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The Romeo Rules

Posted Jan 13, 2012

Romeo Crennel's loyalty as an assistant coach last season showed a small piece of his overall character

There’s something to be said about loyalty. Especially when it involves today’s coaching carousel.

No matter the sport, no matter the season, coaches are on the move. Moving parts cause friction and rarely does divorce come without skeletons and personal agenda.

Words like honesty, integrity and accountability were used by Chiefs Chairman Clark Hunt and General Manager Scott Pioli to describe Romeo Crennel earlier this week, but Crennel filled those words with meaning during Todd Haley’s final months, weeks and days as Chiefs head coach.

Despite his deep-down desire to one day lead an NFL team again, Crennel was fiercely loyal to Haley though an often-times tumultuous 2011 season. And he stayed loyal until the plug was pulled on Haley’s tenure as head coach last month.

“I’ve seen Romeo as an assistant for a lot of years under three head coaches, and loyalty is absolutely one of the things that … he was just raised the right way,” Pioli said.

Look around the league and personal agendas are everywhere, especially when the tide begins to turn on the head coach.

Oakland fired Hue Jackson this week, fair or not, when bold post-game comments may have rubbed management the wrong way. The potential for a power struggle was present and new general manager Reggie McKenzie decided to move in a different direction at head coach.

The situation in Oakland is just the latest example. Crennel himself dealt with apparent discontent during his third season in Cleveland.

The Browns fired defensive coordinator Todd Grantham following the 2007 campaign, even though Grantham signed a contract extension just seven months prior. At the time, the Cleveland media debated whether Grantham was let go because of a plan to push Crennel out and become interim head coach or because Cleveland finished the 2007 season ranked 30th in total defense.

Crennel, of course, took the high road when announcing Grantham’s departure in January of 2008.

Raised in a military family, accountability and loyalty were expected out of Crennel and his siblings. Crennel’s upbringing is well-documented in a wonderful article written in 2008 by John Kroll of the Cleveland Plain Dealer (Romeo Crennel has his father's discipline and his mother's heart).

Crennel’s father was an Army sergeant and Romeo once sought a military life for himself, but was unable to become an officer because of a medical condition. He had flat feet.

Flat feet may have closed the door on officer training, but they opened the door for a football life. The rest, of course, is history.  

Crennel begins his 31st NFL season in 2012, but his military upbringing continues to influence his coaching philosophies.

“He understands loyalty, family, loyalty to his job and loyalty to his employer,” Pioli said. “As I watched him work under Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick and Todd Haley, he’s a guy that did a great job at his job but was always extremely loyal.”

When Crennel first joined Kansas City as defensive coordinator in January of 2010, he was only one year removed from his four-season stint as head coach in Cleveland. The competitive juices were still flowing and Crennel felt he had some unfinished business leading an NFL team.

In his introductory press conference as Kansas City’s defense coordinator, Crennel didn’t hide his professional goals.

 “I think that is why many of us coaches are in this business, to get to the highest level possible,” Crennel said when asked if he’d like to be a head coach again. “I think being a head coach is the highest level and if that opportunity came along again, I would definitely consider that.”

Almost two years later, when Crennel was given the interim head coaching title following Haley’s dismissal, his goals remained the same.

“I’d like to be a head coach again and show that I can get it done,” Crennel said during his first media session as the team’s interim head coach.

Crennel was given that chance, but at no time during the 23 months working under Haley did he have an agenda that extended beyond serving as an assistant coach the best way he knew possible.

There wasn’t any back-room campaigning once Haley’s grip on the job began to waver. Crennel’s focus remained on the job he had, not the one he wanted.

As Kansas City’s offense struggled with scoring and turnovers, the defense kept the team in games. As the heat turned up on Haley, Crennel’s approach to his job never wavered.

“Certain things about Romeo never changed, Pioli said. “He was the same guy and he was consistent every day, yet he took on responsibility in the new role and handled situations that were obviously head coaching situations and he picked up and did a remarkable job with.”

Crennel’s loyalty was an admirable trait that helped keep players focused and staff members from checking out once an in-season coaching change occurred.

Loyalty helped Crennel reach the top of the coaching ranks less than four years after holding the same job in Cleveland. The Chiefs are now his team to mold.

 “The Romeo Rules” (as told to John Kroll in 2008)

1. Let people know what you expect of them and give them feedback along the way. “If you want someone to walk up a wall, tell them how you want them to do it, and then tell them how they’re doing on the way up.”

2. Be truthful, fair and let them know you care. “If you do those things, they’ll run through a wall for you.”

3. Do it right the first time. “It will be inspected, and if it’s not right, you’ll have to do it again.”

4. Know the people you’re dealing with and what they need. “We once had a kicker at Texas Tech who made an appointment to see the head coach. All he wanted was a little praise. Coach put his arm around him and told him he was doing a good job, and the kicker walked out happy.”

5. Be a good listener. “You don’t always have to have an answer. Sometimes all anyone wants is someone to listen to them.”

6. Have rules, but not too many. “Only the rules that are necessary.”

7. It’s your red wagon. “We had one when I was little, and my father used to tell us, ‘it’s your red wagon, and you can either push it or pull it, it’s your choice. It’s your decision.”

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