Crennel heading back to town where he was fired
Too tired to sleep, Eric Mangini and Romeo Crennel would sit around unshaven and unshowered, watching late-night TV and talking football. Truth be told, they would also snack on fatty, high-calorie foods their players were told to avoid.
While it may have looked and smelled like a frat house, Mangini recalls those hours at the New York Jets and New England Patriots as a vital part of what enabled him to be head coach today of the Cleveland Browns.
Crennel would talk and Mangini, 24 years his junior, would listen.
Now fate and the NFL are bringing old friends together again when the Browns host Kansas City on Sunday. Crennel, the Chiefs' defensive coordinator, would not mind if Mangini forgot, at least temporarily, some of the lessons he learned while watching Mary Tyler Moore reruns and munching on nachos.
''Nachos with cheese was what we liked,'' Crennel recalled with a laugh. ''It's late hours and when you're over there it's good to have someone else over there with you.''
Crennel and Mangini first got acquainted when they were with the Jets. Then later, when Crennel was defensive coordinator at New England and Mangino was coaching Patriots defensive backs, their relationship deepened.
''We watched a lot of bad TV together. See him all day at work and hang out on the couch later on,'' Mangini said. ''We both appreciated our snacks. We had a lot in common.''
Also in the group, Mangini recalled, was Al Groh and Bill Belichick.
''They would talk in what seemed like code because they had all said the words a thousand times. A lot of times I was lost and I would say, 'Romeo, can you help me out?' And he would be the one who would take me through it. He was a great teacher like that.''
Mangini proved a quick study.
''He was learning about the game and about our system. I tried to explain what I knew about it, not knowing everything,'' Crennel said. ''But I was able to explain some things to him and he was able to get a better understanding of the system. Eric is a very smart young man himself and he picks things up very quickly. I didn't have to explain a whole lot.''
The first-year Chiefs defensive coordinator actually has a lot of old friends in Cleveland.
He'll be seeing Lake Erie in an official capacity for the first time since 2008 when he was fired as Browns head coach with a four-year record of 24-40.
He says it's not something he's dwelled on this week at all. But perhaps others have. His daughter got word to him that the mailbox on his cell phone was full.
''I'm kind of focused on the job at hand and trying to get these guys to play better and get better,'' Crennel said. ''That's been the main focus. We've won one and we want to win another.''
Uppermost on the minds of the Chiefs and their fans is last year's embarrassing 41-34 loss to the Browns in Kansas City. Josh Cribbs returned two punts for touchdowns and Jerome Harrison rushed for 286 yards and three touchdowns, wiping out the Browns' single-game record held by some guy named Jim Brown.
That's what Crennel's been asking his players to dwell on this week, not any ties their coach may have.
''I think you have to remind them of it,'' he said. ''Hopefully, that doesn't sit well with them and they'll want to do something about it. It was embarrassing.''
After leaving the Browns, Crennel took a year off to recuperate from hip surgery. Now, after a goalline stand on Monday night preserved a 21-14 victory over San Diego, he has the full attention of a young Chiefs defense.
''He's a mastermind at what he does,'' said defensive end Wallace Gilberry. ''He knows his stuff. You want to go out and play hard for him. When he tells us all week how they're going to line up and then you see it in the game, it kind of makes it easy.''
The irony that he replaced his former mentor as head coach in Cleveland is not lost on Mangini.
''I think he is one of the best people I know, just pure human beings, that I know,'' Mangini said. ''He's a really good coach and you want to see your friends and people who have helped you develop be successful. That's the difficult part about it.''
Crennel is happy to have been a part of Mangini's career - to a point.
''I'm glad I was able to help,'' he said. ''And I hope he forgets a little bit of it this on Sunday.''