KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Romeo Crennel won his debut with the Chiefs last week, which puts him near the head of the class where interim coaches are concerned. Generally speaking, temporaries are not only hired to be fired but also accept some brutal losses in the process.
Impressive as Crennel's first game as the Chiefs coach was, history suggests this is where things could become difficult for him, a point he seemed to recognize this week. The Chiefs will try to keep their playoff hopes alive in today's game against the Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium.
"Generally, interim means interim,'' Crennel said, acknowledging the sometimes grim existence he willingly walked into when the veteran defensive coordinator took over for the fired Todd Haley.
"I've won one game. Let's see if we can win another and whatever happens will happen after the season.''
From 2001 through last season, 15 NFL teams went through a change with the coach during the regular season. Just four of the interims finished the season with a winning record.
But 10 had a better winning percentage than the coach they replaced. If the Chiefs either beat the Raiders or the Broncos in Denver next Sunday, Crennel's winning percentage of .667 would be much better than Haley's (.385).
General manager Scott Pioli will look at a lot of factors in deciding whether to retain Crennel for next season and beyond. This three-game trial can certainly help and a 3-0 finish, whether or not the Chiefs wind up winning the AFC West and making the playoffs, would go a long way toward that goal.
Crennel, unlike many interims, is already a candidate. Pioli said he would formally interview Crennel after the season.
Crennel, who coached the Browns to a 24-40 record as their coach from 2005 through 2008, wants another shot. He indicated he wouldn't have put himself on the line as an interim if he didn't have the chance to secure the job long-term.
"I don't know if I would have taken the position to try and finish out this season if I didn't want to be a head coach again," Crennel said.
"People will look at it and say the circumstances are not great and all those good things, but in football, circumstances are not great and you have to line up and you have to play every week. So this is a three-game season that I have and so I'm going to do the very best that I can for these three games and we'll see how it turns out."
He's off to a great start. The Chiefs, riding an obvious wave of emotion, played one of their best games of the season last week in beating previously undefeated Green Bay.
Toward game's end they dumped a bucket of Gatorade over Crennel's head and afterward they chanted his name in the locker room. This week, players and coaches lined up to endorse his candidacy with offensive coordinator Bill Muir being the latest.
"Romeo is an excellent choice at this particular time,'' Muir said. "He's good for this football team. The Kansas City Chiefs would do well to hire Romeo Crennel.
"He's the man for the job here. The defense has started to turn the corner. I think it would be a shame to change that. Romeo's demeanor as a football coach relates very well to the players. He has a sternness about him without being a dictatorial type of man. He will do a good job.''
The bad news for Crennel is that just five of the last 15 interims became permanents. That wave of emotion usually doesn't last long.
The Chiefs were notoriously up and down under Haley this season, winning five of their 13 games but losing another five by 27 points or more. That's one reason he was fired.
If the Chiefs aren't able to stay competitive against the Raiders, who lost to the Chiefs in Oakland two months ago, or the Broncos next week, that's a bad omen for Crennel's chances. It would undermine everything he's accomplished.
So far, that's plenty. One of his first moves was to bench struggling quarterback Tyler Palko and replace him with Kyle Orton. He also stepped out of Muir's way and let him call the offensive plays without interference.
Both decisions were reasons the Chiefs had one of their best offensive games of the season against the Packers.
"The head coach tries not to change the philosophy too much but obviously he has to do things the way he sees it,'' said Oakland coach Hue Jackson, a member of Atlanta's staff in 2007 when coach Bobby Petrino walked away with three games left.
"Obviously, Romeo has. He made the decision to go with Orton as the starter at quarterback. I'm sure Jim Zorn and Bill Muir are definitely running the offense without anybody else's influence.''
Emmitt Thomas, the former Chiefs defensive back and now their secondary coach, took over for Petrino and took two losses before winning his final game. He wasn't a serious candidate for the permanent job.
The Chiefs had only one other interim coach. In 1977 they fired coach Paul Wiggin with a 1-6 record and replaced him with Tom Bettis.
In a coincidence, the Chiefs beat Green Bay at Arrowhead in his first game. But the Chiefs lost their final six games that season.
"You feel like you're on an island with nobody else when you become a coach in those circumstances,'' Bettis, now retired and living near Houston, said this week. "That's about the best way to put it. It wasn't really the case. The players were in it with me, too. We tried to finish the season and do as best we could. Looking at it realistically, we weren't the most talented team. We had some good players, just not enough of them.
"It was not a comfortable situation for any of us. The players looked to me to bring them out of the doldrums, so to speak. But when you were in a situation like we were in, there was not a whole lot you could do to turn things around.''
Bettis moved on to other assistant coaching jobs after leaving the Chiefs. He even returned for one season in 1988 as defensive backs coach under Frank Gansz.
But like a lot of other interims, he was never a head coach again.
"We did everything we possibly could have to try to win games,'' he said. "But there was a lot of turmoil in the front office at the time so it was going to be difficult for us to win many games. We all knew that.''