Passan: Turn Them Loose

Rich offers some advice to Romeo Crennel as he begins his second year...

A year ago at this time, Romeo Crennel took the big leap. Became a head coach in the National Football League for the first time at the ripe old age of 57.

And before you get all twisted up in a knot, no, this is not going to be a diatribe about hiring people just a few years shy of Social Security. We've been down that road before.

In that year, we've seen Crennel dismantle the 4-3 defense (with help from General Manager Phil Savage), show a reluctance to play rookies, finally take a chance on one of those rookies at key positions on the team, stand by his coaches no matter how much the heat was dialed up and learn the inevitable lessons for a man in his position.

Crennel found out that being a head coach is far different than being a successful defensive coordinator whose jewelry box is loaded with oversized rings.

The responsibilities of a head coach are far more varied than those of a coordinator, whose responsibilities lie strictly on one side of the ball. There is no tunnel vision in being a head coach.

It's always the big picture with the head man and I'm not certain Crennel saw it that way at all times. It appeared as though he was more concerned with the defense keeping a game under control than actually trying to win games.

In many instances, he coached not to lose. His predecessor did the same thing and met a nervous breakdown on his way out of town.

Perhaps it's because as a rookie head coach, Crennel's main goal was keeping the final scores as respectable as possible. And, for the most part, he succeeded.

But there's more to being a head coach.

It has been said the most successful football coaches learn the art of coaching their coaches and get out of the way so those coaches can coach the players. It's a balancing act Bill Belichick didn't discover until he got to New England.

Hopefully, Crennel has learned some valuable lessons along the way. There were times it appeared as though he lost the handle of games. The improbable back-to-back losses to Detroit and Houston leap to mind as perfect examples.

Now that he appears to have brought calm to a dressing room torn apart by the previous coaching staff, Crennel's focus for the 2006 should be on making certain there is improvement on a weekly basis. If that was his goal in 2005, he failed miserably.

At the end of last season, the Browns continued to make the same mistakes. If it wasn't a blown coverage, it was a missed blocking assignment. If it wasn't a dropped pass, it was a failure to recognize a certain defense. They never failed to do something in a self destructive way.

Even though they won two of the final five games, there was a shocking lack of concentration by the players for so late in the season.

Leaks in the dike sprung up way too often. Crennel and his staff seemed to head back to the drawing board on a weekly basis. That has got to stop. Avoiding repeat trips to the drawing board should be one of the coach's top goals for 2006.

And to do so, he has to seriously think about changing his approach to the game. Conservatism has to take a vacation. A long vacation.

This is the time of year plot plans for the new season are developed. It's time for Crennel to cultivate a newer, more aggressive philosophy so the players can absorb it in the various mini-camps and training camp and be ready for the new season. It's time to change the image of the Cleveland Browns.

Take the shackles off defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon. Let their minds flow freely and make football fun again. Let's see what these guys can do with a gambling defense and a wide-open offense.

It's time to turn them loose and see what they have. Passive football is for losers.

Let's see attitude on both sides of the ball. Let's see a swagger this team has not had since the Bernie Kosar era of nearly 20 years ago. And all that has to come from the top. The big guy with all the rings has to set the tone for the season. He needs to motivate.

The trickle-down theory worked in Pittsburgh. Why not here?


Rich Passan has had a long and varied career covering sports in Northeast Ohio. A long-time reporter and columnist of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Rich also spoke to fans frequently as host of a Cleveland AM radio post-game show. Rich recently retired from daily reporting and is living in Arizona, where he devours every scrap of information that comes his way about the Cleveland Browns.

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