Rich's Rant: The Mirror Man

Our Tuesday columnist likes the way the new Browns are headed, but knows it will take a while to get there. Here are Rich's thoughts on Week 1 of the Phil and Romeo show...

Romeo Crennel needs some room. Some slack. Some time to do what he was brought here to do.

The ink on the new Browns coach's contract has been dry for seven days now and just about everyone with any emotional interest in the team expects big things.

Well, it happens that way only in the movies. Real life deals different hands and no one knows that better than Crennel.

If Browns fans are looking for a quick fix under Crennel and General Manager Phil Savage, forget it. It's not going to happen. There will be a lot of fixing, but it won't be quick.

This is the first time Crennel will work without a net. He no longer coaches for Bill Parcells or Bill Belichick.

He is all alone there out on that tightrope now. It will be up to him to surround himself with the best coaches and do a good job of coaching those coaches. Better yet, he's got to hope those coaches do an even better job of coaching the players.

The Browns were so messed up by the previous regime, it will take at least one season before any semblance of order can be restored.

Crennel hinted as much in his inaugural news conference a week ago when he said he might not be able to use his 3-4 defensive scheme as often as he would like because he might not have the proper personnel to properly implement it. 

The question arose tethered to Courtney Brown's status within the framework of a 3-4 and the unspoken notion of perhaps converting him to linebacker.

"If I have to transition to the 3-4 and go to the 4-3 for a while, then he will fit in one way," Crennel said diplomatically. "If I go all the way to the 3-4, he will fit in another way.  We have to look at the personnel and then we can make that decision."

Crennel dealt with many issues in his rambling 50-minute interview with the local media. And he came off as a genuinely dedicated man thankful for this opportunity.

He begins this new chapter of his life full of cautious hope for the Browns. But he made one thing perfectly clear about the kind of team he wants and the way it will play. He uttered words like fundamentals, character, physical, tough and smart.

 "I need physical guys," he said. "I need tough guys. That's what I've always had. I'd like to be able to acquire those kinds of players here in Cleveland, guys who are going to be physically tough. . . . We want to be good fundamentally. We want to be able to block and tackle. We want to be able to drop back, throw and catch. We want to be able to run."

Physical, tough. How can you not love that kind of approach to the game of football, a tough, physical sport.

For too long, the Browns have had a read-and-react defense. For too long, the Browns have had a mistake-prone offense. For too long, the Browns have not fielded the kind of team this town deserves.

Crennel wants a smart football team, one that minimizes mistakes. "Be smart, let's make good decisions," he said. "Let's not do stupid things." How refreshing.

Character ranks high on Crennel's priority list. "If I've got guys who have character problems now, they get distracted," he said. "They're not thinking about football. . . . If I can get good character guys, I have a chance to work on winning football games."

It worked with the New England Patriots, where egos were persona non grata in the dressing room.

This is what all Browns fans have been waiting to hear for too long. Cleveland is a blue-collar town, a tough town with tough fans. So it makes perfect sense for its football team to mirror those fans.

It appears as though the poor expansion swaddling of 1999 has a chance to finally grow up and become a force in the National Football League.

Crennel brings a winning attitude to the Browns. The right words have been spoken. How that translates in the dressing room remains to be seen.

If you recall, when Butch Davis arrived here as the savior in 2001, he was accompanied by the same winning attitude he achieved as head coach at the University of Miami and during his successful coaching stint with the Dallas Cowboys.

It didn't take long before we found out that Davis had dictatorial designs on how this team was going to be run. That won't happen this time. It can't. Not the way Randy Lerner has set up the front office.

Crennel made it extremely clear that before any decisions are made, he and Savage are going to join each other on the same page. There will be a definitive division of responsibility. Savage, with input from Crennel, has final-say-so on the makeup of the roster. And Crennel will determine who plays on game day.

What a concept. A general manager who manages and a coach who coaches.

The left hand-right hand theory of running a football organization is paramount for the success of this team. The imperious manner in which it was run by the previous coach/dictator will not be repeated.

Crennel dives into his job with no preconceived ideas about his team. "Coming here, it is a clean slate for those guys and they are going to have to prove to me who they are and what type of players they are," he said.  How can you not like that?

His self-effacing manner shone through when it was pointed out he was the Browns' first African-American head coach. " . . . I would like to think of me as just a head coach and not as a black coach," he said. "That is the way I want people to look at me. . . . My skin color is black, but I am a head coach."

Welcome, coach.

****

In last week's column, I mentioned that the Buffalo Bills said they are going with J. P. Losman at quarterback next season. That's not quite the case. The Bills will hold an open competition for the position in this summer's training camp between Losman, the club's No. 1 draft pick last year, and veteran incumbent Drew Bledsoe. Losman was the second of the Bills' first-round picks in last year's draft.

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