Crennel won't waste second chance
Chiefs coach eager to prove he's more than just a good coordinator
Getting back in the head-coaching chair he fought so long and hard to get into in the first place has fueled Crennel -- long respected as one of the NFL's best defensive minds -- since he was fired as the head coach in Cleveland in 2008 after four seasons.
Now that he has secured that second chance, Crennel said he hasn't had much time to reflect on the opportunity. He is too busy diving into his role as the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. Time spent congratulating himself on achieving his goal would be time wasted.
"I have 1,000 things to do to get this thing going," Crennel said. "This is an opportunity that I want to take advantage of I am happy to get that second chance and there were times I didn't think it would happen."
Thus, when the door opened for Crennel, his determination to earn a second chance was evident. Crennel, who took a season off after being fired in Cleveland, became the Chiefs' defensive coordinator in 2010. When he was named the interim coach after the Chiefs fired Todd Haley with three games remaining this season, there was talk Crennel had a chance to become the permanent coach.
In Crennel's first game as the head coach, the Chiefs knocked off the Packers. It was Green Bay's only loss of the regular season. After losing in overtime at home to the Raiders in Week 16, the Chiefs won in Denver, in a game in which the Broncos could have clinched the division title outright with a win. Talk about taking advantage of an opportunity.
Kansas City conducted some other interviews after the season, but the inevitable happened Jan. 9 when Crennel officially got his second chance. At the age of 64, Crennel wasn't exactly counting on being a head coach again. He is now the second-oldest active head coach in the NFL behind the New York Giants' Tom Coughlin, who is 65.
Now that he has received his second chance, Crennel is determined to prove he isn't another name in the "good coordinator, bad head coach" bin.
Crennel, who was bypassed by six teams in 2003 after interviewing for head-coaching jobs when he was the Patriots' defensive coordinator, was 24-40 in Cleveland. The Browns did go 10-6 in 2007 under Crennel, but didn't make the playoffs.
"We had a 10-win season there and I knew we did some good things there," Crennel said. "I want to prove what we can do given this opportunity."
Crennel said he has already applied lessons learned in Cleveland in his short time in Kansas City. Crennel's first act as the interim coach was to replace quarterback Tyler Palko with Kyle Orton. Crennel struggled with a quarterback controversy in Cleveland between Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson. He was determined to avoid one this time.
Another reason Crennel is fueled for his second chance is he knows he is in a better situation. He acknowledged that the talented Chiefs' roster is better than the roster he inherited in Cleveland.
"This is a passionate group of players," Crennel said. "We want to develop a good team chemistry and we think we have a good nucleus here."
It starts with Crennel. Chiefs owner Clark Hunt has said one of the reasons he hired Crennel is his competitive nature. Hunt was impressed when Crennel told him he wanted to be the Chiefs' head coach because he wanted to win the Super Bowl.
If the performance of the Chiefs' players under Crennel in the final three games of the season is any indication, they are ready to make a Super Bowl run under Crennel's guidance.
"I represent four players on the team," said Joe Linta, Crennel's agent. "All four of them are thrilled that Romeo got the job. His players love him."
Crennel is known for his genial way and his patience. Crennel is a steady hand, who is always there for an encouraging word. His four Super Bowl rings (one with the Giants and three with the Patriots) earned as an assistant coach doesn't hurt his credibility, either.
"I've been very fortune to be around some great players and great coaches like Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick," Crennel said. "I have had a long history and I wouldn't change anything as I prepare for this job."
There is a strong chance this will be Crennel's final job. It has been an incredible journey for the Lynchburg, Va., native who played offensive and defensive lineman at Western Kentucky. As he begins his second chance, Crennel reflected on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday this week. Crennel was a 20-year-old college student when King was killed.
"It was an emotional time." Crennel said. "As a minority, I was worried about the progress Dr. King made would be stopped because of his death, but the movement kept going and I'm sure he would be very proud of it. I'm pleased it kept going and I'm very appreciative of every chance I've gotten because of his hard work."
Bill Williamson covers the NFL for ESPN.com