Starting Over, Again

The Browns hired their third coach of the expansion era this afternoon, and introduced him to media and fans at an afternoon press conference. Bernie's Insiders webmangler Barry McBride offers his thoughts on the hire, and his sense that Browns fans aren't quite sold yet...

Romeo Crennel was introduced to the Cleveland press corps earlier today, making official the news that everyone visiting this site has known for several weeks.

We're starting again. Again.

Nine years ago, many Browns fans felt that the only good thing about the Browns moving was that it meant Bill Belichick and the man who hired him were leaving town. Belichick had made few friends in the press or the fan base during his time in Cleveland. He didn't make many victories, either.

Six years ago, we found ourselves appraising Chris Palmer, the offensive mastermind who had helped to develop quarterbacks such as Drew Bledsoe. Deep inside, though, we knew Palmer was not the Browns first choice for coach of the team.

Four years ago, Butch Davis was delivered to Browns fans as the "complete package", a championship-caliber coach hand-delivered and shrink-wrapped to carry the Browns from the expansion desert to the rich fertile lands of competitiveness.

All three head coaches left town after uninspiring tenures.

Bill Belichick spent some time ruminating over his lessons learned and decided that his next trick would be to become Vince Lombardi with Bill Walsh's brain. But he was crushed in Cleveland.

After two years, Chris Palmer was bemoaning a "runaway freight train" of injuries and bad fortune. Butch Davis spoke of having "panic attacks" before kick-off. He's not going anywhere near a coach's office for a while, just to recover from the experience.

The introduction of the new Browns head coach was as low-key as the man himself appears to be. Crennel's humility is one stark contrast, among many, with the previous brain trust.

"I've been in this league for a little while and worked long and hard to try and get some things done and I've been somewhat successful as a position coach.", Crennel told the press corps, "Now, taking the reigns of a team and trying to run a whole program is going to be special. It's a big challenge, but I'm looking forward to it."

There's not a lot of bluster around the Browns new head coach. It's hard to imagine him being accused of being a spinmeister.

He admits that it's sometimes hard to see past his low-key exterior. "Sometimes", he told us today, "I don't jump up and down about it and people look at me and ask if I'm excited."

Lack of flash aside, Crennel reeks of football the same way I reek of beer and inexpensive shampoo. He's been in football all of his life, and has been extremely successful of late. When he speaks, there is little doubt that he is the kind of guy who will inspire players to run through walls. He has an outstanding track record as a defensive coach.

But Crennel still has got a lot to prove to a lot of people. I'm one of them.

When asked last month to list my preferences for head coach of the Browns out of five candidates, I put Crennel fourth. He hadn't impressed me in 2000 when he was here, and I gave Bill Belichick and his defensive assistants a lot of credit for his success.

But that's in the past. All the slates are wiped clean as of today.

Crennel knows he will be judged on his results, and nothing else.

When asked if it's dangerous to be labeled a "player's coach", Crennel admitted . "It could be. It just depends on if you win or lose. If you win, it is not a dangerous label. If you lose, it is a dangerous label. "

I've sensed it all off-season, ever since the Browns death spiral started a third of the way through the 2004 season... there's a wait-and-see attitude out there. The motor hasn't gotten revved up this off-season like it has in the past.

Perhaps that will change during what looks like a busy off-season, but I doubt it.

There have been too many rebuilding efforts, too many changes of personnel, and too many decades since the team has measured up to its loyal fans. One senses that the Romeo Crennel bandwagon will be sparsely populated until it runs over a couple of opposing teams.

Emotions seem cooler than at any time in the expansion era. There haven't been a lot of letters or emails pleading the case of one coach or GM, and only a few angry broadsides about the team's mistakes. 

There is some excitement over the hiring of Crennel, but the volume is low. It's an event, but not a spectacular one.  Hiring Romeo Crennel, like the hiring of Phil Savage, is drawing respectful nods, but not wild-eyed enthusiasm.

No one should think that Browns fans are apathetic, however. Not by a mile.

What you see now is what six years of expansion stumbling and hype-without-substance has wrought. It's video board messages in 1999 with John Jurkovich saying "We're going to the Super Bowl". It's four years of Butch Davis' limitless self-confidence without the attendant results.

We're waiting.

We're standing a few feet away with our arms folded, saying "Show me".

The responsibility of being head coach of the Cleveland Browns has chewed up the last three guys to walk into it.

Next up: Romeo Crennel.

Good luck, big fella.


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