Several weeks ago in this space, I wrote that Romeo Crennel would be the next head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, primarily because of the close relationship he has with Scott Pioli dating back to their Super Bowl years in New England. I still feel confident that Crennel will get the "interim" tag removed from his head-coach title, but not for the reason previously stated. He'll be named the 12th head coach of the Chiefs because he absolutely earned it over the final three games of the 2011 season.
The Chiefs had three games remaining and were in complete disarray when Todd Haley was fired after the team's embarrassing road loss to the New York Jets. There wasn't any question that Crennel was the man to take over, even if on a temporary basis, at that late stage of the season. With the final three games against league-leading and then undefeated Green Bay and hated-rival Oakland at home and Denver on the road to close out the regular season, it didn't seem likely that the Chiefs would win more than one of the three, at best, which of course would end their improbable playoff chances.
With only a week to regroup the disheveled Chiefs and prepare them for what appeared to be their most difficult task of the season in hosting the defending Super Bowl champions, it was not looking like Crennel would have an enviable debut as Kansas City's interim head coach. But that was not what the 30-year NFL coaching veteran had in mind, nor was it what his down-but-far-from-out team had in mind. The Chiefs undeniably played their best overall game of the year in holding the high-scoring Packers to just two scores, while scoring 19 of their own, in handing them what turned out to be their only loss of the regular season.
Once again there was a bounce in excitement in the Chiefs' nation and a renewed vision of playoff possibilities. All short-lived, however, as Kansas City followed predictable form in laying an egg the following week in its home finale against the Raiders. That brought a crushing but not all that unexpected end to KC's postseason hopes. Fortunately, though, Crennel did view things the same way, realizing that there was still work to be done. The Chiefs may not be going to the playoffs, but they still had a huge say in whether AFC West division rival Denver would be going.
Like poetic justice, it was the defense that Crennel has helped rebuild over the past two seasons as KC's defensive coordinator that came through again on Sunday. The Chiefs kept Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow on his side of the field most of the game and pulled a surprising upset over Denver in a game the Broncos had to have to ensure their playoff ticket. Because San Diego defeated Oakland, Denver was still able to back in to the West Division title, but that didn't take away from the spirited and disciplined way the Chiefs performed under Crennel's leadership with very little to play for. That was not what this team displayed under Haley, when there was still everything to play for.
The kind of remarkable turnaround the Chiefs' showed in their final three games doesn't just happen. It starts with the guy in the lead chair on the field, the head coach. The simple truth is that Crennel got the team going and playing with more heart and confidence, something that Haley was unable to do.
Crennel did not have success in the head-coaching position at Cleveland over three seasons, and the results of three games are hardly a sound long-term predictor, but there is no question that the Chiefs are a different team and played better under Crennel that at any other time during the past season.
Three weeks ago, it appeared likely that general manager Scott Pioli would go outside to feel the Chiefs' head-coaching vacancy. But with two wins and an overtime losss in two of KC's final three games, Crennel should have demonstrated enough to earn the trust and opportunity to lead this Chiefs' team as the permanent head coach going forward. Crennel already has the full support and respect of the players, and he has earned the support and confidence of the Chiefs's front office by what he has gotten done on the field.
Crennel has indicated, even said publicly, that he is very interested in the Chiefs' head-coaching job, but he knows it is not his decision to make. "I was told at the end of the season that I would have a meeting with Scott (Pioli the GM)," Crennel told area media on Monday. "Sometime here...that meeting will occur, and then we'll see what it holds for me."
Regarding the support he has received from the Chiefs' players, Crennel said, with a slight chuckle in his voice, "I appreciate their support, but I don't think they sign my paycheck."
The Chiefs finished the year with a record of 7-9, three games worse than a year ago, but still better than many experts projected they would do before the season started because of the more difficult schedule they inherited as a division-winner last season. Kansas City was 5-8 when Crennel took over. Had he gone 3-0 instead of 2-1, the Chiefs would be preparing right now to host Pittsburgh on Sunday.
"The best I could have done was 3-0, so it (a 2-1 record) wasn't the best I could do," Crennel said. As the 64-year-old NFL coach also noted, however, after KC's exciting road win at Denver on Sunday, "From a percentage standpoint, that's (the 2-1 record) not terrible."
Crennel has spoken, both literally and figuratively, and I have to believe Pioli and Chiefs Chairman Clark Hunt have heard him loud and clear. Within the next several days, we should be hearing the official announcement of Crennel being named the next head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. If not, he certainly will get strong consideration for one of the four other NFL head-coaching vacancies.
The Chiefs' shouldn't and can't allow that happen. Crennel deserves to be here.
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