Is Bengals' Marvin Lewis a tier-2 coach?

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
11:30
AM ET
CINCINNATI -- Posed a question similar to the one in the headline above, 30 NFL insiders answered, just barely, in the affirmative.

Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis may only be five losses from going .500 in a head-coaching career that ranks second in tenure only to New England's Bill Belichick, but he's done good enough of a job turning around the once-lowly franchise that he has earned tier-2 coaching status, according to a recent survey conducted by ESPN Insider Mike Sando.

Lewis
In a poll published Tuesday, Sando found that to league insiders, Lewis ranked 15th among current coaches.

Atop the list was Belichick, the winner of three Super Bowls. At the bottom? Oakland Raiders coach Dennis Allen, primarily because he's in control of a bad franchise, one that just Monday was named the least desirable to play for in an anonymous survey of current players conducted by ESPN's NFL Nation.

As he collected votes for his poll, Sando broke coaches down into five tiers. The top three on the list belonged in the first tier. The next 12 were part of the second tier. At No. 15, Lewis rounded out that section. According to Sando's findings, Lewis received 15 tier-3 votes, 14 tier-2 votes and one tier-1 vote.

Voters apparently grappled with many of the same concerns Bengals fans have -- balancing Lewis' regular-season success with his postseason failures.

When Lewis became Cincinnati's head coach in 2003, he took over an organization that hadn't had a winning season in the previous 12 years. He walked into a situation similar to what Allen has found himself currently in. Just three years after his arrival, Lewis took the Bengals to their first playoff berth since the 1990 season. He has made four other trips in the years since.

He hasn't had a playoff win in any of those seasons.

One general manager told Sando: "Sometimes you give people extra credit for where they coach and that whole Cincy place has been a tough place to win."

That GM thought Lewis probably was more of a tier-3 coach because of the 0-5 playoff record, but because of external forces Lewis has had to coach around, he should be regarded with fringe tier-2 status, the GM said.

"They used to make the coaches do the scouting work," the same GM said. "They ask a lot of their coaches. They are a talented team and [Lewis] is part of that."

Since 2011, the Bengals have changed much of their structure. Team president Mike Brown has had a dramatically decreased role, with his daughter, executive vice president Katie Blackburn, handling many of the front-office administrative duties. Lewis and director of player personnel Duke Tobin have had larger roles in scouting and giving the final word on the drafting of prospects and signing of free agents. It's one of the reasons the Bengals, since 2011, have routinely had some of the league's best draft classes and found more hidden gems, like former undrafted free agent Vontaze Burfict, than most other teams.

Combine that with the fact the Bengals have at least been to the playoffs, and you have some who question why Lewis didn't poll higher.

Like one coordinator told Sando: "Marvin took over a franchise that is troubled and, no, they have not won a playoff game, but look at the Cleveland Browns today. If you asked every person in that organization or who comes to the stadium if they would take a winning season but lose in the playoffs, they would take it."

Coley Harvey

ESPN Cincinnati Bengals reporter

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