KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The only person who seems to be at ease with the question about Romeo Crennel’s future with the Chiefs is the man who is being asked to answer it.
He’s a coach who has only managed to coax two wins out of a team predicted to compete for the AFC West title. He’s a guy respected and beloved in the locker room but who appears lost on the sideline, and who has had just one winning season in five years as an NFL head coach.
But he’s also a man who witnessed one of his own players commit suicide after committing murder, and then served as the face of a franchise in mourning. He’s a man who shelved his own emotions to provide unwavering leadership when the team walked into Arrowhead Stadium one day later and beat Carolina for one of those two victories.
“We’re in this business to win, because that’s how it’s kind of counted, by your win-loss record,” Crennel said this week, when asked about his future in Kansas City.
“When you’re not able to win,” he said, “you always wonder about yourself: What do I need to do more? What haven’t I done? And those kinds of things.”
Nobody knows exactly how hot Crennel’s seat is in Kansas City, though.
Not even Crennel himself.
For one thing, general manager Scott Pioli’s job also appears on the line after a season marked by on-the-field misery and off-the-field atrocities. An unprecedented fan rebellion has been calling for his job for weeks, and it’s possible that the man who elevated Crennel from interim head coach to the full-time job last season may not be around long, either.
Pioli hasn’t spoken publicly since the Chiefs’ bye midway through the season, when he said that Crennel had his support. Pioli was with Crennel when linebacker Jovan Belcher took his own life outside the team’s practice facility, adding another layer of complexity to the decisions that will soon be facing Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt.
Then there’s the fact that Crennel simply won’t spend time pondering his fate.
He’s been a coach for more than four decades, progressing through the college ranks to the NFL, where he helped to win five Super Bowls as an assistant. He understands as well as anybody how tenuous life is in professional sports, and that next season is never guaranteed.
“The future is the next game,” Crennel said. “So that’s the one I’m concentrating on and seeing what I can do to try to win the game. If we win the game, we’ll see what happens down the road. The only control I have is trying to win a game.”
It’s certainly an important game for reasons beyond the fate of the Chiefs’ coach.
Indianapolis visits Kansas City on Sunday with a chance to wrap up an improbable playoff berth, something that few dreamed possible when they lost their first 13 games last season.
If nothing else, the rapid way the Colts have turned around their franchise should be heartening for the Chiefs, who are headed for one of the worst finishes in team history.
The question becomes who will be in charge of orchestrating that turnaround.
“This is a business, so you can’t worry about that,” said Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson, who is on his fourth coach in eight years in the league. “When you’re having a losing season, everybody’s job is in jeopardy, players and coaches. That’s just the way it is, the nature of the beast.”
Crennel certainly graded out highly among players and fans when he took over for the fired Todd Haley last season, and then guided the Chiefs to a victory over then-unbeaten Green Bay and a season-ending road win against the Broncos.
Afterward, players chanted his name in the locker room, and many of them openly campaigned for the former Cleveland Browns coach to get the job on a permanent basis.
“That’s the most disappointing part of this year, one of them, is not getting the results the way we feel for Romeo,” Johnson said. “We love Romeo. We were screaming for him after the season to be our coach, and for our season to turn out the way it did, it’s disappointing.”
Crennel has tried just about everything to engender change within the team.
He benched incumbent starter Matt Cassel for quarterback Brady Quinn. He fired himself as defensive coordinator and appointed Gary Gibbs to the same role. He’s even had a hand in the inspirational signs that are posted outside the Chiefs’ locker room.
Nothing has worked, though, and now his job is in jeopardy.
“When you try different things and you still don’t win, it kind of wears on you a little bit,” Crennel said. “You know you’re going to play on Sunday, so you have to put that best foot forward and try to get that win, because that’s the best thing that will make you feel better about yourself and about what you’re trying to get done.”