Passan: Reading Tea Leaves

Rich looks at Phil Savage's remarks about the team's coaching situation in retrospect, attempting to divine what the future might hold for head coach Romeo Crennel. Here are his conclusions...

The timing is too exquisite to be ignored.

The Browns extend the contract of offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski by two years.

Romeo Crennel has two years left on his contract as head coach of the Browns.

Kinda makes one go hmmmmmmmmm.

In the natural order of things, would it be a stretch to think Chudzinski will be the next Browns head coach no later than the 2010 season? Perhaps earlier?

It has been reported that the Browns are willing to talk contract extension with Crennel. Last week, Phil Savage was asked if he intended to extend that contract.

". . .  we have every intention of doing something for Romeo," he told the media at his State of the Browns postseason news conference. "I think we'll do right by him. The case with Chud came up overnight and it was time sensitive. . . . We're open to a couple of different things (on a Crennel contract extension). . . . It's not true (that Romeo has asked for an extension.)"

Nice non-answers. Right out of the Carmen Policy-Butch Davis School of Question Evasion. This guy's smooth. He missed his calling. He should have become a politician.

And because of that, you'll have to draw your own conclusions as to what he meant.

Let's try to break it down, anyway.

"We have every intention of doing something for Romeo I think we'll do right by him." Like put him out to pasture? Or kick him upstairs? Perhaps pay him off?

"The case with Chud came up overnight and it was time sensitive." Yeah, like when Savage got word that Chudzinski was invited to interview for the Baltimore Ravens head coaching vacancy. The offensive coordinator has transformed the Browns into a legitimate big-time threat on that side of the ball and Savage didn't want to lose him, especially to a division rival.

Wouldn't be surprised that Savage and Chudzinski have reached a tacit verbal agreement that the coordinator would be better off staying with his boyhood team because he would assume the top post no later than 2010. The conversation might have gone something like this:  "Don't worry, Chud. Get another year or two under your coaching belt and you'll be ready for sure to be a head coach."

"We're open to a couple of different things." See "We have every intention of doing something for Romeo."

"It's not true (that Romeo has asked for an extension)." No, but his agent, Joe Linta, has. Linta has admitted approaching the Browns for such an extension. He told a Columbus newspaper, "It was me really calling them and just saying, ‘Romeo is in is third year and he's obviously turned the program around. Is this going to be the guy that's going to be the face of the franchise and is he sticking around here a long time?' "

Whoa. Romeo Crennel the face of the Cleveland Browns? Now that's a stretch.

"Obviously, if they don't end up doing something with him (within the next year)," Linta said, "he'll end up becoming a lame duck."

Well, yeah.

It would be foolhardy for the Browns to re-up a 60-year-old man (he'll be 61 in June) who coached the team to as many victories in his third season as he did in his first two campaigns combined. Certainly not with the rapidly-rising Chudzinski, the head-coach-in-waiting, lurking in the background.

If Savage is smart – and there's no reason to believe he isn't – he'll demur on extending Crennel's contract as the head coach, offering instead to make the rest of his life secure with a front-office job in two years. If Linta doesn't like that, what is he going to do? Shop his client around the National Football League for another head coaching job? I doubt anyone would take him on in that capacity.

Chudzinski has become the flavor of the year, much like Todd Grantham a year ago when Crennel's  foundation quivered. Grantham's stock this past season dropped quicker than the Dow Jones industrial average on a bad day. And he paid the ultimate price.

Chudzinski, however, sits on a precarious perch because he has to prove this year that this past season was not an aberration, a one-season pact with the devil that made him look like an offensive genius. I don't see that happening, although it's hard to imagine improving on this past season's output.

Unlike the defense, which seems to be in a constant state of flux, the offense most likely will see few changes in personnel. Practically everyone will be back unless Jamal Lewis didn't really mean what he said about wanting to return.

Don't discount relative good health as one of the primary factors for the Browns' success on offense.

Chudzinski also benefited greatly from large doses of it. The offensive line was disgustingly healthy except when right guard Seth McKinney went down in midseason. But Ryan Tucker moved right in and the offensive line continued to play with seamless precision. No beats were missed.

Lewis missed just one game, Kellen Winslow Jr. played the entire season while beat up and Joe Jurevicius battled nagging injuries. But the rest of the starters started just about every game.

Savage professes to have a solid working relationship with Crennel and there's no reason to doubt that. But if Chudzinski is the head coach in waiting, there is every reason to believe Crennel will be allowed to finish out his current contract.

That way, Chudzinski will have served three years as the offensive boss and made serious inroads with the players.

And if Crennel doesn't like that kind of security, it would be perfectly understandable if Savage permits him to seek job opportunities elsewhere, although it would be surprising if other franchises see him as a head coaching candidate.

I don't believe Savage will extend Crennel's contract as the head coach of the Browns. If I'm wrong, then Randy Lerner is making as big a mistake as when he rubber-stamped Policy's decision to extend Davis' contract two years, adding the title Executive Vice President, following the 2003 season. And that was after the Browns finished 5-11.

Lerner didn't finish paying off that contract until the end of this past season. He should think seriously about that before committing to Crennel and repeating a mistake.

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