Grantham's defense might have cost Browns a playoff berth

Just seven months after signing him to a two-year contract extension, the Cleveland Browns fired defensive coordinator Todd Grantham on Friday morning.

Grantham, 41, was once thought to be a candidate for head coach candidate if the team dismissed Romeo Crennel.

Grantham just finished his third season with the franchise. He was hired by Crennel in 2005 after serving as defensive line coach at Houston (2002-2004) and Indianapolis (1999-2001) and was regarded then as a rising star in the league.

Despite Cleveland's turnaround, which included a 10-6 finish and near-playoff berth, the defense was a problem area. The Browns' defense was ranked 30th in the league and surrendered 402 points.

In the previous two seasons under Grantham the defense ranked 27th (2006) and 16th (2005). The defense was particularly porous against the run during Grantham's three seasons, never rated higher than 27th in iin that category.

At the outset of the season, it was speculated Grantham could replace Crennel if the Browns got off to a slow start. But one week into the season, the Browns changed starting quarterbacks; the switch to Derek Anderson ignited the offense. The defense, though, never caught up.

The Browns gave offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski a two-year contract extension after he was named as a candidate for the Baltimore Ravens' head coach vacancy. General manager Phil Savage said this week the Browns intend to pursue an extension for Crennel, likely for three more years.

Beyond a casual conversation between Crennel's agent, Joe Linta and owner Randy Lerner, substantive discussions on a new deal for the coach have yet to begin.

A former Virginia Tech offensive lineman, Grantham served five seasons on the coaching staff at his alma mater and was an assistant for three years at Michigan State before moving to the NFL ranks with the Colts in 1999.

Grantham's replacement has yet to be named, but one candidate likely will be Browns' secondary coach Mel Tucker. Cleveland surrendered 29 touchdown passes in 2007, but Tucker is credited for upgrading the overall play of the unit and improving the performances of some of the secondary's young starters.

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.