In defense of Zac Taylor

Amidst a flurry of NFL coach firings, the Cincinnati Bengals released a statement on January 4th stating that Zac Taylor would remain the head coach.

This news was not received well by most fans who believed the second-year head coach’s short resume already warranted firing. They did not want the Bengals to make the same mistake they did during the Marvin Lewis era: holding on to a coach for too long.

Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown (Matthew Walter ’21)

However, despite Taylor’s abysmal 6-25-1 career record, the majority of the blame for these losses should be placed elsewhere.

Although Taylor’s record may seem Hue Jackson-esque on paper, the story behind that record goes much deeper.

When Taylor inherited the team in 2019, he was taking control of a team that had missed the playoffs the previous three years. A team whose last two first round picks (Billy Price and John Ross) were busts.  A team that refused to spend premium money on free agents. A team without any sort of all-weather training facility, and, worst of all, a team owned by Mike Brown.

Brown is infamous for his stubbornness and cheapness, refusing to pay for free agents, scouts, coaches, general managers, front office staff, stadium improvements, or training facilities. This unwillingness to improve the team has led to losing seasons and the aforementioned draft busts.

John Ross wishes the Bengals could drop him. (

Zac Taylor’s first draft started off with offensive lineman Jonah Williams being selected 11th overall in 2019. Other notable players drafted that year include defensive standout Germaine Pratt (taken 72nd overall) and living legend Ryan Finley (taken 104th overall).

However, the Zac Taylor era truly started with a bang when both Jonah Williams and AJ Green were injured in their first practice. Both would go on to miss the entire season.

Despite this, in Taylor’s first game as head coach, the Bengals played extremely well in a close 21-20 loss to Seattle. Receiver John Ross looked to be a suitable replacement for Green, catching 7 passes for 158 yards and two scores.

In a Week 2 blowout loss to San Francisco, Ross played excellent again, racking up 112 yards on just 4 catches and 1 touchdown. In spite of the losses, the offense under Zac Taylor looked to have a bright future.

Ross never had another 100 yard game.

Zac Taylor shares very little with the US President of the same name. (

The rest of the season had its ups and downs, mostly just downs. The offense and defense both regressed. During their Week 9 bye, the winless Bengals benched Andy Dalton in favor of rookie Ryan Finley. Finley played so poorly, Dalton was re-inserted into the starting lineup for Week 13. With Dalton back, the Bengals went 2-3 in their last 5 games, finishing with a record of 2-14, which was the worst in franchise history.

They were 0-8 in 1-score games.

With the first overall pick in the 2020 Draft, Taylor and the Bengals vowed to move the franchise in a new direction. After getting benched on his birthday the year prior, Andy Dalton was released on April 30, 2020, mere days after Joe Burrow was selected with the top pick.

The club also selected wide receiver Tee Higgins with the 33rd pick and Logan Wilson with the 65th. They also made some rare free agent moves, signing defensive tackles DJ Reader and Mike Daniels as well as cornerbacks Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander.

Unfortunately, Waynes suffered a season-ending injury during training camp.

With a shortened offseason and no preseason, Burrow and Higgins made their Bengal debuts in a Week 1 loss to the Chargers. Randy Bullock missed an easy chip shot that would have sent the game into overtime. DJ Reader also suffered a season-ending injury.

After a close loss to Cleveland in Week 2, the Bengals tied the Eagles and beat the Jaguars, bringing their record to a somewhat respectable 1-2-1. However, after this, the Bengals went on a three game losing skid, during which Taylor seemingly lost control of the locker room.

Carlos Dunlap was upset with Zac Taylor’s locker room culture. (

Longtime defensive end Carlos Dunlap became upset after Taylor benched him and forced his way into being traded on October 28th. After being a healthy scratch for most of the season, John Ross also demanded a trade, but was unable to generate any interest.

In Week 6, the Bengals blew a 21-0 lead against the Colts. Also in this game, running back Joe Mixon suffered yet another season ending injury.

Despite all these injuries, the 1-5-1 Bengals upset the 5-1 Titans, which marked the first time Taylor had beaten a team with a winning record.

After this game, however, the Bengals would go on a 5 game losing streak, in which Joe Burrow suffered a — you guessed it — season-ending injury. Prior to the injury, Burrow had been tearing up opposing defenses and had formed a great connection with fellow rookie Tee Higgins.

Bengals safety Vonn Bell knocks the ball out from the Pittsburgh Tiktok star. (

The season was looking bleak until Week 15, when the man, the myth, the legend, Ryan Finley, led the Bengals to an upset victory over the 11-1 Steelers. The next week, the Bengals shellacked the Texans in Houston, Taylor’s first road win and first win streak.

Despite injuries to Joe Burrow, Joe Mixon, Tyler Boyd, Auden Tate, CJ Uzomah, Trey Hopkins, Jonah Williams, Geno Atkins, DJ Reader, Mike Daniels, Trae Waynes, and countless others, the Bengals finished 4-11-1, defeating two playoff teams along the way.

Despite issues with the culture and locker room near the middle of the year, Zac Taylor seems to have momentum built up for next year.

Despite not having a front office or an indoor training facility, Taylor and the Bengals were still able to beat playoff teams.

Although Zac Taylor might not be the next Bill Belichick, his 6-25-1 record does not tell the full story of his coaching tenure. The record doesn’t show the countless injuries over the past two seasons. The record doesn’t show the futility of Mike Brown. The record doesn’t show how the Bengals have been competitive with good teams (2-13-1 in one-score games). The record doesn’t show how COVID prevented Burrow and the free agents from practicing with their new team.

If anything, the fact that Taylor is winning games at all in the best division in football with the worst front office in the NFL should be impressive.

Although it isn’t yet showing up in the win column yet, Taylor has this team trending in the right direction, and with Joe Burrow on the roster, anything is possible.

Coming into year 2, Joe Burrow is poised to lead the Bengals to their best season in years. (AP/Aaron Doster)