KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs made Romeo Crennel the permanent head coach on Monday after he led the floundering team to a pair of wins late in the season.
Crennel had been the interim coach and the leading candidate to replace Todd Haley, who was fired last month. He was scheduled to be introduced at an afternoon news conference.
“We are very excited to name Romeo the new head coach of the Chiefs,” Chiefs CEO Clark Hunt said in a prepared statement. “In 30 years as a coach in the National Football League, Romeo has established an outstanding track record of success, and we believe his experience and proven ability make him the best person to help us reach our goal of consistently competing for championships.”
The former head coach of the Cleveland Browns, Crennel had been serving as defensive coordinator when general manager Scott Pioli made him the interim coach. He quickly united a disjointed locker room and instantly endeared himself to fans in Kansas City, leading a team that had been ransacked by injuries over Green Bay, the Packers’ only loss this season.
Crennel’s lone defeat came in overtime against Oakland, which knocked the Chiefs (7-9) from playoff contention. But he rallied his team to a season-ending victory over the Broncos, after which players spontaneously began to chant his name in the locker room in Denver.
“Romeo’s vast experience and intelligence have helped him achieve success at the highest level,” Pioli said. “The way in which he creates accountability and respect amongst the team creates a very productive work environment and will be critical in continuing to develop our young core of players.”
Crennel was considered the front-runner to get the full-time job not only because of his work over the final three weeks of the season, but because of his calm demeanor and strong ties to Pioli, whom he worked with during his days running the New England Patriots defense.
“I have a deep appreciation for the vision that Clark Hunt has and his commitment to building a championship-caliber team,” Crennel said. “I believe in the types of players that we are trying to win with and the identity we are trying to create.”
Pioli also spoke to former Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher, Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin and former Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio before settling on the in-house candidate.
“It is a rare opportunity to be a part of an organization like the Kansas City Chiefs with its storied history and passionate fans,” Crennel said, “and I am eager to get to work and bring this franchise and our fans the success they deserve.”
Crennel went 24-40 during four years in Cleveland, though the record is somewhat misleading.
He took over a suffering franchise short on talent and went 6-10 and 4-12 in his first two seasons, missing the playoffs each year. But his breakthrough came in 2007, when the Browns went 10-6 and fell just short of the playoffs, earning Crennel a two-year contract extension.
After falling back to 4-12, though, the affable Crennel was summarily fired.
He figures to have a much better chance of success in Kansas City, where Pioli has locked up several young players to long-term deals and continues to overhaul an aging roster.
The Chiefs should be the favorites to win the wide-open AFC West next year. They nearly claimed a second straight division crown despite losing several star players to season-ending injuries.
Tight end Tony Moeaki, All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles and Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry were lost to knee injuries by the second week of the season. Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Cassel joined them on injured reserve in Week 10 after he hurt his throwing hand in a game against Denver.
That left the team in the hands of journeyman Tyler Palko. The Chiefs claimed quarterback Kyle Orton off waivers from Denver, but he hurt his hand on the first pass he attempted against Chicago, and did not return until the final three weeks of the regular season.
By that time, Haley had been fired and Crennel had been given the reins.
“Throughout the year, we were all over a little bit. We came to a common ground over the last three weeks,” said fullback Le’Ron McClain, who is a free agent but has said he hopes to return to the team next season. “We started doing good when Romeo stepped in.”
Fisher reportedly spoke briefly with the Chiefs about the head coaching job, but he’s expected to decide between St. Louis and Miami. Philbin also was linked to the job, and Del Rio’s agent, Phil DePicciotto, had conversations with the Chiefs about the former Jaguars coach taking over.
Crennel will likely have to hire a defensive coordinator to replace himself, and also could be in the market for a new offensive coordinator.
The Chiefs struggled to move the ball under longtime assistant Bill Muir, who was in his first season as a coordinator. Muir has been contemplating retirement.
“Trying to put a staff together is a tough deal, because maybe the guys you want aren’t available, so you have to look other places. You end up trying to do the best you can, getting the best guys you get,” Crennel said. “You have to adapt and adjust as you go along.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.