- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Romeo Crennel has proved he can lead the Kansas City Chiefs in the short-term.
Now, as he begins his second tour of duty as a permanent head coach, Crennel must prove he is the answer in Kansas City for the long haul.
Although the Chiefs’ brass looked at other candidates, it really was no contest. Crennel was the choice for the job once he led the Chiefs to a 2-1 record as the interim replacement for Todd Haley, who was fired in December. Promoted from defensive coordinator, Crennel led the Chiefs to a win over the Green Bay Packers (then 13-0) in his first game.
There is no doubt Crennel, who went 24-40 as the head coach in Cleveland from 2005-2008, had the support of his players. He had won before as a defensive coordinator, he is well respected by his peers, and he is respected by his players for his above-board and his calm demeanor. He was the perfect elixir after the uneven, high-volume days of Haley.
“Romeo was the right guy for the job,” Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. said. “The players love him and they played for him. But the key is, can that continue with him being the guy? Playing over your head for a coach you like can work for a few games. It can’t work over 16 games. So, now that the interim tag is off of Romeo, the question is can he prove he is the right choice for the long term?”
If recent history is any indication, Crennel’s task is not an easy one. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last coach to lead his team to a winning record in his first year as the permanent coach after being the interim coach was Art Shell in 1990. He led the Raiders to a 12-4 record.
That’s a long 22 years.
Since 2000, according to Elias, seven coaches were promoted after being an interim coach, including Oakland’s Tom Cable in 2009. The best records in the first year as the permanent coach were registered by San Francisco’s Mike Singletary in 2009 and Dallas’ Jason Garrett last season. Both teams went 8-8. In total, the coaches had a combined 43-69 record.
In addition to the waning support of players, there are other reasons that interim coaches haven’t had much success on a permanent basis. Many league observers think an organization may settle to keep their interim coaches rather than paying for a new coach and his staff. As a result, the same bad habits of the previous regime can creep in.
Horton thinks Crennel's personality and the team's upward trajectory will work in their favor.
“I like Romeo’s team,” Horton said. “I think he can win. I don’t see this as a case of [Kansas City general manager] Scott Pioli settling. I think he got his top choice for the job … I just like the way this team is set up and think it has a real shot to be good right away.”
In a telephone interview this week, Shell said Crennel is entering an exciting time. He said the interim period is chaotic for a coach, but now Crennel is able to construct his own program.
Crennel added new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and several other coaches while keeping some assistants from Haley’s staff. Crennel remains the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator.
“This is his time,” Shell said. “As the interim guy, you are just holding on. Now, it’s time to set the foundation and let everyone know the way it is going to be on a permanent basis. It’s an important time.”
I think Crennel, who at 65 is the second-oldest current head coach in the NFL behind Super Bowl champion Tom Coughlin, is comforted by his experience in Cleveland. He has often said this offseason that he will learn from that experience as he begins his next chapter as a head coach.
“A lot of times you don't get second chances in this business” Crennel said earlier this offseason. “You just go along and try to do the best job that you can at the job that you have. If you do that and people take notice, then they give you chances. So, I've got a second chance and I'm going to try to do it better than I did the first time around.”
The good feeling Crennel has built within the locker room remains as the Chiefs transition from the offseason program to training camp, which begins in four weeks.
“I love [Crennel], his coaching style,” cornerback Javier Arenas said. “You want to play for him. I felt great about coach Haley. I loved coach Haley as a head coach, but now with [Crennel], I absolutely love the way he goes about things and want to execute what he lays on the table -- him and the rest of the coaches -- and that’s just part of the game, wanting to play for a coach and wanting to help the team be successful. “
If it works in Kansas City in 2012, Crennel will enjoy rare immediate success for a promoted interim coach.
1hEric D. Williams