Passan: The Crennel Question

Watching the Patriot's masterful muzzling of the Colts powerful offense last weekend raised a question Browns fans have been pondering of late. How much of the Patriots incredible defensive success has been due to Romeo Crennel - and how much is due to Bill Belichick? Long-time Northern Ohio sportswriter Rich Passan has seen hot coordinators come and go as Browns head coaches before, and offers his thoughts....

It would be nice to crawl into the cerebellum of Phil Savage and find out just what the Browns' new general manager is thinking and why.

Rumors, ignited by more leaks than a faulty faucet, persist that New England Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel will be the new head coach of the Browns.

A list of credible media and Internet sources say Crennel is the man. Forget Russ Grimm, forget Jim Bates, forget Brad Childress and Jim Fassel and Terry Robiskie and Sparky the Wonder Dog.

Get Crennel's head size and start shining the crown. The anointing will take place as soon as the New England Patriots win the Super Bowl or are eliminated in the playoffs, whichever comes first.

That's why I'd like to get into Savage's head. To find out why, if the rumors are true, Crennel is his man. Find out just what he said to "blow away" the Browns' brass during his interview.

Savage is saying nothing. Why should he? Reasoning comes when the announcement is made.

Perhaps Crennel is the man because of his connection to Patriots coach Bill Belichick. It seems as though the two are joined at the hip. This is their 18th season on the same coaching staff, during which they have been fitted for four Super Bowl rings and won five conference titles and seven division crowns.

Savage worships at the shrine of Belichick. He is a disciple. Always has been, always will be.

Who can blame him? Belichick gave Savage his start in the business. Without Belichick's help and leadership, Savage is not in the position he occupies today. He cut his pro football baby teeth under Bill the Patriot.

And Belichick thinks highly of Crennel. Ergo, so does Savage.

Crennel, who has never been a head coach at any level, would come here with Belichick's blessing because he knows he can get someone like Bates as his defensive coordinator in New England.

But no one, not even Crennel, knows how successful he can be without Belichick. Put him in the water without a paddle and watch what happens.

For those of you with memory problems, Crennel was the Browns' defensive coordinator in 2000. That club surrendered 419 points.

Right now, Crennel is the Patriots' defensive coordinator in name only. Anyone who believes he has carte blanche in game-planning will believe anything.

The Pats toyed with the dangerous offense of Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in Sunday's playoff game. They did it with a variety of defenses that ranged from vanilla to the ridiculous.

When was the last time you saw 11 men on defense and not one with his hand on the ground at the snap? Probably never. At least not in the National Football League. Manning saw it several times in the fourth quarter Sunday.

Think that was Crennel's idea? If the answer is yes, I have a question for you. Really?

No one thinks outside the box like Belichick. If it has never been done, he wants to be the first to do it. What we saw Sunday was vintage Belichick.

Sunday's defensive scheme was so effective, it made Manning look like Tim Couch. Remember that helpless, hapless look Couch often got when nothing went right? That was Manning Sunday.

The Colts scored than 500 points in the regular season, 49 last week in the first playoff game and just three Sunday. The Patriots reduced Manning and that offense to popgun status.

Was Crennel responsible for that dismantling? Don't think so. Belichick is the genius behind his team's defense

The man is too much of a control freak to let Crennel devise and implement a defensive game plan by himself. Yes, Crennel has major input, but this defense is a Belichick production. Stopping the superb Manning was a personal challenge.

The danger, of course, is to give Crennel too much credit for the Patriots' accomplishments. Even though it is more a Crenichick defense, a hybrid, Crennel gets all the credit. And that, if we are to believe Savage has picked Crennel, has to be one of the main reasons he strongly favors him.

It shouldn't be.

A mitigating factor has to be Crennel's age. Not many men begin their head coaching career in the NFL at the age of 57. At the risk of offending some of the older members of this Web site, the Browns should seek someone younger, someone more the age of Savage and owner Randy Lerner.

To put it in perspective, Crennel is 10 years older than Bill Cowher, who has coached the Pittsburgh Steelers for 13 seasons. Ol' Romeo will be 58 in June, seven years from retirement age.

Then there is always the danger of falling in love with a defensive coordinator, especially one who has a gleaming resume and has been a regular attendee in the postseason.

Belichick is a classic example. The reason he wound up here in 1991? Scott Norwood.

Had the Buffalo placekicker been dead-on instead of wide right from 47 yards in the final seconds of Super Bowl XXV, the Bills would have defeated the New York Giants and Belichick most likely would have continued as the Giants' defensive coordinator.

As it turned out, he became a sizzling property and Browns owner Art Modell couldn't get him to Cleveland quickly enough. He was 38 years old.

No telling who the Browns' coach would have been had Norwood made that kick. It could have been Cowher, a 34-year-old ex-Brown who was a successful defensive coordinator at Kansas City at the time. His only negative was a lack of a Super Bowl ring. Didn't stop the Steelers from choosing him a year later.

Revisionist history sure is fun.

The Crennel file is replete with success. It's only common sense for Savage to believe that success will carry over to the head coaching ranks.

If that's the case and Crennel IS the man, then Savage had better be right. The unforgiving fans are waiting if he's not.

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