Marvin Lewis and Arsene Wenger. Now there are two names that haven’t been put in the same sentence before.
Wenger, the soccer scientist who when he joined Arsenal in 1996 delighted none of his players with a strict diet, sports science and the need for thought deeper than just five-a-side on a Wednesday.
Lewis, the defensive-minded coach who coordinated one of the best defences of all time, the 2000 Ravens, to a 34-7 domination in Super Bowl XXXV and a record-breaking season.
See any similarities so far? Nope, me neither.
Wenger, for all the criticism you hear from Arsenal fans, can at least point back to his prior achievements; he has won the Premier League three times. But the last one was 2004, or 12 years ago if you want it to sound even worse. Marvin Lewis, now in his 15th season as head coach of the Bengals, has never even won a playoff game. He is 0-7 in the postseason if you want that to sound even worse.
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Head to Head
Lewis has won 115 games in charge of this team, the most in franchise history, and in that time has finished under .500 just three times. Wenger has won over 600 games during his Arsenal tenure beginning in 1996, hardly comparable due to the difference in schedules and competitions. Either way, they are both hugely successful in this respect.
What these two men will not but should reminisce about - and perhaps they could settle down for a glass of wine during Lewis’ two-and-a-half day stay in London this week - is their failure over the last 12-plus seasons leading very talented teams to the promised land. Ravished with talent, neither has won a meaningful game when it mattered. Just so we’re clear, the FA Cup doesn’t come into this. As standard, the NFL is the Premier League and vice versa.
Lewis’ 0-7 playoff record is unmatched in league history and the large sample size he owns suggests he won’t turn things around. If players grow stale on a team and don’t make headway, after too long they are shipped out and replaced. Same goes for the head coach or manager; if you are someplace for so long and the end results aren’t pretty, what exactly are you kept in for?
Why do teams, and I’m also looking at the Rams’ Jeff Fisher here despite his far worse regular season credentials, keep on with a coach who has shown to be very good at attaining a 10-6 or 11-5 record but failing at the first true test of the season?
It felt like Jose Mourinho asked this very question through a statement he made when Chelsea boss, referring to Wenger as “a specialist in failure.” It’s true that no other manager has been retained for so long without delivering the biggest trophy of all over a long period. Except Lewis.
In this case, he should not even be hanging on for dear life; Lewis hasn’t a single playoff victory on his head coaching CV and is now 58 years of age, clinging to the ring he won with the Ravens behind Ray Lewis.
Compare and contrast
There are seven current coaches in the NFL who have won championships; Bill Belichick, Mike Tomlin, Pete Carroll, Sean Payton, Mike McCarthy, John Harbaugh and Gary Kubiak. Every one of them lifted the Lombardi Trophy within their first nine years in the league. Kubiak, Belichick and Carroll were the only men to do it after five years, and none of them were with their original teams. They had been moved aside and had to build again.
Meanwhile, Marvin Lewis has lost two wild card games against Houston Texans teams led by T.J. Yates and Matt Schaub, part of five straight one-and-dones in the last five campaigns.
What business does he have still managing this team, or any other team for that matter?
Wenger tells Arsenal fans the squad he has is good enough to compete for a title the summer after finishing just short, and when a rare big-money buy makes a significant impact - ala Alexis Sanchez or Mesut Ozil - the Frenchman should realise it works and spend again. His issue may be conforming to the rest of the league, splashing the cash with little thought for the consequences.
In the NFL transactions work differently, and the Bengals have a star-studded lineup. Andy Dalton is having another very good season, AJ Green is one of the best wideouts in the league and the Jeremy Hill, Gio Bernard running back duo isn’t lacking for yards.
While Dalton and others have been very poor in postseason play, it’s one thing to rightfully blame them and another to shake your head realising Lewis cannot get anything further from this crop when January rolls around. The players have heard the same speeches over and over, nothing fresh and certainly nothing new.
The Bengals won the AFC North in 2013 and 2015, a feat supposedly advantageous come playoff time. Arsenal finished second in the Premier League last season, third before that.
Most of the blame has, every year, been shouldered by the quarterback and coach for the Bengals, who after these sorry results defend each other over the cries of Gunner fans screaming for the end of the Wenger era. Every January in Cincinnati we hear that the wild card game is a must-win or someone will pay the price.
Somehow, someway, it’s instead the Bengals paying Marvin Lewis to stay on, hoping that miraculously something different will happen the next time.