Derry: New Role For Coach Sam

The brief glimpses of success for the Modell-era Browns continue to fade into memory, but the architect of one of those eras has returned to Cleveland. Frank Derry talks to "Kardiac Kids" head coach-turned-TV analyst Sam Rutigliano, who has some thoughts for new Browns head coach Romeo Crennel.

He sits in the back of the room, listening in silence as Romeo Crennel answers questions about the events of the past 24 hours.

If the Browns were victories the previous day, he can appreciate the joy which Crennel is feeling. But if the team has lost, which has happened more often than not this year, then he is very sensitive to the pain which comes from having to talk about a game which any head coach would much rather try to forget.

"I actually dread coming here after a loss," said former Browns head coach Sam Rutigliano, who in his new role as co-host of WKYC-TV's Browns show "The Point After", feels obligated to sit in on Crennel's Monday press conference.

"The Point After" airs on Monday night and also features WKYC-TV 3 sports director Jim Donovan as the fellow co-host, along with weekly appearances by former Browns tackle and current Browns radio analyst Doug Dieken and Cleveland Plain Dealer sportswriter Tony Grossi.

Rutigliano says, "It is very strange," to be sitting on the media's side of the podium. "Obviously, I have been in the same situation (as Crennel) and I know how difficult it is. It's kind of like the last thing you do on the gloom-and-doom day after a loss. It is part of the doom. I'm extremely sensitive to what he is going through. I just want to hug him. Romeo is an intellectual and sensitive guy."

Rutigliano, who was the Browns' head coach from 1978 until the middle of the 1984 season, says he would not attend the press conferences, or be a part of the TV show, if he felt Crennel was uncomfortable with the situation.

But Rutigliano is an old friend of Crennel's and also knows general manager Phil Savage very well. Savage's assistant player personnel director, T. J. McCreight, played football for Rutigliano at Liberty University.

"I've never talked to him (Crennel) about it (being at the press conference), but I could tell he would be OK with it," said Rutigliano, who insists that the problems being encountered by the Browns this year will, in the long run, make both Crennel and his team better.

"During the difficult times, you really get to know your players because the bullets are flying," Rutigliano said. "You also really get to know yourself. In all the years you serve as an assistant coach, you tell yourself you could handle it. But until you are in that situation, you never really know for sure. When things are going well, it is easy. There is no testimony without a test, or until you put your foot in the fire."

Rutigliano says a key to success for Crennel will be his ability to keep a positive outlook even when things are going bad.

Rutigliano says he personally would sulk over a loss during his 45 minute drive from his home on Cleveland's east side to the team's facility in Berea. But by the time he stepped out of his car and walked through the front door on Monday morning, he realized he had to create a positive feeling for everyone in the organization.

"From the moment I walked in and saw the security guard at the front door, to the time I talked to my secretary, to my coaches, to my players and to the owner, they looked at me for hope," he said.

"And you can't fake it, either. You can't be a ventriloquist. The players have been around long enough to know if you really mean it. But before you can win the players over, you have to win yourself over. You have to understand this is all a part of becoming successful."

Rutigliano, who has been an assistant coach for a variety of teams in NFL Europe over the past six years, has one other word of advice for Crennel … don't become a 24-hour a day, seven-day a week head coach. "I think that is a big problem in the NFL today," Rutigliano said.

"This job requires energy and creativity. Sitting in a building 24 hours a day is going to usurp some of that energy and creativity. I pray that coaches who do it the other way will be successful so that the other coaches will follow their lead.

"Everyone knows that NFL coaches are the greatest copycats in the world. Chuck Noll, Don Shula, Bud Grant and Chuck Know were all very successful coaches and none of them spent 24 hours a day in their office. Don't sleep in your office like John Gruden. That in itself can do horrible damage.

"Vince Lombardi said that if you go in at 7 in the morning and if by 7 at night you can't get it done, you'd better get another job."

While Rutigliano, who spent 10 years as head coach at Liberty University before starting to work for NFL Europe, says he enjoys being an assistant, but he has no desire to ever again be an NFL head coach. "It's somebody else's turn," he said.

He's more than content with the outstanding memories he has of his days as the Browns' head coach.

"It (his time in Cleveland) has been the best of times and the worst of times, but overall it has been the best of times" he said, recalling the tremendous Kardiac Kid days of the early 1980s. "The Kardiac Kids teams were fun. I miss it for about five minutes, but after that, it goes away."

Today, he is content keeping his foot in the door by being a part of the television show.

"I really enjoy doing it because I have no agenda," he said. "I don't have to be here at 6 o'clock in the morning. When I leave following the press conference, I go home. When I watch Romeo walk out the door after the press conference, I know what he has to go through. He has another full week ahead of him.

"(Former Browns head coach) Paul Brown was right when he said the only antibiotic (for a loss) is the next game. It can't get here soon enough.

"You have to understand that this (losing) is a part of being a head coach. It is a temporary part of it. The good thing about it is that it's not going to last very long. If it (losing) does become long term, they are going to let you go."

Thus far, Crennel has done a very good job of casting a positive light on the situation. But there's no doubt the next eight weeks will go a long way in determining just how successful he will be at keeping his team focused when little more than pride and job security is on the line.


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