By now, it is impossible to come up with the name of a candidate to replace Marvin Lewis that hasn't already been discussed. We've spent the weeks that have followed the Bengals' Monday night loss to the Steelers doing our own vetting of every potential candidate, and most of us have settled on our favorites.
Brian Kelly is one of mine.
That's not to say that there aren't other coaches that interest me - I've touted reaching out to Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley and Patriots OC Josh McDaniels. I'd be willing to bet that they'll interview at least two candidates from within, and if Hue Jackson is available, he'd seem to be the odds-on favorite to get the gig.
But I'd call Brian Kelly. Here's why....
Brian Kelly's first game coaching the UC Bearcats was the 2007 International Bowl in Toronto, which UC played in after going 7-5 under Mark Dantonio in 2006. Kelly had already had an electrifying introductory press conference, in which he openly talked about playing in BCS bowl games and it was pretty apparent that the school had hired someone capable and willing of selling UC football to a market that had always given the program a lukewarm reception.
The bowl game against Western Michigan was played on a Saturday afternoon. I flew to Toronto on Friday from Memphis, where I'd watched Mick Cronin's first UC team get pummeled by an excellent John Calipari-coached Tigers team. The school and the radio station had decided to hold a makeshift Brian Kelly Show from Toronto the evening before the game, renting out a small room in the hotel the team was staying in, right next to where the Bearcats were having their meetings.
As we prepped for the show, a UC staffer came in with a couple of nice bags of International Bowl gear for the radio crew. It was a nice touch, and I still own the coat, which is the warmest winter coat I've ever been in. Kelly sat, waiting for the show to begin, watching us - ok, me - sift through the swag.
Among the pieces was a really nice pullover that had been embroidered with bowl the C-paw logo and the logo for the bowl game. It was the same pullover the players had been given, and instantly, I knew it'd be a mainstay of my wardrobe rotation. The new coach saw me look at the pullover and remarked that he'd told his players that once they returned to Cincinnati, he didn't want to see the bowl game gear ever again, because their sights had to be set higher than third-rate postseason tilts played in foreign countries.
Eight months later, I was preparing to host the first Brian Kelly Show of his first full season from the Original Montgomery Inn. The previous offseason, Kelly had barnstormed the tri-state, selling people on UC football and going out of his way to tell people that things were about to change and that the perception of the program was about to shift, along with the expectations for it.
He'd recently come back from Big East Media Day in Newport, Rhode Island, and he'd noticed that the Cincinnati Enquirer hadn't sent anyone to cover it. Seizing on a chance to publicity, he called out the paper and other Cincinnati media, which made him and his program front page news in the paper and topic A on talk shows like the one I'd just started hosting.
He and I arrived separately for his show but walked in together. We exchanged pleasantries while he noticed that I was wearing that bowl game pullover from his UC debut. I hadn't remembered what he said about not seeing any of that gear again, and I didn't work for him, so I didn't care if he approved of what I was wearing or not.
But I knew he'd bring it up.
Which he did. On air.
In good nature, he crushed me for wearing it, talking about how UC fans (like me) had to start thinking bigger and better. The International Bowl was no longer going to be acceptable. Nothing short of Big East titles and BCS bowl games would do. He talked about how for the program to be perceived differently from outsiders, it had to be be treated and talked about differently from the inside. He talked about scheduling better, engaging with people better, and building the biggest college football brand in the region. He referenced getting better facilities, improving the school's recruiting, upgrading its travel, and doing things in the same big-time way that the sport's top programs were doing them. He talked about being covered more, being talked about more, and the goals for the program being higher than anyone had ever talked about. He talked about winning a national championship.
And I never wore that pullover again.
If you are, like I am, a UC fan and choose to remember Brian Kelly for something other than how his time at the school ended (I believe there should be a Brian Kelly statue outside of Nippert Stadium), then you remember more than anything how he made you feel about the program. This was a guy who challenged preconceived notions about Bearcat football, who constantly pushed for more, and who questioned (and made us question) why things had been done the way they'd be done for so long.
He didn't just win. He didn't just get people excited about UC football. He made people think differently about UC football.
Think the Bengals could use someone who can do that?
They need someone who will do more of what Marvin did for the Bengals in 2003 (which was documented at the time, here), who will challenge the franchise's conventions, ask why they do things they way they do, push buttons, and make people inside the organization think, act, and speak differently. They need someone who will push to be a little more proactive in free agency, or steer them earlier away from a plan that's not working. They need someone who will get people talking less about winning one stupid playoff game and get us talking title once again. They need someone who won't necessarily settle for comfort and stability, and who'll maybe push the starting quarterback a little bit.
They need Brian Kelly.
Now, would Brian Kelly be interested? I have no clue. Would Mike Brown be willing to reach out to Brian Kelly, know what he knows about the personality of the coach? I don't think it's too far-fetched to say that he wouldn't, especially if he remembers what new thinking did for his team 15 years ago.
It's not to say that hiring Brian Kelly wouldn't come with questions. He wouldn't be able to burn through assistants the way he did at UC and the way he's done at Notre Dame. His act with the media after losses would be unpleasant. He'd probably have to tweak how he treats players publicly and privately.
But if you're a Bengals fan (and I am), then you're desperate for this team to think, look, feel, and perform differently.
Brian Kelly did that with one team here.
