CINCINNATI — Zac Taylor was named Bengals head coach on Feb. 4, 2019. The organization held his introductory press conference one day later.
The first-time head coach made one thing clear during the 30-minute session with the media: he was going to have a direct line of communication with his players.
Taylor harped on building a foundation and a winning culture. Quality communication was one of his top priorities.
"Communication, character — those are two things that this thing will be built on," Taylor said. "The culture drives the program. Everyone runs the same plays, the X's and O's are all the same, but people dress it up a little bit differently. If everyone is playing for each other, then great things are going to happen for us."
Taylor used some variation of the word communicate five times in his press conference. It was something he stressed. It sounded good at the time. Unfortunately for the Bengals, the second-year head coach has failed in that area over the past 623 days.
Taylor had a rocky first season that included the Cordy Glenn-drama. Former franchise quarterback Andy Dalton was anything but happy about being benched.
Most dismissed those issues as growing pains. Taylor was re-setting a culture that had grown sour under Marvin Lewis.
Those same issues have bled into the 2020 season.
Auden Tate's agent went public with his frustration with the coaching staff after the third-year receiver was inactive in Week 2.
Carlos Dunlap has called out the organization and the coaching staff repeatedly. He was removed from the starting lineup prior to the Bengals' matchup with the Ravens in Week 5. The two-time Pro Bowler questioned the lack of communication between him and the coaching staff.
"They just put a depth chart on the board. They didn’t really talk to me," a frustrated Dunlap said. "It sounds like it's not going to be me in there. I think they want a different run stopper. I think I can give that to them."
Taylor denied communication being an issue and attributed it to Dunlap being frustrated with the demotion.
"We always do things to put ourselves in the best position. Sometimes that can lead to frustration and that's OK," Taylor said. "I'm very confident with how we communicated things.
The issues don't stop there. Eight-time Pro Bowler Geno Atkins is reportedly frustrated with his role after only playing 19 snaps in each of the past two games.
The coaching staff says he's still working his way back from a shoulder injury. They've used Atkins sparingly over the past two weeks.
But wait, there's more.
Darius Phillips and Shawn Williams went to social media to voice their frustration last week.
On Tuesday, a report came out about John Ross being unhappy about his role. He's open to a trade if the team isn't going to give him an opportunity on offense.
Who could blame him? He played one snap in Sunday's loss to the Colts. He was a healthy scratch in Weeks 3-4 and watched Mike Thomas fumble in Baltimore and drop two passes in Indianapolis.
Proper communication would eliminate most of those issues. Instead, the foundation Taylor's program was supposed to be built on is crumbling right before our eyes.
Taylor prides himself on being an excellent communicator. Not just with players, but with the entire organization.
That hasn't happened since he took the job. Instead of it being a strength, it's a weakness.
Even A.J. Green—who has always carried himself the right way for a decade—grew frustrated with his lack of production on offense.
It's one thing to get upset about losing. It's another for young guys like Tate and Ross to be frustrated by their lack of involvement. Couple that with the issues that the veterans have had with the coaching staff and there's a clear pattern.
What Taylor's trying to do is much easier said than done. It's hard to transition from one regime to another and rebuild on the fly without making a couple veteran players upset.
But it isn't just a few guys.
This is a trend. It started last season and it's continuing in 2020. The frustration is only going to get worse with each loss.
The root of the problem is communication.
The coaching staff hasn't told Ross what he needs to do to get back on the field. They haven't given Dunlap a clear answer on how he can regain his starting job, even tough Sam Hubbard is on injured reserve.
Losing stinks. It's hard on any locker room. Failing to communicate properly with respected veterans on the team makes it much more challenging.
Taylor should go back and watch the tape of his introductory press conference. It may help him turn things around before it's too late.
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