KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For the first time in years, the Chiefs appeared to be all about business in training camp. There were no player fights, practice was more about football than conditioning and they looked prepared for their first preseason game.
If camp was notable for one thing, it was the peaceful nature. To even a casual observer, it was difficult to miss.
“This is a much calmer team than it was last year at this time,’’ said former Cowboys personnel director Gil Brandt, who came through Chiefs camp in St. Joseph, Mo., this month. “It’s a much more relaxed camp.’’
For that, everyone credited the calming presence of new coach Romeo Crennel, whose even demeanor couldn’t be much different from that of the former coach, Todd Haley. The Chiefs had three volatile seasons under Haley, who led the Chiefs to a division title in one of them but took them to an under .500 record in the others.
So is all this peacefulness a sign that Crennel is the right coach for the Chiefs at the right time?
“He is the right guy for the Chiefs,’’ Brandt said. “(General manager Scott Pioli) realized it.’’
Crennel seems to be that. As one of the NFL’s top defensive coordinators of the last decade, his credentials were in order. The Chiefs were obviously ecstatic to be playing for him at the end of last season when he was made interim coach for the final three games after Haley was fired.
The Chiefs went 2-1 and were the only team to beat Green Bay during the regular season. They came within a blocked field goal against Oakland of winning the AFC West championship and making something from a previously wretched season.
There was just one troubling factor, but it was a big one. Crennel failed as coach of the Cleveland Browns from 2005 through 2008, compiling a 24-40 record before he was fired.
Coaches with a winning percentage of .375 in one job often don’t get another chance. So hiring Crennel, in this respect, seemed to be a gamble.
Pioli worked with Crennel for nine years and with three teams, including the past two seasons with the Chiefs. Pioli seemed unconcerned about Crennel’s record with the Browns.
“I looked at what happened there,’’ Pioli said. “I also talked to people who were there. But I lived with Romeo for three years in New York. We were together day to day for a number of years with New England and for a couple more here.
“I think I saw more in the last three weeks than what I saw in the years from afar. I watched how he handled certain situations with players and could see they trusted and respected him. I watched him navigate this team through some things very well. He went through these things thoughtfully, rationally.’’
Pioli wouldn’t be specific about what he saw from Crennel in those three weeks. But the difference in the Chiefs in those three weeks was dramatic, helped in large part by Crennel’s first decision, the one Haley wouldn’t make to replace struggling quarterback Tyler Palko with Kyle Orton.
“He was very consistent and he motivated the team to play in three really difficult games and gave you a chance to win,’’ Pioli said. “(With) the players’ response to his coaching and his style and also the preparation that he and the coaching staff had in those last three games, it was pretty clear he needed to be the guy.’’
It didn’t work for Crennel in Cleveland. After the Browns went 6-10 and 4-12 in Crennel’s first two seasons, they appeared to break through in 2007, finishing 10-6.
But that record was proven a fluke the next season when things collapsed. The Browns again finished 4-12 and this time Crennel didn’t get another chance.
“The roster was bad,’’ said former Chiefs quarterback Rich Gannon, now a TV game analyst for CBS. “They didn’t have a quarterback. The Brady Quinn thing didn’t work out. They have Derek Anderson and he’s not a starter in this league. That was a disaster. If you don’t have a quarterback, it’s tough to win.
“Pioli and Romeo see the game the same way. They’ve worked together. They know how they want to build a football team. The Chiefs have a talented team. A lot of people are talking about San Diego to win that division or Denver with Peyton Manning. Meanwhile, the Chiefs are a good football team.’’
Crennel is doing some things differently this time. He will remain as defensive coordinator, a duty he didn’t have while he coached the Browns.
“There’s something to be said for the second time around for a lot of coaches,’’ Gannon said. “Look at (Bill) Belichick. His first experience didn’t go well.
“He may do some things differently his second time around. I think he feels better about his staff. The thing I like is that he’s going to stay involved with the defense. I think that’s really important. It got him the job in the first place. Just to turn it over to somebody else would be a mistake. That’s a good thing for him.’’