INDIANAPOLIS — Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo doesn’t want to think about “that dark day” if the team loses both safeties Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell in free agency, but whatever hand he’s dealt, he is ready for the next challenge.
With the potential of having multiple starting spots to replace, even beyond safety, the 2023 season will be another chance for Anarumo to show he’s deserving of a head coaching job. He interviewed for the Arizona vacancy this offseason, but the Cardinals hired former Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon instead.
Now, Anarumo is back for a fifth season in Cincinnati.
“It was great you know appreciate the opportunity first of all,” Anarumo told local reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis on Wednesday. “Good to go through those things but I’m really excited about being back.”
“I mean yeah, it’s human nature,” he added. “You’re a competitive guy, you want to get the job but it wasn’t meant to be. … I think it’s just right time, right place. And if and when the opportunity comes, it will be the right one.”
There’s not much more Anarumo has left to prove after cultivating a defense that performed in big moments, including holding opponents to the sixth-fewest points in 2022. His return will be especially key this season when there could be turnover with four starters heading into free agency.
Even more importantly, the Bengals are fortunate to have kept all three coordinators for a fifth year together. Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan also interviewed for two head coaching vacancies but returns, and special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons has been with the Bengals since 2003.
“I was hopeful for those guys to get the opportunity because all three of those guys are ready, Darrin, Lou and Brian, but thankful as the head coach of the Bengals that they’re back and we have consistency there,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said Tuesday during his press conference at the Combine. “But again, those guys are very deserving. And I think the process served them well.”
Taylor inherited Simmons, a proven special teams guru over the last two decades, but the Bengals since have promoted him to associate head coach. Neither Callahan nor Anarumo had NFL coordinator experience (beyond an interim stint for Anarumo) when they joined Taylor’s first staff in 2019, but both have proven to be quality hires.
Having that consistency on the coaching staff has been a big key to the team’s success the past two years.
“It is an advantage,” Taylor said. “There’s not a learning process that’s happening for a new coordinator trying to fit what we’re doing. All of our coaches came back, not just the coordinators. I think people wanna be here, working for us and we don’t take that for granted.”
Anarumo, known affectionately in Cincinnati as the “mad scientist,” especially has gotten more out of the defense than outsiders expected and was the biggest surprise to return. In 2019 and 2020, the Bengals were among the worst defenses in the league, and they turned it around without high-profile signings on that side of the ball.
Most of the free-agent additions were castoffs elsewhere, guys looking to prove themselves with a team willing to give them a chance. And they did such as the underdogs in 2021, playing a critical role in Cincinnati’s run to the Super Bowl and nearly getting back this past season.
“He’s direct, he’s truthful, he forms relationships with all those guys and they know that they’re gonna put them in the best position they can be,” Taylor said of how Anarumo gets so much out of his players. “He’s got a lot of different packages, a lot of different alignments he can put those guys in. They know that they’re gonna be maximized. They believe in what he’s asking them to do and their position coaches. That room has got its own culture within our own culture. … It’s just a really special unit that’s really evolved in our four years here.”
Cincinnati has become a place coaches and players want to be, and even Taylor, one of the current 10 longest-tenured head coaches in the league, joked recently in an interview with HuskerOnline.com that the only way he’ll leave is if he’s carried out in a casket.
“I meant what I said,” Taylor said Tuesday when asked about that statement. “I love being in Cincinnati. I love working for this organization and the people you interact with at the ownership level, at the personnel level. Coaches. Players. Love the city. I think everyone has ever lived or been to Cincinnati feels the same way. ... So it’s hard to beat what we’ve got and I just enjoy coming to work every single day.”
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