I'd like to see him try it with another.
BENGALS v. LIONS
This is the first Bengals home game that I've voluntarily sat out since 1998. Christmas Eve has something to do with it. The play and feel of the team has something to do with it too.
I don't feel like being there for a repeat of what I've watched the last two weeks.
I'm always going to be a Bengals fan. I don't know if I'll always be a season ticket holder.
I'll get an invoice for 2018 within the next few weeks.
I wonder how I'll feel then.
Lions 27 Bengals 10 (Detroit -3)
THERE ARE OTHER GAMES
Last week's 7-7-2 work has us at 116-101-7 heading into the season's penultimate weekend. "Penultimate" is such an underutilized word.
Baltimore (-14) over Indianapolis. Is there a more interesting potential head coaching opening than the one about to come open in Indy? On one hand, the new guy will walk into Andrew Luck. On the other, the new guy will walk into an Andrew Luck that's been so physically compromised that some wonder if he'll ever be able to throw it the way he used to. He'll also walk into a flawed roster that hasn't been improved upon in years, a nutjob owner, and a division that's more difficult than it's been in a while.
I think - and I might change my mind based on more information about Luck's shoulder - I'd rather have the Cincinnati gig.
Minnesota (-9) over Green Bay. Even if some of these games are trash, you've gotta love the way the NFL wraps around this weekend, with two Saturday games, a full Sunday slate, and two Monday games, right?
(Even if I'm slightly more into what the NBA is offering up on Christmas day. Damn, the NBA is fantastic right now.)
Buffalo (+11.5) over New England. If you haven't read this story about how Bill Belichick has cut the privileges of Tom Brady's weirdo personal trainer, I'm sure you've heard about it.
The story made me think about how Marvin Lewis handles Andy Dalton.
He babies him, giving him the longest leash possible, never even entertaining the idea of replacing Dalton, or even pushing him with a replacement.
If Bill Belichick refuses to baby the greatest quarterback of all-time, can the next head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals refuse to baby Andy Dalton?
Denver (+3.5) over Washington. Is there a potential Bengals head coaching hire that would elicit less excitement than Jay Gruden?
Atlanta (+6) over New Orleans. We are one more poor performance away from launching a full-scale "Is Matt Ryan on the take" investigation. Dude has looked like the gamblers have gotten to him the last few weeks.
Cleveland (+6) over Chicago. If the Browns lose, they'll clinch a 15-loss season. Hue Jackson said he'd jump into Lake Erie if his team went 1-15 again. If the Browns lose to the Bears, does he jump before next week's game or after?
Chargers (-7) over Jets. Did you realize that Bryce Petty was still earning an NFL paycheck?
Miami (+11) over Kansas City. Meh.
Carolina (-11) over Tampa Bay. From Deadspin....
Jerry Richardson just horndogged his way out of owning the Panthers, and whatever crooked old fart the NFL chooses to replace him will likely be paying north of $2 billion for one of the NFL’s more tenuous stadium situations. The Panthers’ home stadium was built right before the luxury stadium boom and thus, along with other contemporary shitholes like the Skins’ stadium, does not include the requisite luxury condos and aquaparks and Tesla dealerships needed to satisfy an NFL owner’s hunger for a robust profit margin.
Despite Richardson squeezing the city of Charlotte (among other things) in order to get publicly funded upgrades, and despite speculation that he won’t sell to someone who would dare move the team, the current terms of the Panthers lease allow them to leave as soon as 2019 with only a small penalty fee attached. Presumably, new ownership will first shoot for a stadium like JerryWorld or the Falcons’ new digs, and they’ll roll out a very thick binder explaining how such a luxe edifice could “stimulate” the local economy by attracting football fans and Star Trek conventions. LOOGIT THE FANCY ESCALATORS!
Tennessee (+7) over the Rams. Did you see any of LA's blowout win over the Seahawks last week, in what was easily the best 60-minute performance any team has turned in this season? Andrew Whitworth was the best player on the field, and as good as Todd Gurley was, it wasn't even close. Gurley ran right behind Whitworth nearly every single time he touched the ball, and no matter who was engaging Big Whit, the former Bengal annihilated him. Meanwhile, this week the Bengals are pulling guys off of truck routes to protect Andy Dalton. I want to kill myself.
Jacksonville (-4.5) over San Francisco. I'm 90 percent on the "Jimmy G is the best quarterback active and healthy quarterback in the NFC" bandwagon. Let's see what he does against my favorite healthy and active AFC team.
Dallas (-5) over Seattle. It was a fun ride, Legion of Boom.
New York (+3.5) over Arizona. I'll wager money that Marvin Lewis will reach out to the Giants to see if he can be Tom Coughlan 2.0.
Houston (+10) over Pittsburgh. Guys, it was a catch. I hate the Steelers and I enjoy it when they lose. But it was a catch.
Philadelphia (-9) over Oakland. Why, when Carson Wentz went down with a season-ending injury, did we automatically assume that he's out of the running for the MVP award? Playing a full 16-games is not a requirement - Joe Montana played just 13 in his apex MVP season of 1989, and Tom Brady finished second in the voting despite missing four games due to suspension last season? Can a guy who led his team to 11 wins in 13 games while rejuvenating a franchise get the hardware even if he didn't play every game?
If I'm voting, the answer is yes.