Romeo Crennel has been awarded the additional title "interim head coach" to his defensive coordinator responsibilities to finish out the 2011 season for the Kansas City Chiefs. All that came about following the expected but still somewhat surprising firing of Todd Haley on Monday.
It wasn't the dismissal itself that was surprising. Everyone who follows the Chiefs or professional football pretty much saw this coming. What caught most of us as a bit strange was the timing of the action, with only three games remaining in the regular season.
No sooner had the Haley firing become public than the speculation started about who general manager Scott Pioli and the Chiefs' management would go after to be the team's 13th head coach. Many fans, for sure, would prefer a big name, someone with proven NFL experience and the leadership skills to get Kansas City's listing ship righted on the field and back on course legitimately contending for divisional, conference and, ultimately, NFL championships.
Former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher, who once coached in Kansas City under Marty Schottenheimer and is now an NFL analyst for CBS Sports, Jon Gruden, former coach at Oakland and Tampa Bay, and Jeff Fisher, who was let go after last season after many years on the sidelines with the Tennessee Titans franchise, are names that quickly came up. Also St. Louis offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and college coach Kirk Ferentz of the Iowa Hawkeyes, both of whom have past ties with Pioli. Besides, the bigger names are going to naturally want more control of the football operations, which is not something Pioli is likely to want to relinquish.
Some or all of the aforementioned list of potential candidates may be talked to by Pioli; however, public opinion seems to be leaning more favorably toward someone like McDaniels or Ferentz at this early stage in the search process.
In putting together a wish list of prospective coaching candidates, it's easy and natural to think big. Despite the Chiefs' mostly horrendous showing over the past decade, the head coaching job in Kansas City is still a very attractive one. The franchise has long been considered one of the better ones to work for in the league, with a popular and active owner, a tremendous fan base and a great football facility in the renovated New Arrowhead Stadium.
In considering who the next Chiefs' head coach might be, we may be overlooking the obvious. The 66-year-old Crennel is an NFL veteran and a logical choice to assume the reins for the remainder of the season. Crennel has spent 30 years in the league, including time with both New York teams (the Giants and the Jets), the New England Patriots, with whom he won three Super Bowl rings and was the overseer and behind-the-scenes taskmaster of Bill Belicheck's revered defense, and the Cleveland Browns, where he spent four seasons (2005-08) as head coach.
Crennel, whose style is the polar opposite of Haley's, was 24-40 in leading the Browns. Much like Haley's second year with the Chiefs, Crennel guided the Browns to a 10-6 finish a year after going 4-12, but the Browns were unable to sustain their winning ways the following season, falling to 4-12, which led to Crennel's firing.
Skeptics will argue that Crennel is not the long-term solution to the Chiefs' coaching leadership issues, that his past performance in the lead on-the-field position portends that he is better suited in a coordinator role. I would proceed with caution if this is where your mind set, as a fan, is right now.
It's true that the Chiefs didn't have to think twice about putting Crennel in charge of the team following Haley's firing. It also gave Pioli & Company good reason to make the move now until waiting till season's end. Crennel has a good chance in these last three games to solidify his chances for top consideration as the team's next "permanent" head coach. What Hunt, Pioli and, frankly, the rest of us would like to see isn't necessarily wins, although that would be nice, but competitive, spirited performances, especially in the two games at Arrowhead.
The Chiefs were on life-support most of this season under Haley. Pioli wants to see how the team will respond under Crennel's direction and alternative leadership style. Three games does not a season make, but you can be assured, if we witness a different, more positive performance out of this struggling, injury-crippled team in these final games under the interim head coach, there is an excellent chance the "interim" tag will be dropped early in the New Year.
Crennel is an NFL guy, but more important, he is Pioli's guy. The Kansas City general manager will maintain an opened mind and surely will put out some feelers and soft soundings for the head-coach opening to keep his options open. But make more mistake, Pioli would delight in nothing more this season of giving than to be able to award Crennel the job.
"I would like to be head coach and show that I can get it done," Crennel said in an interview with Kansas City Star sports reporter writer Kent Babb. "I know how to get it done, and I think the experience from the first time (as head coach of the Browns) will make me better the next time around."
The decision is the Chiefs' to make, but one thing is fairly certain, or should be. It is Crennel's job to lose.
For more information:
SB Nation articles on the Chiefs