Chiefs bond to Crennel, Weis
09/19/2010 12:00 AM
09/19/2010 2:20 AM
They stood on the practice field sideline Friday, close but so far apart, telling their stories and sharing their philosophies.
Charlie Weis is the Chiefs' offensive coordinator. He's loud, brash and unafraid to scream at a player to convey frustration. He is a football coach, and that comes first. Disagree with him or stray from his plan, and there will be consequences.
"If you go out there and try to do it your own way," backup quarterback Brodie Croyle said, "you can pretty much guarantee yourself that you're going to catch it."
Romeo Crennel is the Chiefs' defensive coordinator. He's quiet, measured and unafraid to put his arm around a player and tell him how he can do better. He is a football coach, but that does not define him. Crennel is intense sometimes, but it's so rare that players are more likely to chuckle at the sight than shrivel in fear.
"I don't look at him as a football coach," defensive lineman Shaun Smith said. "I look at him as a father figure."
These two men are different as they can be, but they're in charge of the same job: complementing coach Todd Haley and helping to move the Chiefs out of the NFL's shadows. Haley said he hired them because of who they are and how they work together, yin and yang, and what he believes their differences can do for the Chiefs. Haley said that, somehow, their union has worked, and there's hope that it can work again.
Sometimes that's all you need.
"When you have similar beliefs," Haley said, "you just understand each other."
* * *
Back then, under the lights and inside that hug, they weren't thinking about working together again. It was 2005, and Weis and Crennel were on the sideline together. This time, it was the Super Bowl, and New England safety Rodney Harrison had just intercepted a pass from Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb, sealing another championship.
Weis was the Patriots' offensive coordinator, and Crennel was defensive coordinator. They had made it work. Now they were parting ways with a three-way man hug, coach Bill Belichick in the middle.
Weis had been hired a month earlier to become Notre Dame's coach. Crennel had been signed to become coach of the Cleveland Browns. This was it. What a way to end a partnership.
"One of those rare moments in sports," Weis said. "The highest of highs."
Weis said he was looking toward Notre Dame and little else. No good coach ever thinks he'll fail, so what would be the point in looking beyond South Bend?
Their famous hug wasn't a see-you-later moment. It was goodbye.
"I had to get my bags packed," Weis said.
* * *
Then reality set in, and it became clear that the coaches' great plans hadn't included a next stop.
Crennel was fired after the 2008 season, and Weis was let go last November. Haley acted fast. He knew about Weis; they had shared an office in the late 1990s, when they were offensive assistants with the New York Jets.
Haley told a story Friday that described Weis' commitment.
"Football first," Haley said, and that's where this story began:
It was some slow weekend that the Jets coaches hurried for the door on a Friday afternoon. Weis lived about 33 miles away from the team's headquarters, and he awoke at 3 a.m. most days to get to work early. Coaches don't brag about this, but they get naps when they can. The film room sometimes. Maybe during lunch. They're not planned, but sometimes an exhausted body takes over for a few seconds.
On that day in standstill traffic on the Southern States Parkway, Haley looked to his right and saw a Jets-issue Pathfinder with Charlie Weis behind the wheel and his head back, catching a quick snooze.
"Coaches get good at that. We can doze and rewind, doze and rewind," Haley said. "Both parts of that story: One is funny and the other is the determination and work ethic that I learned so much from."
Haley wanted someone like Weis: a coach who lived football and obsessed over its possibilities. Sleep could wait, because other things are more important. Haley hired Weis in January, and it wasn't long before the band was back together. Crennel was available, too, and five years after that hug, here they were on the same sideline again.
* * *
Crennel was offering a chance, and not much else. That's what Shaun Smith heard this past offseason, and it was something Crennel had told him before.
The Chiefs signed Smith as a backup lineman, and he had played for Crennel in Cleveland. When Smith joined the Browns in 2007, it was his fifth team in four seasons. Crennel told Smith that he believed in him, and that he'd get an opportunity. The rest was up to him.
"He'll give you as many chances as he can," Smith said, "until all your opportunities run out."
Crennel said he learned his patience from his late mother, Mary. She was the constant in his life when he was growing up in Virginia and Kentucky. Young Romeo was the oldest of five children, and he would come home from school and talk with his mother about whatever had happened that day.
