Jumping Ship in Cincy

Despite three consecutive playoff berths, the Cincinnati Bengals have been able to maintain their longstanding reputation as one of the most dysfunctional professional sports franchises in North America. Those three playoff berths were soon followed by three first round exits from the tournament, including Sunday’s home loss to the San Diego Chargers after going 8-0 at home in the regular season. Starting quarterback Andy Dalton looked terrible in the second half of that game and people are going to question him as long as he can’t get out of the first round. Now, Marvin Lewis’ assistants are headed elsewhere. Can you blame them?

The Bengals’ offensive coordinator, Jay Gruden, has accepted a new position as the head coach of the Washington Redskins, replacing Mike Shanahan. Gruden will be tasked with fixing Robert Griffin III and turning him into a franchise QB at the NFL level. Gruden, whose brother Jon won a Super Bowl as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is inheriting another difficult situation with another young QB and another unpopular owner, but it’s better than staying in Cincy.

It was reported earlier today that Bengals’ defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is a favorite to be the next head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. He is also a candidate for the Tennessee Titans’ head coaching vacancy. Zimmer called the plays for the Bengals defense, which was one of the best in the NFL his year. He is 57 years old, and if he doesn’t take a head coaching job now, he might never get one. The Bengals are loaded with talent, but their top assistant coaches are jumping ship.

That’s Bengals football in a nutshell. The franchise was founded by Paul Brown, one of football’s greatest innovators. Brown invented the playbook, and the helmet face mask, among other things. He was so successful at Ohio State that the Cleveland professional football team named themselves the Browns when he became their coach. Brown’s son, Mike, is the owner of the Bengals today, and is one of the worst owners in professional sports. Despite enjoying some success in the 80s, and producing two of the best ex-athlete broadcasters in any sport in Boomer Esiason and Cris Collinsworth, the Bengals have been an NFL punchline for decades. The two times they reached the Super Bowl, they lost to the San Francisco 49ers, who were coached by Paul Brown’s longtime assistant coach, Bill Walsh. Walsh left Cincinnati to pursue a head coaching gig, and he made the Bengals pay. Gruden and Zimmer are two of the best coordinators in football right now, and other teams are taking notice. Perhaps they will do the same as Walsh someday.

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