The Owl Talks Coaches

The Owl is weary from winging it all over the eastern United States to keep head coaching candidates under his watchful eye. He's caught his breath, though, and is ready to offer some of his thoughts on what the candidates bring to the table...

The Owl keeps hearing good things about all the coaches being interviewed to be the Browns next head coach. Personally, I'm glad the Dolphins got Nick Saban so the Browns didn't. He looks to be about as much fun as a toothache.

The one man that remains high on the short list is Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, from whispers The Owl keeps hearing.

Browns owner Randy Lerner, team president John Collins and new general manager Phil Savage are keeping their opinions to themselves, as they should. You think there are secrets at draft time? The Browns and 49ers are both looking for head coaches, and since the top candidates work for teams now in the playoffs, it would be foolish for the brain trust to say anything publicly about what it thinks of any of the candidates.

Crennel, 57, has certainly paid his dues. He has been coaching for 35 years, the last 24 in the NFL. He has coached special teams and defensive lines. He has been a defensive coordinator since 2000. Bill Parcells had Crennel on his staff with the Giants and when Parcells took over in New England in 1993 he hired Crennel to coach the defensive line.

Ironically, one reason Crennel has been passed over for head coaching jobs is the success of the teams he has helped coach; replacements have been hired before he was available. He was on the staff of two Super Bowl winning teams with the Giants, a New England team that lost the Super Bowl under Parcells and is on the Patriots staff that has won the Super Bowl two of the last three years.

Crennel interviewed for five different jobs over the last two years. He interviewed for the 49ers head-coaching job in 2003 and was beaten out by Dennis Erickson. Erickson was fired after just two seasons.

Last Saturday the 49ers talked with Crennel for six hours. The Browns talked to him for two hours the previous day. Don't think just because of the relatively short interview the Browns lost interest.

Now comes the waiting. Neither the Browns nor the 49ers can talk to Crennel again until the Patriots are no longer in the playoffs.

"I think that if someone really, really wanted me, then they would wait for me," Crennel said.  "But, I also think teams want to get started as soon as they can.  Once they've decided they don't have a coach and they are looking for somebody, I think they want to get started, the sooner, the better.  So, sometimes, they are not willing to wait to get their program going, to get coaches in place and all of that.  That's just a part of the business that we have to deal with."

The Super Bowl is Feb. 6 in Jacksonville. The scouting combines will take place less than three weeks later in Indianapolis and two months after that the draft. The temptation is to be hasty. The Browns are resisting it.

Crennel's first stint as defensive coordinator was with the Browns in 2000. The Browns gave up 419 points that season – an average of 25 points a game. That should not be held against him. Certainly, Bill Belichick did not hold it against him.

Crennel was given a courtesy interview after Chris Palmer was fired, but there was no way Carmen Policy was going to hire as head coach the defensive coordinator of a team that gave up that many points. The door had barely shut behind Crennel before Belichick hired him as defensive coordinator of the Patriots in 2001.

There is something to be said for new and exciting. That would be Brad Childress, the offensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles. He has the command a head coach needs. Do not rule him out. Savage was not on board when Lerner and Collins interviewed Childress last week, and by NFL rule they can't talk to him again until the Eagles' season ends.

The dilemma is what happens if the Patriots are knocked out first? Do the Browns risk losing Crennel to the 49ers just so they could talk to Childress a second time? That would be taking caution too far.

There is something to be said for hiring an expert on the offensive line. That would be Russ Grimm from the Steelers. As head coach, though, he would be too busy to concentrate on the offensive line.

There is something to be said for excellent motivators. That would be Terry Robiskie and Jim Bates.

But there is a lot to be said for someone that could take a defense as riddled with injuries as the Patriots have been and still win with it. That would be Crennel.

History makes clear whomever takes over the Browns will have to deal with injuries.

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