What Hue Jackson can learn from Romeo Crennel

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Romeo Crennel and Hue Jackson have very little in common. They’re both African American NFL coaches and longtime coordinators. Even though they both work(ed) for the Browns, it was under different ownership groups. Romeo was a defensive guy while Hue earned his reputation with offense. The differences outnumber the similarities, however, there are a few things they do have in common that led me to think about both men this weekend.

Let’s start with Mike Pettine and go back in time.

Mike Pettine’s leash was two seasons long. Rob Chudzinski had one season. Pat Shurmur earned two seasons. Eric Mangini did as well. The outlier: Romeo Crennel who earned four seasons with the Browns and was at the helm when the team won 10 games back in 2007.

Jackson is about to begin his third season as the head of the Cleveland Browns’ coaching staff. He will be the first head coach to get a third season since Crennel. Across four head coaches and seven seasons, the Browns somehow managed to keep any of these guys from hitting a third season on the job. Jackson and his one win across two seasons is as unlikely a candidate for a third season as any coach in NFL history, yet here we are.

It’s been more tumultuous for Jackson than it was for Crennel during his first two seasons. The Browns, while not great, won six, and four games, respectively. It was Crennel’s third season where things started to turn and the reason he came to mind this weekend amidst reports that the Browns are talking to Todd Haley and other offensive coordinator candidates.

The Browns had scored a league-low 232 points in 2005 under offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon. Through six games in 2006, the Browns mustered only 88 points with Charlie Frye under center, and with Carthon allegedly calling pass protections on running plays and vice versa. The Browns put up just seven points in a loss to the Denver Broncos after coming off their bye week, and Carthon offered his resignation. Crennel accepted said resignation — maybe at the suggestion and preference of then GM Phil Savage — and the Browns won two of their next three games. Jeff Davidson took over on an interim basis until Rob Chudzinski became the offensive coordinator for the following year, helping to deliver that 10-win season with Derek Anderson, Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow, and Crennel’s defense.

I bring this up because Crennel acted like an actual head coach. Sure, he could have proactively fired Carthon and enacted change himself, but ultimately he stayed in his role, made a change underneath him and the team responded during the season and in the following season. Part of being a Browns fan is having a savior complex and placing all the hopes and dreams in singular magical people whether it’s a head coach, owner, president, or general manager. The flip side of the savior complex is the idea that there’s no such thing as incremental improvement and a bad coach is a bad coach and must be surgically removed like a tumor. Jackson should look to oppose that sentiment this season by accepting his own resignation as offensive coordinator of the Browns.

I wouldn’t have argued if the Browns had fired Jackson. He didn’t have a great roster or situation these past two seasons, but he didn’t do much of anything to make it better. It is possible that no one would have won with this roster — specifically the quarterbacks — but many would have handled the adversity better.

Jackson kept this team fighting to the very end of the season, and when I hear way players talk about their head coach, I feel confident that it’s not an utter disaster to keep him around from a motivation standpoint. However, if Jackson thinks he can roll right into the next season as the head coach and offensive coordinator, staring into that laminated sheet every game, he’s got another thing coming. And no, I’m not talking about a fourth season on the job.

Crennel ultimately lost his job in Cleveland after the Browns failed to live up to expectations following a breakout 2007 season. Maybe Jackson will also lose his gig in Cleveland sooner rather than later and make a lot of Browns fans really happy. It doesn’t have to be that way though. It is possible to have a head coach while evolving the coaching staff around him to usher in new and different eras. We’ve seen that in Pittsburgh where Mike Tomlin has remained — sometimes under intense scrutiny — as the team has changed out coordinators and personnel on the roster. Haley is the latest to be ushered out of Pittsburgh and may be the latest to be ushered into Cleveland. Is he the right candidate for the job? There’s only one way to find out, but it’s the right idea.

Fans need to stop thinking that any head coach is either a magical savior or a cancerous tumor. The Browns’ coaching staff can be improved without replacing Jackson as long as Jackson allows it to happen. Otherwise, he might reveal himself to be that tumor that Browns ownership has been so willing to remove.