BEREA — For the first time, Romeo Crennel has more experience in the Browns-Steelers rivalry than his counterpart. Unfortunately for Crennel, he has the same number of wins as rookie Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin.
Crennel is 0-4 vs. the Steelers. His only previous experience in the rivalry came in 2000 as Cleveland defensive coordinator, when Tomlin was his intern during training camp. He’d watch film and write reports for Crennel about the upcoming preseason opponent.
“It was an awesome experience for me,” Tomlin said Wednesday in a conference call. “I knew very little about the NFL from a coaching standpoint and really wasn’t sure I was interested. I came away with an appreciation for the NFL game and a desire to be a part of it. Romeo was very good to me in terms of whetting my appetite for this league.”
Tomlin didn’t need long to satisfy his hunger to be a head coach. He spent five years as Tampa Bay’s defensive backs coach and a year as Minnesota’s defensive coordinator before being hired by the Steelers.
The 35-year-old gets his initiation into the Browns-Steelers rivalry immediately.
“I know it’s been an intense rivalry for a long time, he said. “Both franchises have storied histories. It’s great to be part of it and I’m sure I’ll develop a better appreciation for it as I get a little history in.”
Crennel’s history has been all negative. The Browns were blown out 41-0 at home on Christmas Eve in 2005, then blew a 20-10 fourth-quarter lead at home last year.
“We haven’t had a lot of success against those guys in the past several years, so we’re going to put a lot into it and we’re going to try and win this one,” Crennel said.
Browns fans hope the switch to Tomlin swings the momentum. The early reports on Tomlin are good, but he’s still a first-time head coach and no one knows exactly how the Steelers will play under him.
“They look like the same Steelers to me,” Crennel said. “They are going to hand the ball to Willie Parker. You can bet on that. Troy Polamalu, he is going to blitz the quarterback. That is guaranteed. The thing about Pittsburgh is that they try and be a physical, dominating team and I think they are still going to try and do that.
“They lose (Bill) Cowher’s leadership, but now they have a new leader. How they respond to the new leader in pressure situations, that’s still to be determined.”
Cowher had been a part of the rivalry for two decades. He grew up in Pittsburgh, played and coached for the Browns, then replaced Chuck Noll as head coach of the Steelers in 1992.
Cowher owned the Browns after losing his debut. He finished 21-5, including 2-0 in the playoffs and 4-0 vs. Crennel. Every motivation ploy or trick play seemed to work.
But Cowher left the Steelers in a contract dispute after last season. He will broadcast for CBS this year and said recently he wouldn’t return to coaching until at least 2009.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t believe him.
“I think next year,” Roethlisberger said Wednesday in a conference call. “That was my bet when he left. I know it won’t be long before he comes back. I have a strong feeling that he’ll be back one of these next two years.”
“The Chin” still casts a long shadow. His name has been mentioned often as a possible replacement for Crennel if the losing continues. Roethlisberger was asked if he thought Cowher would consider coaching the Browns.
“Only he could tell you that,” Roethlisberger said. “There’s been some talk around here between some of the players. We joke around, we think that might be his No. 1 spot.”
Crennel, who got a public vote of confidence from general manager Phil Savage on Saturday, has better things to worry about than being replaced by Cowher.
Like getting his first win vs. the Steelers.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.