KANSAS CITY, Mo. — And so he idles. Life outside the hamster’s wheel just doesn’t move as quickly, even in New York City. After years of running, Romeo Crennel spent this spring learning to enjoy the grace of a good walk again.
“Some days, it’s more difficult than others,” the former Kansas City Chiefs coach tells FOXSportsKansasCity.com. “But you have to find the enjoyment in something different. And you have an opportunity to do some things (that), as you’re working, you were not able to do.
“Like I went to the spring game at Western Kentucky this year. That was my alma mater, and the first time I’ve had an opportunity to go to the spring game. You try to do things like that, to kind of go seek out how the other world lives.”
The NFL is an insulated existence, an endless cycle of meetings, film study, practice, news conferences, public appearances, glad-handing and, eventually, games. It’s the marathon that never ends. Runners who can’t make the tape are replaced, mid-race, by fresh legs that will.
Bad hip and all, Crennel misses the pace already, the endorphin rush of the autumn to come. Other than a year off in 2009 following surgery, the 65-year-old has found himself coaching at the collegiate or NFL level since 1970. Is a Father’s Day really a Father’s Day without an OTA on either side to worry about?
“Well, you know, you miss the locker rooms, you miss the players, you miss your relationships with other coaches, because you’re seeing those guys on a daily basis,” says Crennel, who was let go following the Chiefs’ 2-14 campaign of last fall, the nadir of a 12-month reign and a 4-15 record. “And again, I’m sure that this season, when the season starts, the challenge of Sunday will be a lot different.”
You ask if he’s looked back, not that you could blame him a whit if he didn’t. At this time a year ago, Crennel thought he had built a house of bricks. By the middle of October, the Chiefs were nothing more than an older wooden door and a giant pile of straw.
A 1-2 start begat eight losses in a row, a horrific murder/suicide involving former linebacker Jovan Belcher, then four more losses to close out December. The quarterback was cheered when injured; the fans were scolded by the right tackle, then decided to wear black in protest; the general manager was openly reviled. Farce traded verses with Shakespearean tragedy.
“You know what? I haven’t thought a whole lot about it,” Crennel replies. “And like I tell everybody in this business, you have to win ballgames. If you don’t win ballgames, generally, they’re going to make a change. And whatever the circumstances are, the bottom line is, ‘Did you win or did you lose?’ And when you don’t win, then they make changes. And so, that was the case; that’s what happened to us last year. We didn’t win enough games. And if we had won more games, then we might’ve been able to be given another year. But we didn’t win (enough), and so they made the change. So they had to move forward, and so do we.”
Crennel says he “parted on good terms” with chairman/CEO Clark Hunt — “there’s no problems there, it just is what it is, and it didn’t work out” — and with Kansas Citians in general.
“I think it’s a great football town, you know, and they love the Chiefs and they support them,” Crennel says. “They’re behind the team and, you know, it’s a pretty good situation — really good, football-wise. Because they come to see you play, and they get that sea of red going and they’re vocal, and like I told the players, ‘It’s a great situation.'”
Mind you, Scott Pioli and Matt Cassel, the aforementioned general manager and signal-caller, might beg to differ on that last point.
“Well, I’ll tell you: That’s one of the things that you (do), is try not to read the papers or listen to talk radio, or all of those things, because if you’re sensitive, it can really get to you,” Crennel says. “And no matter what they say, if you can win, then you’ll survive all of that. And when you don’t win, they give those opinions more validity.
“But people have their opinions, and they’re going to say what they think . . . whether they’re right or wrong. I think that Scott is a very conscientious guy, and I feel he did what he thought was the best in all situations. And in the end, it didn’t work out, and I’m a part of it not working out. And you can’t go back and redo it. You just have to hope you get a second opportunity and learn from whatever mistakes that were made and go forward.”
Also, you never say never: This week, Pioli became one of the talking heads that so often excoriated him locally, joining NBC Sports’ “Football Night in America” broadcast team as a so-called “informationalist.” On Oct. 27, Pioli’s new pals will be in Minneapolis, where Cassel, a Kansas City piñata in both the literal and figurative sense, is now a backup with the Vikings.
“It happens in every city, because it’s such a high-profile position,” Crennel says of the birds that booed Cassel out of town. “And, you know, the fans are fickle. They want their quarterback to be good all the time. And when the quarterback is not what they expect, then they’re down on him. And so, that was part of the case, as far as Matt was concerned.
“His situation, it was just a tough situation for him to be in, because basically he’s the starting quarterback and then you have to step aside and let somebody else have an opportunity (Brady Quinn). And as competitive as this guy is, that was pretty difficult for him. But to his credit, I thought he was very professional about handling that situation. He’s a very hard worker, very conscientious, and he handled the situation very professionally.”
And while we’re on the subject of professionalism, Crennel appreciates that new coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey have extended praise — publicly, at least — to the previous regime.
“I think that shows Andy’s experience, that he knows that there’s some good players there,” Crennel says of the 2013 Chiefs. “And he feels like there probably were some good things that were done.
“But he also knows that, if it were all that great, there wouldn’t have been a change. But now he’s going to come in and he’s going to do what he thinks is best. And, really, I think it’s good on his part that he makes mention that there were some good things in place. But, still, the bottom line is that he’s going to have to do what he thinks is best for him and for the team as he sees it . . . but I think that’s commendable to him, and the person that he is, that he states that there were some good things in place.”
The wheel keeps turning. So do the pages. You wonder if Crennel would consider taking Pioli’s lead and join the broadcasting game, dance around the periphery for a while.
“Not to this point,” says Crennel, who’s not hurting for bread, given that he’ll reportedly be paid the $7 million owed on the remaining two years on his Chiefs contract. “I have investigated. I think that I know some guys who had done a little bit with it and they’ve enjoyed it. We’ll see what happens after this fall. I’ve been in the business a long time — all my life, basically. And if the right opportunity is available, you’d better look at it.”
And make no mistake: He looked. Crennel kicked some tires, some tires kicked back and, in the end, nothing came of it. Which is fine. There are parks to walk, neighborhoods to explore, three daughters to visit, and eight grandchildren — firecrackers between the ages of 3 and 10 — to chase about.
“I think it’s an opportunity for you to kind of work on yourself a little bit. And we (go) out, take walks, you explore, you go to the gym, you do things like that,” Crennel says. “It’s difficult at times, because when football is in your blood, you’re used to that football regimen. But all of a sudden, you don’t have that regimen to deal with, then you have to find other things that you enjoy doing, and then try to make the most of that.”
New tricks? Really?
To that, the old dog just laughs.
“You try to enjoy the time that you do get when you get it,” the coach says. “And that’s one of the things about this business: You don’t know, at the time, when you’re going to get the time.”
Or the space. And after last season, you figure, Crennel could use plenty of both.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.