At some point, whenever it was, the decision was made either by the Bengals, by Marvin Lewis, or both, for him to coach this season with no contract for 2018.
The moment that was decided, regardless of when it was, yesterday's circus became inevitable.
The longer Marvin went with no deal in place for next season, the speculation about his and the team's future was only going to intensify, particularly if the Bengals were spending the final few weeks playing out the string. Once the season crept into its final weeks, the only thing that's felt like more of a foregone conclusion than Marvin leaving has been a story about him leaving being broken before the season was over.
Yet there was something so fitting about yesterday, both the predictable punchless performance against Minnesota and the clown show the 34-7 loss played against the backdrop of. I don't buy into the narrative that the Bengals' effort against the Vikings can be attributed to a team being too distracted to play well. What we saw yesterday was rather representative of the way this team has played all season. The team has been broken since it was shutout in the season's first game, and they've rarely showed enough life to make you think that those first two games - when they scored a whopping nine points - weren't what the Bengals are.
That said, if Marvin Lewis and the people he works for both wanted to avoid having their players play with what happened yesterday - credible reporters reporting something that hardly seemed surprising - hanging over their heads, they could've headed it off by, you know, communicating.
Marvin Lewis, for all of his attributes, has rarely been referred to as a great communicator. But what happened yesterday was ridiculous even by his standards. If he hasn't been aware of the growing public speculation about his future, then he's even more tone-deaf than I'd originally thought, and if he wasn't at least a little sensitive to how his assistant coaches and many of his players have been twisting in the wind for weeks, then he is painfully out of touch.
He could've either made more of an effort to address next season while there were still games to be played this season, siphoning off rumor and innuendo to the best of his abilities. Or he could've kept his mouth shut when national reporters speculated about his future. I believe Marvin Lewis and the Bengals both know what they want to do with their relationship moving forward, and I believe the reports that indicate that someone else will be coaching the team next season. I also understand how awkward it can be to come out weeks before a season ends and say publicly that the coach isn't coming back, but when it's such a poorly kept secret in the first place and it's a decision that affects so many people in both the long and short term, why not come out and address what's coming?
Instead, players were learning about the reports in the minutes before the game. Some say Marvin addressed the reports while others claim it was never brought up. Marvin feebly addressed the reports after his team was shellacked by the Vikings and came off as looking like a man who's lost control of both his message and his team.
Marvin Lewis and the Bengals have done a lot of good things together, but the sloppy way their relationship is coming to an end is tarnishing his already complicated legacy.
He could've avoided that.