BEREA, Ohio — There is no road map for some things.
So it was last weekend when Kansas City Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel found himself talking to Jovan Belcher as the Chiefs linebacker held a gun to his head outside the team facility.
Belcher had just shot and killed his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins, the mother of his child. Belcher heard Crennel’s words, then went behind a car and killed himself.
“I tried to do everything I could,” Crennel said Wednesday on a conference call leading up to Sunday’s game between Kansas City and the Browns. “And I feel comfortable with what I tried to do.
“It just wasn’t enough.”
There is no coach’s manual for the situation, and no manual for how to deal with the pain that followed. But the Chiefs played a game the day after Belcher’s murder-suicide, and somehow won. Wednesday they attended his memorial service before practicing for Sunday, when they will travel to Cleveland for a 1 p.m. ET kickoff.
“Honestly I feel the emotions are still pretty raw,” quarterback Brady Quinn said on a conference call. “I think after the season it might be something where you’re able to sit down and reflect upon all of it.
“Right now, it’s still pretty tough.”
Which might be the understatement of the NFL season.
While some trivialize the death of a mother and the suicide of a father by relating it to football — “can you move forward and focus on the game?” — the Chiefs deal with loss, shock, grief and pain every minute of every day.
The fact that a little time has passed has not lessened the grief or eliminated the questions.
“When you try to some way put it in perspective, it’s really hard to get a grasp on the gravity of the situation,” Quinn said.
Crennel and Quinn, two guys who once were members of the Browns, were given credit for their roles in helping the team beat Carolina last Sunday. Quinn quarterbacked the win, then spoke eloquently about pain and loss after the game.
“I don’t know if there is really a way to sum it up,” Quinn said. “I think based on everything that’s happened my thoughts and concerns were just trying to focus and do the best I could in the game while I was playing. Then after that, trying to kind of do some soul-searching and praying for forgiveness, for the families, etc., and that people could find peace with the situation.”
Crennel was his usual grandfatherly self. Nobody in the NFL has ever questioned the quality of the man’s character, or his principles.
“He was that steady rock in the midst of everything,” Quinn said. “After the incident he was emotional. A lot of people were emotional, and rightfully so. That’s something that I don’t think anyone would ever want to witness or have play out at any part of their life. … (But) after that he was able to continue to be that steady force on this team.”
Crennel became coach of the Chiefs against long odds. He was fired by the Browns after the 2008 season, then took a year off to have hip replacement. He returned to the sideline as Kansas City’s defensive coordinator in ‘10, and became interim coach late last season after Todd Haley was fired. The team responded to Crennel, and he was named head coach — despite a 24-40 record with the Browns.
His strength and approach were probably never more needed than last weekend.
“I think there’s a lot of times you look at situations like this and then you see why maybe God put people in certain places,” Quinn said.
Crennel would never draw that kind of attention to himself. He said his father’s experience in the military and his mother’s patience were his bedrocks in helping his team come to some kind of grip with the situation. But he admitted what has to be real.
“I’ll never be able to get away from it,” he said.
He also recognizes that suicide is not limited to the NFL, and that when it happens at a business or company the business does not stop. Crennel said the Chiefs provided grief counselors, but he also lent an ear to any player who wanted to talk to him individually.
“They needed an arm around them,” Crennel said. “And so I provided that.”
He knows the Chiefs played with a lot of emotion the day after the murder-suicide, and he knows they won’t have the same emotion this Sunday in Cleveland.
“It’s been overwhelming,” Crennel said. “But I try to compartmentalize. I have moments here and there. You get past your moment and do what you have to do to keep things going.”