CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals' front office appears to be going out of its comfort zone with its hire of Zac Taylor as head coach, and it just might be the risk the organization needs.
The Bengals officially hired the 35-year-old Taylor as their 10th head coach Monday, despite his relative lack of NFL experience. The move obviously comes with the hope that Taylor, who spent one season as quarterbacks coach for the Los Angeles Rams, could bring Cincinnati the same results coach Sean McVay brought to the Rams.
Of course, coaches like the 33-year-old McVay are rare. There’s no guarantee that Taylor will be able to turn around a team like McVay did. Even McVay had three seasons of experience as an offensive coordinator for the Washington Redskins before taking over the Rams.
Taylor’s only experience as an offensive coordinator was in an interim capacity for the Miami Dolphins at the end of the 2015 season and a forgettable season at the University of Cincinnati in 2016.
But every coaching hire presents a risk. Tenures like Marvin Lewis’ 16-year stint in Cincinnati are exceedingly rare. Even if Taylor doesn’t work out, it was exactly the risk the Bengals needed to take after years of going the safe route with little success.
Bengals fans needed something to get excited about again. As the postseason win drought stretched to a 28th season this year, it was clear some fans had started to give up. The empty seats at Paul Brown Stadium sent a message, even when the Bengals started 5-1 this season. They clearly didn’t believe the coaching staff could actually lead the Bengals to a playoff win.
The fans spoke and they got their wish. Hiring Taylor and almost an entirely new staff of coaches this season just might get them to come back.
It’s fairly uncharted territory for the Bengals, who had never even fired a coordinator while a season was in progress before Ken Zampese and Teryl Austin were dismissed in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
The Bengals have never been big risk takers when it comes to their coaching staff. The organization was always willing to give a chance to a player with a troubled past, but when it came to the coach, ownership tended to dig in its heels.
When Bengals owner Mike Brown took over in 1991 after his father’s death, his first three hires came from within the organization, and the results were dismal. Hiring Lewis in 2003 was his first outside hire. Lewis was certainly the right hire at the time, but the Bengals hung on too long, believing he was a better option than the unknown.
There were assumptions, based on their history, that the Bengals might go with another safe option this year and hire a former assistant coach such as Vance Joseph or Hue Jackson.
That would have been a disaster.
A team led by Joseph or Jackson would have had to win a playoff game in 2019 at a minimum to get the fans to buy in, and the Bengals would have been playing in front of a half-empty stadium all season.
It would have been difficult to sell the fan base on the future of the Bengals while appearing to take a step back. One day Brown will step down and his daughter Katie Blackburn and her husband, Troy, along with Mike’s son Paul, will take over the team. They’ve already assumed much of the day-to-day operation, but this is really their first major coaching hire.
They needed to hit it out of the park. There is obviously going to be some skepticism over the hire, but there are certainly reasons to be optimistic.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff put up the best numbers of his career this season working with Taylor. New offensive coordinator Brian Callahan also has a background working with quarterbacks, and it appears the Bengals plan to retain quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt as well.
Van Pelt had Andy Dalton playing some of the best football of his career last September. If the coaches can get Dalton on track, perhaps he could get back to his 2015 form.
The Bengals also have talented pieces such as Joe Mixon and A.J. Green. While the offensive line remains a concern, their offense overall certainly has the ability to be very good in 2019 under the right direction.
While the Bengals have a lot of work to do to get back to playoff form, their first step was getting their fan base back and showing they’re willing to change and operate more like other NFL organizations. Now they’ll have to build on that by getting results on the field.