In the weeks following general manager Phil Savage's "vote of confidence" press conference on December 1, the talk of Romeo Crennel's job being in jeopardy subsided for a while. That, however, has started to change in recent days. And not for the better if you're a fan of Crennel or an advocate for continuity.
Whispers have grown louder over the last week to ten days that Romeo Crennel's job is far from being safe. In fact, one source The OBR has spoken to within the last 24 hours has gone so far as to place the odds at "less than 50-50" that Crennel will be retained.
While Savage, both publicly and privately, maintains confidence in Crennel and feels that he's the right coach for this team both now and into the future, the same cannot be said for owner Randy Lerner.
According to two league sources, it will take a major sell job from Savage to Lerner at the organizational meetings following the season finale in order for Crennel to maintain his position as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
"Savage has Romeo's back, but don't assume that just because Phil feels that way, that Randy will go along with him," the source told The OBR.
"(Savage) has to sell Crennel and sell him hard to (Lerner). (Lerner's) not happy and wants some answers to some very serious questions. And in the end, it's Lerner's team and he'll make the final decision on the coach."
Even if that's not what Savage wants?
"Yeah, even if that means going against the advice of his GM."
Lerner's concerns involving Crennel are three-fold, the sources say.
One, obviously, is the product on the field and its accompanying won-loss record. Injuries and "a bare cupboard", though, will "give Savage more than a few bullets in his talks with his boss," one source said.
Perhaps more disturbing to the owner, however, are the two other issues that have little to do with the general manager.
First, there is the perception, both in the organization and outside of Berea, that Crennel has precious little control over his young charges. Specifically, as it relates to one Braylon Edwards.
Nearly a month-and-a-half ago, Edwards was responsible for several dust-ups that soon became fodder for sports talk radio and newspaper columnists, and was "a personal embarrassment to the owner" one source said.
Let me repeat that:
"A personal embarrassment to the owner."
In late November, Edwards inexplicably called out teammate Brian Russell for a hit on fellow wide receiver--but not fellow teammate--Chad Johnson during the club's first loss to the Bengals. During the same session with the media, Edwards in essence called out the offensive coaching staff for their club's red-zone playcalling during the loss to the Steelers the previous Sunday.
A few days later, Edwards had his infamous sideline rant that involved grabbing the jersey of quarterback Charlie Frye.
The weekend before that, and against the very strong advice of several veterans and coaches, Edwards chartered a helicopter so that he could attend the OSU-Michigan game in Columbus. Subsequently, Edwards was late for a team meeting on the eve of the first Steelers game and was fined an undisclosed amount by Crennel.
At the time, The OBR reported that Lerner's preference was for Edwards to be suspended for the series of incidents. Instead, he allowed Crennel to handle the matters in the way he saw fit.
Then, a month later, Edwards was, according to various reports, late for at least one team meeting in the week leading up to the loss to the Bucs and was benched by Crennel for the first quarter and a half.
According to a source, Lerner's doubts about Crennel's "institutional control" again bubbled to the surface.
"Whether it's valid or not, the perception is that the coach doesn't have both hands on the wheel 'cause he's busy slapping the kids sitting in the backseat," the source said. "And when the owner is one of the people with that perception, it doesn't bode well for the coach."
Added the other source: "Have you noticed Crennel's demeanor in the last couple of press conferences? It's not just the losses that are making him chirp at the press."
According to sources who have spoken to The OBR, the third issue involves Crennel's coaching staff, and will likely have the biggest impact as to whether or not Crennel is around for a third season in Cleveland.
Two sources, including one who believes that Crennel will be canned at season's end, have told The OBR that there will be one way, and one way only, for Crennel to maintain his current position: He will need to go along with strong "suggestions" to make changes to his coaching staff.
Given Crennel's penchant for loyalty to those around him--see "Carthon, Maurice"--it's far from a done deal that Crennel will go along with any of these "suggestions". Thus, it's far from a done deal that Crennel will return for a third season.
"Even if (Savage) can sell Lerner on keeping Crennel, if Crennel bucks at changes to the staff, he's gone," says one source.
"He'll be finished in Cleveland. Done."
Neither source would specifically name the names of coaches whose necks could potentially be on the chopping block. However, do not be surprised if the names don't include offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson, wide receiver coach Terry Robiskie, offensive quality control coach Carl Crennel II, running back coach Dave Atkins and defensive line coach Randy Melvin.
As to whether or not Crennel will return, I will let one of the sources sum up my feelings on the whole situation.
"Does Crennel want to be loyal or does he want to be a head coach in the NFL? That's what it'll come down to."