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With news breaking that Marvin Lewis and the Bengals will part ways at the conclusion of the season, the question of succession arises.  While the last couple of years have tarnished his legacy in Cincinnati, Lewis took a Bengals team that was a perpetual loser and made them into a playoff team.  Who will be the next coach of the Cincinnati Bengals?  Is the coach that will make this team into a Super Bowl contender waiting in the wings?  There are a few different directions the team can go.

Internal Hire

This is a highly unlikely scenario due to the fact that A. the Bengals have not been good the for last two years and B. the staff lost its top head coaching candidates to other teams in recent years.  While Paul Guenther is considered to have head coaching potential, the Bengals are a team in need of a change.  Do not expect Guenther, Special Teams Coordinator Darrin Simmons, or offensive coordinator Bill Lazor to be serious candidates for this job.  Also do not expect Mike Zimmer to leave a Vikings team that he has rolling on all cylinders or Hue Jackson to come back now that it seems the Browns are giving him another year to make it work in Cleveland.

Retired or Unemployed Former NFL Head Coach

It’s that time again.  Time for the obligatory Jon Gruden name drop.  I do not see any way that this happens and I am moving on quickly from the thought.

NFL Assistant Coach

Although Patriots’ Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels is certainly an intriguing option, I am not sure he would be interested in the job.  I think it is highly likely that he ends up with the New York Giants.  Patriots’ Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia seems like a more likely candidate to me and certainly knows a thing or two about winning.  Another assistant with Patriot connections who I find intriguing is Mike Vrabel.  Vrabel, now the Defensive Coordinator of the Houston Texans, was born in Akron and was a star at Ohio State.  Although he has coached for only a few short years, he seems like a guy who could bring a real spark of energy to the Bengals and get them to play with passion.  The Bengals have personnel in place who would fit very well into the Texans’ defensive scheme.  Vrabel could be a real contender.

With all of the trouble the Bengals have had on offense, many people would favor bringing in an offensive minded coach.  Eagles’ Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich would certainly fit the bill.  He has done an excellent job developing Carson Wentz into one of the premier quarterbacks in the NFL.  Reich will likely catch the eye of more than one team looking for a head coach this off season.

Seahawks’ offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell would be another great candidate.  While Seattle is better known for its defense, the offense has been successful without always having all the tools.  Bevel developed Russell Wilson quickly and has dealt with personnel issues on the offensive line and a wave of injuries at running back.

College Head Coach

I’m sure people would go nuts if they thought the Bengals had a shot at bringing in Urban Meyer, but I feel comfortable saying that he is exactly where he wants to be.  Jim Harbaugh is a slightly more likely candidate, but I could only see that happening if Harbaugh felt that he would be forced out of his Alma Mater within the next year.  David Shaw, Harbaugh’s replacement at Stanford is a very interesting candidate.  Shaw faces obvious challenges at Stanford, but always fields a highly competitive squad.  Shaw has NFL experience having coached with the Eagles, Raiders, Ravens, and Chargers previously.  Andy Dalton’s college coach Gary Patterson of Texas Christian is another interesting prospect, but having just signed an extension he may not be willing to leave.  Much like Patterson, Washington’s Chris Petersen has shown himself to be a coach who finds a way to win in against all odds.  Before heading to Washington and quickly getting that program heading in the right direction, Petersen successful coached the then underdog Boise State Broncos.

The Long and Short

Despite the Bengals’ performance in recent years, they are not that far removed from being a division champion.  They still have many of the pieces in place and making the right hire at head coach could help them become a Super Bowl contender in a relatively short time.  My top three candidates for the position are Frank Reich, Mike Vrabel, and David Shaw.  Although each is very different, they all would bring a fresh new voice to the team and has the potential to turn things around quickly.

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