When Cowardice Drives Decision-Making, Marvin Lewis Gets An Extension.

posted by Mo Egger, ESPN1530 -

Marvin Lewis is coming back because, well, as the old saying goes, if at the 15th time you don't succeed, try, try again.  His return for a 16th attempt at securing his first playoff win as a head coach will be announced, I guess, with new window dressing like Marvin getting more control and a bigger say. Maybe we'll even be graced with a public statement from Mike Brown, who I'm sure will be eloquent in his praise for a coach that, like the owner himself, has never really won anything.

I can't wait.

I hope the third Marvin Lewis Era works out.  I genuinely do.  I hope that at some point over the next 12 to 13 months, I'm sitting down in the seat I'm in right now, typing on the crummy, outdated laptop I'm banging on now admitting that the Bengals got it right, that whatever agreement Marvin and Mike came to not only yielded different, better results, but rewarded fans for years of putting up with futility. I want to look back on this this particular period in Bengals history when so many of us are (again) examining our relationship with the team and laugh at how silly we all were for losing our minds that the Bengals didn't replace their winningest coach with some slapdick retread or some unproven young guy.

But right now, in the immediate aftermath of finding out that Mike Brown's New Year's gift to us was more Marvin, the thing that bothers me most is the cowardice exhibited by the owner.

Mike Brown is scared of change. 

I've been around all kinds of leaders, both in my industry and others.  I've observed people whose leadership styles have been both effective and ineffective, and I've come to appreciate that there's no one tried and true textbook method of leading. But the best leaders I've watched, both from up close and afar, have all possessed one critical leadership characteristic.

They didn't lead fear guide their decision-making. 

I won't pretend to understand all the intricacies of the relationship Mike Brown has with Marvin Lewis. I'm sure on some level, their dynamic is - like Marvin's Cincinnati legacy - complicated. But as much as Mike might like Marvin personally and value him professionally, I refuse to believe that Mike hasn't at least wondered if his football team would be in better hands with someone else coaching it.

But however Mike Brown's mind might drift toward thoughts about what like would be like post-Marvin, his actions almost always revert back to what makes him comfortable.  Buzzwords like "continuity," "stability" and "comfort" are as associated with the Bengals as "playoff futility," "heartbreaking defeat" and "fan disenchantment." Mike Brown, cherishes continual, stable, comfort so much that he's abjectly afraid of change. 

Which is okay. Fear is a natural, human emotion. There's things I fear. Snakes. Needles. Marvin Lewis coaching against the Steelers.  Fear happens.

But fear cannot dictate decision-making, not when certain choices can be as reverberating as choosing, or staying with, a head coach.  There might be a lot of different reasons why Marvin Lewis is still be here, taunting with his uninspiring coaching and sullen, grumpy press conferences, but Mike Brown's fear of change is one of them.

Mike Brown is the worst kind of leader, unwilling to embrace change, and the things like the unknown and spooky potential for failure that change brings. He's almost comically reluctant to do things out of both his and his football team's comfort zone lest they compromise his cherished stability. He won't make the admittedly difficult decision to move on from a head coach who's become the mascot for losing big games because of a crippling, almost paralyzing fear of change.

He's afraid to move on from Marvin Lewis because doing so presents an almost unprecedented - for the Bengals - series of decisions, processes, and potential consequences that effective, bold leaders tackle head-on. He's keeping Marvin here because a replacement coach might demand that the team veer out of its lane of comfort just a little too much for Mike and his snowflake sensibilities.

Mike Brown is the guy who won't bail from a relationship that's not working because he's afraid of having to date again, stuck in something that's unfulfilling because what's next might scary. Or challenging. Or, you know, uncomfortable.

He's a coward. Not simply because he's decided to let Marvin Lewis take a stab at extending his record for playoff games coached in without a win, but because I believe that deep down inside he has reservations about whether his current head coach is the right man to deliver the kind of winner that his team's fans deserve more than he does. He knows that Marvin Lewis hasn't done what he was brought here - and kept here - to do. He knows the fallout that's coming with the decision to keep him. He suspects that the Bengals might be better served with someone else coaching them.

But he's afraid to do anything about any of that.  He's afraid.  That's why Marvin Lewis is still here, more than any other reason. Because Mike Brown is too gripped by fear to make a bold, tough, risky decision and work through what's next. It'd be one thing if Marvin Lewis was coming back for years 16 and 17 for the right reasons.

Fear of the alternative is not the right reason.

Cowardice is a bad philosophy to lead by.

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Mo Egger

Mo Egger

Mo Egger delivers his unique take on sports on Cincinnati's ESPN 1530! Read more

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