"Nothing seemed to bother her a whole lot," Crennel said, and he learned during those years that some things just aren't worth getting angry over.
Crennel and Smith used to have similar conversations in Cleveland. Where did Smith want to go in his life? What did he want to do? What kind of father did he hope to be?
"It's not just football all the time with him," Smith said. "He's been there. He understands."
That's one reason Smith wanted to join Crennel in Kansas City. Crennel isn't a screamer, and he doesn't coach with fear.
"If I don't make the tackle or I don't get the assignment right," Smiths said, "I'm not just letting the guys next to me down. I'm letting him down, too.
"You look at him on the sideline, and he doesn't panic. Because he's been there. He's been on championship teams. He's seen it all."
* * *
Brodie Croyle wanted to be nice, but the message was clear.
He was asked this week to describe Weis' motivational style. He considered his words before deciding.
"A sense of urgency," Croyle said.
That's a polite way of saying that Weis is impatient most times, maniacal at others. Haley joked Friday that Crennel is the type of coach who makes you want to sit on his lap and listen to him tell stories. Weis is... something different.
"It all depends on how that practice went," Croyle said, shaking his head.
Weis walks with a cane most times and a limp constantly. He suffered a major knee injury shortly before training camp began, and it hasn't been repaired. Sometimes he rides a motorized cart. He's hell on wheels, boy, and watch out if Weis lifts himself off that cart, shaking the cane like a man trying to chase a dog out of his yard. That's when things have really gone sideways, and it's not exactly rare.
"It's nice to be able to just be a football coach," Weis said during a calmer moment Friday. "The one thing that people don't understand, when you're a head coach, you wear so many hats.... When you're offensive coordinator, you get to just sit there and coach football."
The game is so important to Weis that he has vowed to keep limping for a few more months. He has said that he'll wait until after the season to have knee surgery. So the pain isn't going anywhere, and neither is that cane.
Maybe that's why he's in such a bad mood.
"Either way," Croyle said, "he's going to ride you."
* * *
The odd thing is that, on game days, their personalities cross. The calm coach becomes the fervent one, and the intense coach becomes the tranquil one.
If Weis is loud and brash six days per week, game day is the one time that he's laid back. He calls plays from the coaches' box, in part because of the knee and partly because the view is better.
"A great listener," Croyle said. "He's kind of that calm, soothing voice throughout the game."
Weis said that he decided years ago that he'd coach as hard as he could during practices, and by the time the game arrived, there wouldn't be much more to do. So he comes to terms with the work he has put in, and that's that.
"If the players feel that you lose your composure," he said, "then they're certainly going to lose theirs."
On the sideline, where Crennel calls defensive plays, things are different. Players laughed this week in the locker room at the thought of a manic Crennel, the calm man turned hyper, a sight visible only occasionally, like a lunar eclipse.
Rookie safety Eric Berry has mastered the impression. When things are really exciting or troubling, that's when Crennel gets frenzied. Crennel will call a play, and instead of the calm voice players are used to, out comes a high-pitched "Hooooo!".
"It'll just come out of the blue, man," Berry said, and even now, he's laughing about it. "It's crazy how he does it.
"It just kind of wakes you up."
* * *
Weis rode his cart off the field, and Crennel walked toward the Chiefs' practice facility. More meetings and more preparations were ahead.
Whether this is the coordinators' last stop or perhaps a brief detour, the team hopes it can parlay their presence on its sideline into better days. The Chiefs surprised the San Diego Chargers last Monday, so they're already off to a promising start.
Haley said that hiring Crennel and Weis was an easy decision, saying that the only difficult question was asking how they'd handle working for someone who's young and inexperienced as a coach, particularly after being coaches themselves.
Haley said that was easy, too.
"It didn't take long," he said, "to see that it was going to go the way I wanted it."
Haley said he wouldn't dare try to change his coordinators. Their personalities or their styles. Those are deep-rooted, like ambition, and regardless of what Crennel and Weis did in the past, they've vowed to focus only on what's ahead. There's no talk of New England or of the Super Bowls. Nothing about that sideline hug five years ago.
Only the present and future, and all the Chiefs have to do to live up to their coordinators' reputations.
"The players have to understand what my personality is and how that impacts them," Crennel said, "just like the offense has to understand Charlie's personality and how that impacts them.
"You just be yourself and give yourself the best chance to be a winner."