CINCINNATI – Marvin Lewis knows all about raised expectations. When he was hired by the Bengals to become the franchise’s ninth head coach in 2003 it was hailed as a good hire but… well, most people still didn’t think Lewis would be able to succeed in making the Bengals a viable postseason and Super Bowl contender. There were many who thought only the reincarnation of franchise patriarch Paul Brown could affect the kind of change needed to return the Bengals to the kind of relevance they held through the 1990 season.
Lewis proved all doubters wrong. The Bengals are again relevant, playoff participants four times in Lewis’ first 10 seasons, including three of the last four years. Coaches always have expectations of winning it all. The belief of those outside of the building, those who have invested their time, money and faith even though they can have no tangible effect on each game, has grown from the point where just making the playoffs isn’t good enough.
They want more.
Down Mehring Way from Paul Brown Stadium, there has been a similar story. It started in November 2005 when Bob Castellini and his group had bought controlling interest of the Reds. The team had just completed its fifth straight losing season and hadn’t been to the postseason in 10 years, minus a Game 163 loss to the Mets in 1999.
Dusty Baker was hired in 2008. The Reds won 74 and 78 games his first two seasons but won 91 games and their first division title in 15 years Year 3. Even a three-game sweep at the hands of the Philadelphia Phillies couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the fans.
The Reds parted ways with Dusty Baker Friday morning. Three days after his team lost 6-2 to Pittsburgh in the National League Wild Card game, Baker was fired.
Three 90-win seasons and three playoff appearances in four seasons weren’t enough for Baker to keep his job. Raised expectations were part of the equation.
According to John Heyman of CBSSports.com, general manager Walt Jocketty told Baker on Wednesday he was going to fire hitting coach Brook Jacoby. Baker, according to Heyman, stood up for Jacoby by telling Jocketty to fire him instead.
That’s what Jocketty did.
Bengals owner Mike Brown and Lewis had a sit down after the 2010 season. The Bengals had surprised people by winning the AFC North in 2009 but faltered to a 4-12 record. Brown and Lewis came to an agreement at their meeting to continue their relationship. That was a given to happen. The Bengals have rebounded with postseason appearances the last two seasons and Lewis’ contract has been extended through the 2014 season (as had Baker’s) but making the playoffs just isn’t good enough anymore.
“That’s the first step in the process, and then the second step is pushing over the hump and staying over the hump,” said Lewis on Friday after practice. “That’s why we do this. We do this to get over the hump and stay over the hump.”
Neither the Reds nor Bengals have gotten over that hump yet. Neither team has advanced past its first round of the playoffs since the Reds swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Division Series in 1995 to reach the NL Championship Series against Atlanta. The Reds were 2-9 in postseason games under Baker, including winless in four home games. The Bengals are 0-4 in the postseason under Lewis, including two losses at home.
Baker and Lewis have had/have their critics, often times concerning in-game decisions. What no one can dispute are the positive effects both men have had for their organizations, how they have helped raise expectations to the point where good isn’t good enough, and how they have the respect of their players.
Lewis feels for Baker. He knows all too well the expectations and pressures Baker has dealt with; he deals with those same expectations and pressures.
“You don’t want to see it happen but he’s worked his butt off,” said Lewis. “They’re still trying to get over the hump and get into the championship series. That’s (Baker’s) goal more than anybody. Nobody is going to take a loss harder than the manager or the coach. Nobody. Because he’s put in the blood, sweat and the tears to get them to that point, so no one feels it like he feels it.