Between reports of the Three MuscleTears (a nickname I just came up with for the collective bodies of Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry, and Tony Moeaki) coming back healthy after last-season ACL injuries, Dontari Poe still not coming to terms with the team, the deadline for Bowe’s franchise tag tender fast approaching, and Matt Cassel getting booed at the Celebrity Softball Game in Kansas City (how can you boo a face like this), I don’t think enough time has been spent discussing the importance and the obstacles facing Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel in 2012.
One of those obstacles is history.
Within Chiefs Nation, and in some circles of NFL talk, there is a certain amount of “hoopla” surrounding the upcoming season. The year 2010 keeps getting thrown around; whether it be Crennel talking about how Cassel has won before (2010) so it makes sense that he can win again, or how the team is wanting to get back a running game like they used to have in 2010, it seems to be a popular year for a topic of conversation.
By focusing on 2010 and acknowledging the precedent the team set that season, we as fans are assuming that 2011 was more of an outlier of expected Chiefs success than 2010 was. And let me remind you that up until the point we clinched the AFC West in week 16 of that year, we were still a rebuilding franchise coming off a four win season.
While I would like to believe that the Chiefs are clear division favorites and a lock for at least 10 wins on the season, I have to bring to your attention an article Bill Williamson, AFC West blogger for ESPN, wrote a couple of weeks back.
Titled Crennel looks for permanent success in K.C., Williamson writes: “If recent history is any indication, Crennel’s task is not an easy one. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last coach to lead his team to a winning record in his first year as the permanent coach after being the interim coach was Art Shell in 1990. He led the Raiders to a 12-4 record.”
As Williamson subsequently points out, that was 22 years ago.
So how concerned should Chiefs fans be? I guess it depends. Since 2000, seven coaches have been in the same position as Crennel. Only Mike Singletary in 2008 (49ers) and Jason Garrett in 2010 (Cowboys) didn’t finish with losing records – both posted 8-8 seasons.
Now we reach Crennel. Replacing Todd Haley after a late season loss to the Jets in 2011 following a 10-6 2010 season, Crennel went 2-1 the rest of the way and bought himself another head coaching gig. With all the injuries the team suffered last season, and with those same players expected to be back, you might be thinking that Crennel has to buck the above trend because the team he has inherited to start 2012 is so good. After all, they are just one year removed from a division title!
Not so fast.
The common denominator of interim coaches is that they replace a head coach that doesn’t meet expectations. The expectations, however, can be the fault of the previous head coach’s success. In 2000, the Vikings went 11-5; the next season after a 5-10 record, head coach Dennis Green was fired. In 2009, the Vikings went 12-4 under Brad Childress and the Cowboys went 11-5 under Wade Phillips. Both were fired during the season in 2010 because of failed expectations of repeat success. Both their replacements inherited playoff caliber teams and both coaches couldn’t get above .500.
When I said it just depends on whether Chiefs fans should be concerned, what I was meaning is how much confidence do you have in Romeo Crennel as the head coach? Crennel has gotten nothing but praise from the Chiefs front office, the players, and even other coaches and personnel around the league. But there were signs in those last three games of the season that Crennel either had his plate too full or he was knocking off the rust of not having been a head coach in a few years. Even in the victory over the Packers, Bill Barnwell of Football Outsiders and Grantland, questioned some of Crennel’s in-game decision making (scroll on down this linked article to the “Thank you for not coaching” section). What he points out shouldn’t be ignored by fans.
I am, however, willing to give Crennel the benefit of the doubt, and I suggest all other Chiefs fans do the same. What other choice do we have? If Crennel breaks the trend and the Chiefs go on to win nine games (not one, not two … not six, not seven … oh sorry, I was in LeBron mode) or more, and has the team in contention for a playoff spot, then we are all winners. If not, and the team doesn’t progress and maybe even takes a step back, then Crennel is just another statistic in the struggles-of-hired-interim-head-coaches column and the fans will, once again, have to wait till next year.