Best Cincinnati Bengals Head Coaches of All Time: From Sam Wyche to Marvin Lewis

There are five Cincinnati Bengals head coaches who have an argument to be considered the best in franchise history, but there can only be one.

Three head coaches have led the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl.

Another is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and revered as one of the greatest minds the game has ever known.

And a fifth owns the franchise record for victories, and it’s more than double that of any other coach in franchise history.

Sorting through their accomplishments, and their failings, to rank them from top to bottom has been a surprisingly difficult task.

An argument can be made for each of them to be labeled the best, so who is the greatest Bengals head coach in franchise history?

Ranking the Greatest Coaches in Cincinnati Bengals History

5) Marvin Lewis (2003-18)

Some might see it as odd to have the man with more than twice as many wins as any other coach in franchise history ranked so low, but Marvin Lewis’ 0-7 record in the postseason is a massive counterweight to all the good he accomplished.

Lewis, who was 131-129-3, is one of only three Bengals coaches with a career winning record.

But his win total is more a product of his longevity — and owner Mike Brown’s patience — than anything else. Lewis also has more than twice as many losses as every Cincinnati coach except Sam Wyche.

Pulling the Bengals out of the morass they were in when he took over holds more sway than the winning record and four division championships. But an 0-7 postseason record is a glaring failure, and Lewis was 19-28-1 in his final three seasons as the Bengals never finished higher than third in the AFC North.

The 2009 AP Coach of the Year, Lewis averaged 8.1 wins during his 16-year run, which included an unprecedented five straight playoff berths from 2011-15.

Against head coaches who are either in the Hall of Fame or won a Super Bowl, Lewis was 47-66-1 (.414), with most of that damage inflicted by Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin’s 20-5 dominance.

4) Sam Wyche (1984-91)

Much like Lewis, there was more to Sam Wyche’s résumé than his win total, which is the second highest in franchise history.

A brilliant innovator who rode the no-huddle offense all the way to Super Bowl 23 in 1988, Wyche was 64-68 in his eight seasons as head coach.

But his unpredictability extended beyond his game plans — and infamous quotes.

Wyche’s tenure in Cincinnati was marked with inconsistency as he only posted three winning seasons.

Wyche’s teams finished either first or last in the division in each of his last five seasons. That included a job-ending 3-13 mark in 1991, one season after the team advanced in the postseason, something no Cincinnati team would do again for 31 years.

Wyche was 3-2 in the postseason, but against coaches who are either in the Hall of Fame or own a Super Bowl title, he was 16-22 (.421).

3) Zac Taylor

As is the case with Joe Burrow on the list of the best Bengals quarterbacks and Ja’Marr Chase on the list of the best Bengals wide receivers, Zac Taylor has a chance to move into the top spot.

And it might not take long.

He still is under .500 at 42-46-1 after a brutal 6-25-1 start to his career, but Taylor has been one of the most successful coaches in the league since then, leading the Bengals to three consecutive winning records, two division titles, two AFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl.

In the first 51 seasons of Bengals football, there were just five playoff wins and two conference championship game appearances. Taylor, who is 5-2 in the postseason, has matched those totals in just five seasons at the helm.

If you want to make the argument he has been carried by Burrow — because apparently some people somehow still think that — look at what he did last year with Jake Browning, a career practice squad quarterback with no previous meaningful experience, in seven starts after Burrow’s injury.

Taylor is a combined 4-3 against Hall of Fame locks Andy Reid and Bill Belichick, but he is 15-22-1 (.408) against all coaches with Super Bowl wins, including 8-13 against AFC North rivals John Harbaugh and Tomlin.

Since entering the league in 2019, Taylor is tied for the third-best postseason winning percentage (.714) behind Andy Reid (.875) and Bruce Arians (.833).

And he’s tied for first with Arians in most road playoff wins (three).

2) Forrest Gregg (1980-83)

A Pro Football Hall of Famer as a player and one of the greatest offensive linemen ever, Forrest Gregg has the shortest coaching résumé on this list, leading the Bengals for just four seasons.

But of the three coaches who have led the team to the Super Bowl, Gregg did it the fastest, taking the Bengals to Super Bowl 16 in his second season.

Gregg was 34-27 in his four seasons, and his .557 winning percentage is the best in franchise history.

And he’s the only man on the list who doesn’t have a losing record against coaches who are in the Hall of Fame or own Super Bowl titles, going 11-11, including 5-2 against the legendary Chuck Noll.

After going 6-10 and finishing last in the AFC Central, Gregg was 26-15 in his final three seasons, with two playoff appearances.

 

1) Paul Brown (1968-75)

He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame before the Bengals ever played a game, had a career losing record, never won a playoff game, and was just 17-31 (.354) against coaches who are in the Hall of Fame or won a Super Bowl.

But it would be sacrilegious to rank Brown anywhere but atop this list — at least at this point.

Just as presented in the arguments for Lewis and Wyche, Brown’s contributions beyond his 55-59-1 record are significant.

Not only did he build the organization from scratch, but Brown took the Bengals to the playoffs in just their third season, winning the AP Coach of the Year award.

Of the nine expansion teams created in the Super Bowl era, only the Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers earned their first postseason berth faster, with both teams doing it in their second seasons.

Brown won two division titles and had four winning seasons during his eight years as head coach.

Until someone leads the Bengals to a Super Bowl championship, Brown should stay No. 1 on the list of greatest coaches in team history.

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