Bengals owner Mike Brown shut down rumors surrounding Zac Taylor’s job in January. He made it clear that the organization would move forward with Taylor.
"Our fans wanted a fresh new direction two years ago, and that is what we aimed to do in hiring a bright, energetic head coach in Zac Taylor," Brown said in a statement. "We remain bullish on the foundation Zac is building, and we look forward to next year giving our fans the winning results we all want.”
Preparation for the 2021 season has already begun for Taylor. He enters year three with a 6-25-1 record.
Former Bengals wide receiver Tim McGee believes that the COVID-19 pandemic was a blessing in disguise for Taylor's job security.
“Let me tell you who benefitted from the pandemic, Zac Taylor,” McGee said in an exclusive interview with AllBengals. “If there were fans in the stands and they had dipped down to 20,000 or 30,000 fans, that’s when the Bengals would have made the call. It’s the fans as a whole that make the call. If they’re 1-3 and they're [fans] not coming to the stadium, you’ll see a change. If they’re winning, we’ll hear the whispers and everyone is going to be excited. Consequently, if the team is not performing well, you get off to a 1-3 start, it’s over.”
The pressure to turn things around is mounting. High pressure will burst pipes or produce diamonds. Whether or not Taylor becomes a busted pipe or a diamond depends on his ability to adapt, overcome culture obstacles, and create a roster that can win in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL.
McGee believes the third-year head coach has to win early and often this season.
“You’re as good as your leader or as bad as your leader. Give me something positive. I beg, please,” McGee said. “I want to talk positively. The Bengals organization has helped my family immensely, but I can’t dummy your eyes up and sell you on something that’s not there. What’s not there is the fact that they have an unproven coach and in two years... I mean it’s pathetic. It’s absolutely pathetic. That doesn’t mean he is not working extremely hard, or the staff is not working extremely hard, they want it. From what I understand he’s down there, he’s dedicated, he puts the time in, the effort in, but there’s one thing you can’t teach. You can’t teach leadership skills, it has to be something that is inside of you.”
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Veteran defensive tackle Mike Daniels couldn’t disagree more as he credited Taylor for being a major reason behind his willingness to resign in Cincinnati.
"The coaching. The coaching. I can't say enough great things about my man Zac Taylor," Daniels said last week. "And then we got Joey Burrow at quarterback? I basically get to see one of the young greats. I get to actually be there. Be that anchor on one of his first few defenses early in his career, right because he's going to have some other great guys later on. So it's a great opportunity to help make the playoffs. Between coach Taylor, he's getting a full second-year with Joe? That's a good coaching and quarterback combination and I'm just glad I get to be a part of it. Coach Taylor respects his vets. He's a player’s coach. I can't say enough great things about him. And quite frankly, that's why you see a lot of us get free agents."
It isn't personal for McGee. He has no doubts about Taylor’s character as a person, but admits it's time for the third-year head coach to win.
“I heard he’s a super nice guy, and remember, I played under Dave Shula," McGee said. "I know what type of man he was. He was a phenomenal man, great dad, and great person to go to dinner with, but going into a football battle? That wasn’t the best person to go into that situation with. Just to be fair, I don’t think Zac has proven that he is that guy.”
McGee is not opposed to the front office making a midseason change if the results are not panning out like the organization expects. He believes the margin for error is very small heading into the 2021 campaign.
“I think they need new leadership. It’s great that Zac is getting another year at the helm, but halfway into the season if it’s not showing the signs that they’re trending in a high trajectory, it’s time to move on," he said. "I’m tired of them losing, that’s the bottom line. I’m with them, I support them, but I’m tired of them losing, I've had enough of it."
Cincinnati has not had a winning season since the team started 8-0 in 2015. That year ended with the infamous 18-16 wild card loss against the Steelers. The Bengals haven't even sniffed the playoffs since that fateful January day.
While health has been an issue for Cincinnati in recent years, the former first round pick isn't buying the narrative that injuries got in the way last season.
“Remember something, this is super important to understand: when they had a healthy Joe Burrow, they weren’t winning,” McGee said. “When they had a healthy Joe Burrow and Joe Mixon, they weren’t winning. If you want to be real about the situation, you still have a quarterback that everyone is making an assumption about, that he’s going to be healthy.”
After undergoing surgery to repair a torn MCL and ACL in his left knee in December, Burrow’s progress is moving in a positive direction. He’s been throwing since February, and the team hopes he’ll be able to start the season under center. McGee hopes Burrow is able to heal mentally from the gruesome injury he sustained against Washington in November.
“There are two aspects of being healthy, there’s the physical health and the mental health and I don’t mean the mental health that we talk about in society," McGee said. "I’m talking about the ability to block out the actions that are happening around his knees as he’s stepping into his throw. When he’s stepping into his throw there is going to be bodies down around his ankles and knees. Then you’ve experienced that traumatic episode that he has experienced, human nature is going to have you clinch, flinch whatever and that could cause a high throw. So, I don’t know if coming out of the gate that you’ll see the same Joe Burrow. I hope so, I wish and pray and all that but I just don’t know if that’s something that can really happen so we will have to wait and see.”
The Bengals have plenty of work to do, with the regular season less than five months away. The next few months are crucial for Taylor and the organization in their quest to build a winner in Cincinnati.
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