Those five Super Bowl rings Romeo Crennel can wear anytime he chooses carry a lot of weight, both literally and figuratively.
Players are listening to him this training camp as the first preseason game nears. How could they not? He won two rings with the Giants and three with the Patriots. He is leading a team that couldn't even win five games last year. Crennel and general manager Phil Savage have executed a major overhaul, but many key players such as Ryan Tucker, Andra Davis, William Green and Aaron Shea remain from the Butch Davis era.
"I'm sick of losing," Tucker said. "We know the fans feel it. Multiply what they feel times 10. We want to win so bad around here. Randy (team owner Randy Lerner) has taken the steps by bringing in Romeo. Romeo hired his staff. They've brought in a lot of new players.
"Romeo's attitude is nobody has a starting job. Everybody has to earn it. It's back to square one for all of us. I hate to use the cliché it's a new beginning. We have to win games. That's the bottom line."
Crennel has been a patient instructor this training camp. He is no longer the defensive coordinator of a Super Bowl champion. He is more like a first-grade teacher teaching his young pupils to read. Veterans such as Tucker are helping guide the young players, but more than technique needs improvement on this team.
"If you can have some success, that changes the attitude," Crennel said. "You have to break it down for each player. They have to do their job, and they have to do their job to the best of their ability. Then the guy next to him has to do his job to the best of his ability. Then, as a coach, you look to see where the problems exist, then try to focus on the problem. Hopefully, you don't have problems everywhere. If it's a one-player problem, you try to fix the problem with that one player."
Crennel makes it sound so simple. He was an NFL assistant from 1981-2004, spending most of those 25 years almost coaching under Bill Parcells or Bill Belichick. In that quarter century he learned the importance of staying on course.
Crennel experienced only seven losing seasons in his 25 years as an NFL assistant. One was in 1983, Parcells' first year as head coach of the Giants, when they went 3-12-1. One was in Parcells' first year in New England when the Patriots were 5-11 and one was with the Browns in 2000 when that hapless team was 3-13. Yet another was the strike year of 1987 when former Giants general manager George Young showed little enthusiasm for using replacement players. The Giants were 7-9 that year.
Yet for all his success, Crennel is putting his reputation on the line. Yeah, he was a great assistant, but can he do it as the head coach? Rarely does a head coach have the fortune to take over a good team, as George Seifert did when the great Bill Walsh retired in after the 49ers won the 1988 Super Bowl.
Usually the new coach finds a mess on his hands. Crennel knows how to clean it.
"If it's a scheme problem, you try to fix the scheme," Crennel said. "If the scheme is a good scheme - most of the schemes in the NFL are good schemes - and the player will play the technique within the scheme, then you've got a chance to be successful. If you can be successful, then they start believing what you've been preaching. If we go win a game, they'll say, ‘That Crennel really knows what he's talking about,' and they'll buy into it. But if we don't win the game, then there will be some second-guessing—‘Does he really know? Is this the right defense? Is this the right offense?' Then you just go back to square one.
"Teach them the best you can. Put them in the best position to make plays so that they can be successful. In simple form, that's what it is. I won't have to do all the pushing then. They'll push each other."
For now, Crennel is doing the pushing, even if he is doing it quietly.