It is truly an end of an era in Cincinnati as Marvin Lewis’ tenure with the Bengals is finally over after 16 seasons. While he’s been no stranger to the hot seat over the years as a result of his inability to win playoff games, the veteran head coach still made the organization a fairly consistent winner during his time and went 131-122-3 overall as the winningest coach in franchise history.
The big question is where does the team go from here, especially with the oversight from owner Mike Brown. There are looming questions about the future of veterans like quaterback Andy Dalton and others on the roster as well.
Who could wind up replacing Lewis? Here are 12 candidates to watch that could be the next Bengals head coach:
The NFL assistants
Hue Jackson, Bengals special assistant
Jackson has long been viewed as Lewis’ successor in Cincinnati due to his time as an assistant there and connection with ownership. The biggest issue is undoubtedly his 11-44-1 overall record as a head coach and the way that the Browns took off this season after he was able to win just three games there.
Freddie Kitchens, Browns offensive coordinator
Has done good work with Baker Mayfield in a productive offense since Jackson was fired and would bring a breath of fresh air into the organization after the relatively stoic Lewis. Would Brown and the front office take a chance on somebody so relatively unproven would be the question but sometimes those chances work out just fine.
Leslie Frazier, Bills defensive coordinator
He’s done good work with the Bills’ defense and even led the Vikings to the playoffs in his stint as a head coach. Would represent a break with Lewis while keeping somebody who has a defensive background and is a calming presence leading the team.
Dan Campbell, Saints tight ends coach
A hot name this carousel due to the work under Sean Payton in New Orleans and as a result of his stint as interim coach of the Dolphins. Would relate well to players and his energy would be a big positive as the team likely goes through a rebuild. His coaching staff would be a big piece of the equation though as he’d be much more of a CEO-type.
Dave Toub, Chiefs special teams coordinator
He’s interviewed for a few jobs over the years and would be a solid fit in Cincinnati after doing such good work in Kansas City. The John Harbaugh model has worked well in the division already and Toub is similarly respected. Bringing in a young offensive coordinator with Toub could be a solid future.
The college coaches
Matt Campbell, Iowa State head coach
Likely the hottest name from the college ranks connected to this opening due to his lengthy Ohio ties, including growing up in Massillon, playing at Mount Union and being head coach at Toledo. He’s done terrific work in making the Cyclones a player in the Big 12 the past few years and would be somebody the franchise could win the press conference with while instilling a hard-nosed mentality from top to bottom.
Jim Harbaugh, Michigan head coach
He is an Ohio native and you’ve got to at least inquire if he’s open to leaving Ann Arbor after a rough ending to the Wolverines’ season. The longest of long shots and not even Harbaugh’s first choice but you have to make the call just in case.
The ex-head coaches
Jack Del Rio, former Raiders head coach
Brings lengthy head coaching experience and would be able to oversee the rebuilding of the Bengals’ defense while he’s at it. Only 93-94 overall but led Oakland to the playoffs just two years ago before being run out of town. Gets plenty of support from the media, coaches and ex-players.
Mike Mularkey, former Titans head coach
Took Tennessee to the playoffs just last year and has more postseason wins than Lewis as a result of that run. Lengthy experience on the offensive side of the ball and would fit with the mentality the Bengals want. Plus he knows the division quite well from all those days with the Steelers.
Chuck Pagano, former Colts head coach
Had a trio of playoff appearances in Indianapolis and has done good work against the Bengals while with Baltimore and Cleveland. He’s been working with the league office but would love to return to coaching and could help fix Cincinnati’s defense.
Jim Caldwell, former Lions head coach
Had a winning record with both the Colts and Lions and knows postseason success from a Super Bowl run and four appearances. Offensive background is a big plus and he’d be a fit shepherding the organization through the next few years.
Adam Gase, former Dolphins head coach
Highly regarded for his play-calling experience and QB work even if things didn’t work out in Miami. Already being mentioned for a few openings, the Bengals would have to move quickly but there would be a lot of positives to bringing in a young coach with a very different type of attitude from Lewis.
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.