The search for the new head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs is over. Interim head coach and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel finally got the nod and formal handshake from the Chiefs' front office on Monday, eliminating the "interim" tag from his job title and placing the veteran NFL coach in charge of field operations for Kansas City's NFL franchise.
Crennel becomes the 12th head coach in the history of the Chiefs' franchise, and the fourth in the past decade, which tells you a lot about the team's struggles and failings over that time. Crennel is almost the polar opposite of former head coach Todd Haley in his demeanor and external disposition, but not in his desire to get the best out of his players and win. The new head coach has been portrayed as one of those guys who doesn't say much, but when he does, you listen to what he has to say.
The Chiefs' players were very pleased about the promotion of Crennel to head coach. He was well respected and successful as the team's defensive coordinator, a role he has held for the past two seasons, and it was highly evident that the Chiefs responded well to Crennel in winning two of their final three games this season.
After the Chiefs' improbably throttled the Green Bay express in handing the Super Bowl-champion Packers their only loss in the regular season, Crennel became an instant hero in a town that has become increasingly frustrated and sometimes horrified over the Chiefs' inconsistency and mostly un-NFL-like performance. In fact, many thought the Chiefs' surprising win over the Packers, one of the elite teams in the league, would seal the deal in Crennel becoming the new head coach.
A week later, Kansas City, with a chance still to make the playoffs, lost at home to the Chiefs' biggest rival, the Oakland Raiders, in a game that most would have said beforehand was KC's best chance to win of their final three games. With their playoff hopes ended, courtesy of the loss to the Raiders, the Chiefs then had to head to Denver, with their only motivation seemingly to play the role of spoilers in the Broncos' quest to win the AFC West and make the NFL playoffs.
We all know what happened in Denver, and Crennel was returned to hero status. How could the Chiefs not make him the next head coach, replacing Haley?
In his 31 years in the NFL, the 64-year-old Crennel has established the well-deserved reputation as one of the best defensive coaches and defensive minds in the game. However, his previous NFL head-coaching experience in Cleveland, from 2005-2008, didn't work out so well. Crennel compiled a record of 24-40 in his four seasons with the Browns. Although his teams did not win more than six games in three of the four years, he did lead the 2007 edition of the Browns to a 10-6 record and second place in the AFC North.
Who knows how much Crennel's head-coaching resume at Cleveland, with teams that had a shortage of talent much like the current Chiefs, entered into the decision making process of General Manager Scott Pioli and Chairman Clark Hunt? When you look around the league, that doesn't seem to be a deal-breaker in the hiring of replacement head coaches.
Crennel is an easy-going guy and it wouldn't have been prudent or in character for him to make much out of it, but you have to question why the Chiefs made such a public display last week of parading in clearly inferior candidates to interview for the job that was finally, and rightfully, awarded to Crennel. The Chiefs' politically correct response to that contention was that they were simply going through a routine due-diligence process to confirm that their lead choice of Crennel was the best personnel decision and in the best interest of the Chiefs moving forward.
O.K., that seems rational, but you would think, given three weeks (and probably more than that when you consider that the decision to dismiss Haley wasn't an overnight process) to contemplate a decision flow regarding potential coaching replacements, the vetting and selection process could have been handled a little differently and more seamlessly.
The fact that the players so strongly endorsed Crennel as their head coach also, candidly, could have caused some pause in the hiring decision for Pioli and Company. The Chiefs have been down that road before with former head coaches Frank Gansz (1987-88) and Gunther Cunnningham (1999-2000). The Chiefs may have gotten along famously with the two head coaches, but that did not translate into victories on the field. Dick Vermeil also was considered a players' coach, and Kansas City had some high moments and put up a lot of points under him, but nothing like the memorable Chiefs' teams of the now distant past.
"In the old days, a players' coach was a guy who didn't work them very hard," Vermeil told Randy Covitz, who writes about the Chiefs for The Kansas City Star. I think that's changed over the year to somebody who respected the players and gave the same respect he expects from them."
About the notion that he is the popular choice of the players, Crennel had this to say Monday at the press conference announcing his appointment: "Sometimes players think that a coach who is on their side is a players' coach, who always rules in favor of them," he said. I know that is not always the case with me."
Hank Stram, the longest-tenured coach in the Chiefs' history and the one who is most closely associated with the team's glory years, was a combination of what Haley and Crennel represent as head coaches, according to former Chief and Pro Hall-of-Famer Len Dawson. "He (Stram) could hug you and all that, and then he could get on your tail, as well, Dawson said.
"Romeo is no softie," he said. "He will get on people, but he's fair when he does that. You have to be consistent so players know what to expect."
One additional factor that buoys the argument that the Chiefs' management is not necessarily 100 percent on board with handing Crennel the head-coaching reins is the length of his contract: three years (Todd Haley signed a four-year contract in 2009 as a first-time head coach). Of course, if he does well, there's every reason to believe that Crennel could and would get an extension to the original contract. Given where the Chiefs are talent-wise, that doesn't seem like a lot of time to make things right, which constitutes developing and sustaining a winning program.
So, here's where things stand with Crennel, from my vantage point. The players like and respect their new head coach. From the tone of the conversation in the social media, the fans are happy with the decision, as well. All Crennel has to do is continue winning at the rate of two out of every three games, like he did at the end of the current season. That would produce an 11-5 or 10-6 record, and any lingering concerns should take care of themselves.
If it's true that good things happen to good people, we should be in for some good times looking ahead for the Chiefs. The time in now for Romeo Crennel and the Kansas City Chiefs. Let's hope both seize the moment and succeed.
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