BEREA — Romeo Crennel’s impending return to New England reminds him of his most satisfying moment with the Patriots.
“We were a big-time underdog and were playing one of the best teams on turf,” Crennel said Wednesday of the Patriots’ 20-17 win over St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXVI. “No one thought we had a chance. But our guys hung together as a team.”
If the 2-2 Browns are able to upset the 4-0 Patriots on Sunday, Crennel might have a new favorite memory of New England. The Patriots, 16-point favorites, have outscored their opponents by 100 points and are the first team since 1920 to open the season with four wins of at least 20 points.
“It’s a challenge, that’s what it is,” Crennel said. “Just like that first Super Bowl was a challenge. Everybody said the Rams had us outmanned. That’s why you play the game. There’s nothing written in stone that says a team is going to win.”
Crennel is in his third year with the Browns after four years as defensive coordinator of the Patriots under coach Bill Belichick. Crennel and Belichick began working together with the New York Giants in 1981. They were assistants together under Bill Parcells with the Giants, Patriots and Jets. They won three Super Bowls in their last four years together and five overall.
“He’s got a good understanding of all facets of the game,” Belichick said of Crennel on a conference call. “He gets along great with people. He’s a good motivator. Players listen to him. He listens to the players.
“I think he’s taken a lot of young players and built it into a strong, competitive team. They get better each week. That comes from the head coach.”
Crennel got the Browns job after his time under Belichick, but said he considers him more of an associate than a mentor.
“We worked together for a long time,” said Crennel, who is 60, five years older than Belichick. “I’ve learned a lot from him and enjoyed working with him.”
Crennel said the ability to make sideline adjustments was the main thing he learned from Belichick. What did Belichick learn from him?
“PR might be one thing,” he said.
Crennel was joking. Since Belichick’s head coaching debut with the Browns in 1991, his relationship with the media has been strained. Crennel gets along with the media and Belichick. They still talk occasionally.
“I consider him a friend,” Crennel said.
Crennel and Belichick get along much better than Belichick does with Crennel’s successor in New England. Things were testy with Jets coach Eric Mangini, and that was before the Jets turned in Belichick for videotaping their defensive signals.
Crennel was hired by Cleveland after the Patriots’ last Super Bowl win following the 2004 season. Their success made him a viable head coaching candidate after 30 years in the business.
“I love Romeo,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said on a conference call. “He’s a great coach. He always had the respect of the players. If Romeo was speaking, everybody was listening.”
Crennel said Belichick, a former defensive coordinator, gave him great freedom when Crennel was running the Patriots defense.
“He let me do all of it,” he said. “I installed the game plan, decided who to play, I made the calls.”
Crennel went 10-22 in his first two years in Cleveland and entered this year under heavy scrutiny. The Browns’ surprising start has taken the focus off Crennel’s job security, and the players are starting to believe they’ve turned the corner.
“He takes care of us and we just want to go out and win for him,” running back Jamal Lewis said. “I think he knows what he’s doing and it just took a little time.
“I think we’re going to get it done for him.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.