When the Kansas City Chiefs fired coach Todd Haley earlier this month, names such as Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, former Titans coach Jeff Fisher and Rams offensive cordinator Josh McDaniels emerged as possible replacements. .
All are high-profile coaches who would evoke emotions and excitement of varied degrees. Buried below the bigger names, though, was the candidacy of Kansas City defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, who was named the interim coach immediately after Haley was fired and considered a candidate, but perhaps not a leading candidate
However, that all changed last Sunday when Crennel’s Chiefs beat previously-perfect Green Bay in his first game as coach. Now, Crennel is considered by many as the top candidate. If the Chiefs -- who still have a heartbeat in the AFC West division race -- play well in their final two games against visiting Oakland and at Denver, Crennel, 64, could all but wrap up the job. He is already being endorsed by key figures in the organization.
The following is a look at why the Chiefs’ brass may decide to make Crennel the permanent head coach:
He’d get along with Scott Pioli: This is a paramount. Haley wasn’t fired because his injury-ravaged team was 5-8. He was fired primarily because he butted heads with Pioli, the general manager. This is a critical hire for Pioli. If he blows this one, his time in Kansas City could end.
Pioli must hire someone he is sure he can trust and someone he could work with. Pioli goes way back with Crennel, back to the Patriots' success in the early 2000s, and he is a big reason Crennel is in Kansas City. There would not be any coach-GM friction.
He just wants to coach: One of the reasons there wouldn’t be any friction is because Crennel is the good-soldier type. He is a lifer coach who is focused on teaching his players. He is not a new-school coach who wants his fingerprints on the playbook and everything else.
“Romeo trusts Scott Pioli and his ability to build a roster that can go to the Super Bowl. All Romeo would be interested in doing is coaching the team,” his agent, Joe Linta, said.
He’d bring stability to the program: The Chiefs are an interesting team. They are a building, young program that has already tasted success. This group won 10 games and the AFC West division title last year. The Chiefs, though, have been decimated by injuries this season and played virtually the entire year without young stars Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry and Tony Moeaki, and they have gone a long period without quarterback Matt Cassel. All of these players are expected to be healthy next year. This is not a depleted franchise.
Retaining Crennel would prevent the Chiefs from having to adjust to a new coaching philosophy. The learning curve would be essentially wiped out and the Chiefs could go to training camp next year raring to go.
Players like him: Interim coaches don’t get Gatorade baths -- as Crennel did after the Green Bay shocker -- unless they are respected by the players.
There is no doubt Kansas City’s players like the affable, fair and above-board Crennel. The players chanted his name in the locker room after Sunday's win. Fullback Le'Ron McClain said after the game that Crennel had an instant impact on the team and he has players' support for the full-time job.
“That was a head-coach thing. We got that from Romeo,” McClain said. “What a statement we made. It’s great for him, for his future here. I know a lot of guys hope so. I know he had us ready to play this week and we showed it, from the first drive on out.”
He’s a calming force: Haley clashed with a lot of players. That is not Crennel’s nature. Teams usually look for polar opposites when they look to replace a coach, and that would be the case here. Crennel is different than Haley because he is not a screamer. Haley was volatile and would often blow up. Crennel is more of a listener. He is firm and he is not a pushover, but screaming is not Crennel’s first approach. That could be refreshing for the locker room, and I bet Pioli would welcome that tact as well.
He knows the Patriot Way: Pioli has modeled his teams after the Patriots, where he had great success as an executive with New England and was part of three Super Bowl championship teams last decade.
Crennel was the defensive coordinator on all three teams. Pioli and Crennel share the same vision. I think Pioli would be very interested in moving forward with a head coach who shared the New England experience with him.
He has head-coaching experience: Crennel showed his head-coaching experience in the Green Bay game. It was his 65th NFL games a head coach. That type of experience is always appealing to a team. Crennel was 24-40 in four seasons (2005-08) as the head coach in Cleveland. The record in Cleveland wasn’t great, but there were some front-office and talent issues there that made it a difficult situation.
“He is smart and could be one of those guys that does well with his second opportunity,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc., who worked in Cleveland with Crennel for a short period. “He did get a ton out of a Derek Anderson-led Browns team a few years ago and the players love and respect him.“
He could build a good staff: Hiring McDaniels as head coach may be a difficult sale considering he flamed out in Denver and he is part of a failing staff in St. Louis. However, if Crennel is hired as the head coach, McDaniels could be a terrific option as offensive coordinator if the Rams’ staff is sent packing. McDaniels has worked with both Cassel and current Chiefs quarterback Kyle Orton (a pending free agent). A staff headed by Crennel with an offense led by McDaniels could be appealing. Plus, Jacksonville interim coach Mel Tucker was on Crennel’s staff in Cleveland. He’d be an attractive defensive coordinator candidate.
He won’t break the bank: Unlike Fisher and Ferentz (and other big hitters such as Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden), Crennel would be reasonably priced. That would appeal to ownership. Combining Crennel’s numerous positive attributes and his relatively low price tag, this could be a perfect pairing that may have begun with the Chiefs’ derailment of the Packers’ pursuit of perfection.