On Marvin Lewis’ first day as Bengals coach — Jan. 14, 2003 — John Fox was starting his second season with the Panthers. Other than the Bengals and Patriots, who employed Bill Belichick, every other NFL team has a different coach in 2017. Sean McVay, the coach of the upstart Rams, was 16.
The reason for Lewis’ staying power is as simple as the names of three quarterbacks: John Kitna, Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton.
“I think that helps all of us as a head coach, to have a quarterback you can win games with on Sundays,” Lewis said this week.
The Bears haven’t had one under Fox.
When Fox’s Bears epitaph is written, probably on Jan. 1, it will read the opposite. With the exception of Peyton Manning in Denver — a recruiting coup, but certainly not a sign of quarterback development — Fox has never had an outstanding quarterback.
Like Fox, Lewis is a defensive coach by trade. His 15 years might be running out — some fans of the 5-7 Bengals want new blood — but his longevity has been a rarity in a disposable league.
Lewis identified the importance of developing a quarterback early and, years later, transitioning to another one. Fox? The Panthers’ Jake Delhomme went to one Pro Bowl and one Super Bowl, but his 81.3 career passer rating is worse than Jay Cutler’s mark this season alone. The rating is lower than any that Palmer, Dalton and Kitna had under Lewis — with the exception of Palmer’s rookie year. About that: Palmer redshirted in 2003, the plan the Bears had concocted for rookie Mitch Trubisky until Mike Glennon was deemed unplayable after the first four games. Kitna’s contribution that year can’t be overlooked.
By Palmer’s third year, he led the NFL in touchdown passes, completion percentage and sack percentage.
Redshirting a rookie is harder to do in today’s NFL, Lewis said. He credited Bengals owner Mike Brown, son of legendary coach Paul Brown, for having patience.
“It just speaks to Mike and where he never put pressure on me to say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to play the rookie; he’s the first pick in the draft,’ ” Lewis said. “I thought it was really important for our football team to experience success early on, and I think each coach has to do that based on his team. And that’s the most important thing. I know that was where I came out in ’03 when I started.
“We didn’t want it to be, ‘We didn’t win because it was Carson’s fault.’ But as I watched Carson through the season and the practice reps we gave him — it was a different situation than what Mitch is in. But we could see he was no question the quarterback of the future.”
Lewis proved his quarterback success was systemic. The Bengals drafted Dalton in 2011, and months later, they caved to Palmer’s trade demand, sending him to the Raiders for a first-round pick and a conditional second-rounder. Dalton started 16 games as a rookie and made the first of three Pro Bowl appearances.
“Young quarterbacks these days are such smart guys,” said Lewis, who has made the playoffs seven times but hasn’t won a postseason game.
“They threw a lot of passes generally in college. It’s something they understand and they’re able to really sink their teeth into and come out on the other side a better player even.”
If Trubisky does the same after his first-year struggles, Fox won’t be around to see it.
Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley.