ situations were heading into the season, given that all were working on contracts that expired at some point following Sunday's season finale. When Lewis fired offensive coordinator Ken Zampese (who had been with Lewis from his start in Cincy) following the Week 2 loss to the Houston Texans, it was a clear sign that the Bengals were in desperation mode.
For the time being, though, Lewis remains the second-longest tenured head coach in the league, behind New England’s Bill Belichick. Next in line are Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy, who was hired on Jan. 12, 2006, and Sean Payton, who was named New Orleans Saints head coach six days later. Will that still be the case Tuesday? Next week? Lewis gave few clues.
There has always been a feeling that if Lewis left, he wanted to have say on who replaced him — either a current or former assistant of his. It appears as if two former Lewis lieutenants, Hue Jackson or Jay Gruden, will remain in their head-coaching posts in Cleveland and Washington.
Might Lewis’ defensive coordinator, Paul Guenther, or special-teams coordinator Darrin Simmons be a candidate to replace him? If Lewis is staying, both Guenther and Simmons could be hot coordinator candidates elsewhere — which adds a layer of some urgency. And would they want to come back with short-term deals and Lewis perhaps entering 2018 on the hot seat again?
Or might Brown, director of player personnel Duke Tobin and executive vice president Katie Blackburn look for fresh blood to turn the page if Lewis eventually goes? We don’t yet know. In fact, it's hard not to feel like Lewis could be back next season. The relationship between Lewis and Brown is a complicated one, even if there's little denying the strength of their bond, even through rough times.
As Lewis said, we'll just have to wait to see what happens.