Marvin Lewis lost his immediate football family in early 2014. Despite being under fire from the local media types in southern Ohio for not being able to win a playoff game after making the playoffs, the rest of the NFL was taking notice.
Among them being Zygi Wilf and Daniel Snyder – two guys you’ll never see in the school supplies isle at Target or Walmart.
They figured Marv’s Queen City malaise was his problem. They were eyeballing his underlings – defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, who would become the head coaches of the Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins, respectively.
Despite losing both his coordinators in one fell swoop, Lewis made the playoffs in 2015, so it was all good.
So did Zimmer.
So did Gruden.
All hail the coaching tree.
On Thursday night, in what turned out to be one of the more controversial moves (by his design) of his coaching tenure, Zimmer made the decision to inform Teddy Bridgewater he didn’t need to showcase his talents in front of the 12th Man. Sorry, Seattle, you paid to see Shaun Hill leave the game with a lead. Deal with it.
On Friday night, in a bold rejoinder, Gruden shockingly told small sample-size starting QB Kirk Cousins to have a seat and watch the proceedings in front of the 53,000-and-change paying customers at home.
Well played, sir.
Tip your king, Zim. This particular chess game is over.
Both coaches made the identical decision, but Gruden showed how the move is done properly. Zimmer did it in such a way that it seemed almost like he was picking for a fight when asked for an explanation.
It was inevitable that Zimmer was going to be asked why, to the shock of just about everyone outside Winter Park, Bridgewater wasn’t going to play.
Is Teddy hurt?
Not according to comments after the game. There he was on the sideline. He looks fine.
So why isn’t he playing?
It was a question everyone watching the Shaun Hill Era begin was asking. It wasn’t so much asking why? It was more a “wait…what?” situation.
The local Vikings-centric TV broadcast hinted that explanations would be forthcoming.
Zimmer went full-on salty when his decision was questioned. It had all the makings of a general being asked by someone with the audacity to question a decision made beyond the comprehension of those who couldn’t possibly fathom the bigger picture of his battle plan.
In the world Zimmer grew up in, if a head coach dressed down a reporter to the point of asking if the questioner if he or she was “alright” with his decision, that would have been that. The next time it happened, the coach's authority or reasoning likely wouldn't be questioned.
In the world Zimmer lives in now, unless you take ownership of a decision preemptively, the instantaneous backlash fueled by social-media speculation is pronounced. Left to their own devices, media types (and millions of Vikings fans) began to question that, if Teddy was healthy, was his benching disciplinary in nature?
When asked what seemed to be a relatively obvious question, Zimmer got very defensive – coming close to asking, “Do you want a piece of me?” from a fighting posture. The postgame Q & A became a battle that wasn’t necessary.
Just 24 hours later, Gruden did the exact same thing – making Cousins an 11th-hour healthy scratch. Yet, when the D.C. media – known for attempting to unearth coverups and conspiracies – asked Gruden why Cousins was inexplicably scratched from the lineup, he was forthcoming. His claim was that the players fighting for depth chart positioning and roster spots deserved a longer look in game action.
No conspiracy. No secret reason. He came straight out and said that, while it was his decision, there was a valid reason for it.
There have been times Zimmer has been at odds with media in giving out information about his players and the reasons for the coaching decisions he has made along the way. But Thursday’s spectacle was one that easily could have been avoided (and understood) if Zimmer had simply said he wanted to give Shaun Hill a chance to show what he could do with the first-unit offense.
Instead, he was combative and, by his reluctance to simply give an honest answer, put himself and the media at odds and caught Bridgewater in the middle.
As it turns out, Bridgewater had a sore shoulder, according to ESPN, that wouldn't have been serious enough to hold him out of a regular season game. Even that simple explanation would have sufficed.
Perhaps Gruden learned from Zimmer’s mistake and came out with a rational excuse why he would bench his starting quarterback when the expectation was that he was going to play. Even in the cloak and dagger world of the NFL, sometimes honesty remains the best policy.