The Cleveland Browns are formulating a plan that ultimately could lead to the return of Marty Schottenheimer as their coach for the 2009 season, according to sources.
The Browns would also be open to considering Bill Cowher if he sends stronger signals that he's ready to return, the sources said.
The Browns plan to fire coach Romeo Crennel after a disappointing year, regardless of injuries the team has suffered, the sources said. Publicly, owner Randy Lerner has only said that he will evaluate Crennel after the season.
Crennel reiterated Monday that he isn't worried about reports that he will be replaced after his fourth year. It's out of his hands, so Crennel, down to playing his third-string quarterback because of injuries, is focusing on getting his team ready to play its last three games.
"It's tough when you lose. I don't care what the circumstances," Crennel said of the engulfing distractions. "If you're in this profession, you don't like losing. But you have to get up every day and do the best that you can, and if the coach doesn't get up and do the best he can then it's hard for the players to do the best they can."
On Sunday, the Browns (4-9) lost for the fifth time in six games, 28-9 to the Tennessee Titans. The loss guaranteed Cleveland its eighth losing season in 10 years since returning to the NFL as an expansion team. The Browns, who have not scored a touchdown in three weeks, are on the verge of another rebuild.
The future of general manager Phil Savage also has been the source of speculation by various media outlets. Sources said Lerner prefers to retain Savage to run his personnel department but could scale back his overall duties, which include the final say on all roster moves.
Before the 2008 season, Savage signed a four-year contract extension for an average of
$2.7 million per year, the sources said.
However, Lerner is contemplating a different authority -- or "voice" of the franchise -- that can filled by an experienced coach like Cowher or Schottenheimer, the sources said.
Schottenheimer recently said he had no plans to return to the sidelines, but sources said he would consider coming back "for the job ... with a team that has a good core of talent."
On his weekly show on Sirius NFL Radio, the 65-year-old Schottenheimer was asked if he was in the mix to coach again in Cleveland.
"I don't see that as being likely at all," he said. "First of all, nobody has presented me with an overture and, secondly, I've kind of aligned myself and my life kind of where it is and if they want to pay me $30 million a year I'll have to talk about it. I don't see it [as being] likely."
Obviously, Schottenheimer was joking about the salary, but Lerner will likely pay whatever's necessary to get his team, which won 10 games last season, turned around quickly. Crennel has three years remaining on a contract extension he signed after last season. That deal is worth close to $4 million per season.
Schottenheimer, 65, was fired by the San Diego Chargers after leading the team to a 14-2 record in 2006 and a first-round playoff bye. But a home second-round playoff loss to the New England Patriots and a broken relationship with general manager A.J. Smith led to a surprising dismissal in February 2007. Several Chargers players were upset that Schottenheimer was fired.
Schottenheimer was the Browns' defensive coordinator under Sam Rutigliano in 1980 but took over as head coach when Rutigliano was fired midway through the 1984 season. Schottenheimer had a 44-27 record with the Browns, won three divisional titles, had four playoff appearances and two AFC Championship Game appearances before he was fired by owner Art Modell.
Overall, in coaching stints with the Browns, Chiefs, Redskins and Chargers, Scottenheimer is one of only seven coaches with at least 200 career victories. His playoff record is 5-13.
Crennel was unaware of the report on Schottenheimer, which surfaced moments before the Browns and Titans kicked off.
"I can't be worried about that," he said. "Rumors and stories, they're going to be out there. When you lose, that's what happens. Not only for me but for other people in the league."
Chris Mortensen is a senior NFL analyst for ESPN. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.