If asked to name a current NFL head coach with over a decade at the helm of the same team, who has made the playoffs five straight years, and who has won the AP Head Coach of the Year, you’d probably have no trouble blurting out “Bill Belichick.” But what if I asked you to name two such head coaches?
You can stop scratching your head – two men who fit that description will face each other this Sunday. Because Marvin Lewis is the only other NFL head man who satisfies all those conditions. He has coached the Bengals for 13 years, was Coach of the Year in 2009, and has made the playoffs every year since 2011.
And despite what you might believe about Lewis, there are more similarities between the two coaches than are first apparent.
Both made their name with dominant defenses that won Super Bowls. Belichick was the defensive coordinator for two New York Giants’ championships, and Lewis was the DC for one of the most dominant defenses in league history, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.
Belichick had 61 wins in his first eight years as a head coach, and Lewis had 60 through the same number of years as top man in Cincinnati. And both coaches had exactly seven playoff berths in their first 13 full seasons as head coaches.
Where Belichick and Lewis differ the most is in two main areas: disciplined play and playoff records.
Since Lewis took over the Bengals, they have ranked in the top 10 for least penalties twice (2004 and 2008). In that same time frame, Belichick’s Patriots have been among the 10 least penalized teams nine times. And a lack of discipline literally cost the Bengals a playoff game last year, when two 15-yard penalties on the same play gave the Pittsburgh Steelers an easy field goal for the win.
And speaking of the playoffs, Lewis hasn’t tasted any post-season success since he left Baltimore. His playoff record in Cincinnati is 0-7, despite four times playing those games at home. It’s a record of playoff futility unmatched in NFL history; Lewis is the only head coach to get seven shots at a playoff game and come up with no wins.
On the other hand, Belichick ranks as the most successful post-season coach of all time. He has the most playoff wins of any coach in league history (23), is the only coach to win his first 10 post-season games with one team, is tied with Don Shula for the most Super Bowl appearances in history (6), and is the only head man to win three Super Bowls in four years.
On this matter, there is no chance Lewis will ever catch up to Belichick.
There’s no way to know if any of this will impact the game on Sunday. Returning Tom Brady as starting quarterback will go much further toward deciding this one, no question. But though Lewis is something of a national punch line, he’s had more sustained regular-season success than any Cincy head coach since… well, since the team was formed in 1968.