Chiefs coaching situation front and center

Romeo Crennel spent much of Monday morning meeting with his

players, laying out the groundwork for the offseason. He planned to

spend the afternoon on evaluations, which Kansas City Chiefs

general manager Scott Pioli will use to help reshape the

roster.

Crennel won’t have much say in his own evaluation, though.

That’ll be up to Pioli almost entirely.

Crennel went 2-1 as interim coach following the dismissal of

Todd Haley, making a strong case to be hired on a permanent basis.

The two victories were over division champions Denver and Green Bay

– the Packers’ only loss this season – while the lone loss came in

overtime.

It couldn’t have been more damaging.

The defeat two weeks ago to Oakland eliminated the Chiefs from

playoff contention, turning their finale against the Broncos into

an exercise in pride. They wound up 7-9, but with a bunch of stars

coming back from injury – among them running back Jamaal Charles,

quarterback Matt Cassel, safety Eric Berry and tight end Tony

Moeaki – they’re likely to be favored to win the AFC West next

season.

Regardless of who is hired as head coach.

”The best I could have done was go 3-0, so you know, it wasn’t

the best I could do,” Crennel said Monday. ”If I did the very

best, we would have won three games. It always stops at the head

coach’s desk. You can always say it’s so-and-so’s fault, this guy

should have done this, blah, blah, blah, but as the head coach, it

stops at your desk. It goes against my record, so that’s what it

is.”

Pioli has said Crennel will be interviewed for the full-time

job, though it’s unclear when that will happen. Not even Crennel

knew for certain. But the former Cleveland Browns head coach said

he’ll listen to other opportunities ”at the appropriate time,”

even if they’re outside of Kansas City.

If it was up to the guys in the locker room, there would be no

decision to make.

With a gentle nature and grandfatherly demeanor, Crennel served

as a counterpoint to Haley, whose firing came the day after he was

whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct in a 37-10 loss to the New

York Jets. The defeat had dropped the Chiefs to 5-8 on the

season.

The mood abruptly changed when Crennel took charge, the wildly

inconsistent performances brought into check. A team whose season

to that point had been defined by devastating injuries, narrow wins

and blowout defeats became more focused and more cohesive down the

stretch.

”We came to a common ground over the past three weeks,” said

fullback Le’Ron McClain, who will be a free agent but said he would

love to be back in Kansas City next season.

”I think just the focus by Romeo, taking out a lot of stuff we

didn’t need and putting in stuff we need,” McClain said. ”We were

just all over the place – couldn’t get anything going on offense,

three-and-outs, and we’ve been doing good since Romeo stepped

in.”

Defensive lineman Tyson Jackson said he’d support a campaign for

Crennel, along with just about everyone else who quietly cleaned

out their lockers on Monday.

”I mean, I really like Romeo,” Jackson said. ”But I don’t

make those decisions. People with powerful hands make those

decisions.”

People like Pioli, who hasn’t tipped his powerful hand.

The Chiefs general manager has been quiet in recent week, though

that’s hardly out of character. Pioli prefers to work in the

shadows and let his players and coaching staff enjoy the spotlight,

even when it’ll be up to him to decide which direction the

franchise goes next season.

One thing is clear: The next head coach will have plenty of

firepower.

Cassel, a Pro Bowl pick a year ago, will be back after a

season-ending injury to his throwing hand. Moeaki will be back

after tearing a knee ligament in the preseason finale, as will

Berry and Charles, who also tore knee ligaments the first two weeks

of the regular season.

Moeaki said that the three have been rehabbing together and are

all on schedule to participate in April minicamps. The return of

Charles and Moeaki in particular will provide an instant boost for

an offense that managed no more than a single touchdown in each of

its final nine games.

”I’m not one for predictions,” Moeaki said, ”but the way we

played to finish out the season, especially this last game, even

though we’re not going to the playoffs, everyone played hard.

That’s a good sign of character, and that’s something we can build

off of.”

Pioli has locked up several of the Chiefs’ top players over the

past couple seasons, including cornerback Brandon Flowers and

linebackers Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson, who are both headed to

their first Pro Bowl. Hali had 12 sacks while Johnson set a

franchise record with 131 tackles.

There are a couple more who might get away.

Cornerback Brandon Carr has been a stalwart opposite Flowers in

the defensive backfield, but could command a princely sum on the

open market. Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe had another good season

despite a revolving door of quarterbacks, but he’s also been

inconsistent – a dropped touchdown pass against Oakland may be the

one play that kept Kansas City out of the playoffs.

There are also other holes to fill along the offensive and

defensive lines.

But despite the many changes that will soon take place in Kansas

City, from the coaching staff on down, there is already a sense of

excitement about what next season might hold.

”We’ve grown during the season,” Johnson said. ”Through all

the injuries, which are not an excuse at all, but through all the

injuries we can hold our hats high, knowing we fought this

season.

”Whoever comes in or whoever stays, we’ll be ready to play for

them next year, for sure.”