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Crennel believes he'll be back with Browns

BEREA, Ohio (Jan. 1, 2007) -- Romeo Crennel's second season with the Cleveland Browns was defined by injuries, distractions and more losses. He still isn't certain if he'll be back to coach a third one.

"I believe I will (return)," Crennel said. "I have no reason to believe otherwise."

However, Crennel's confidence could hinge on upcoming meetings with general manager Phil Savage and owner Randy Lerner, who plan to dissect Cleveland's 4-12 season, the club's fourth straight with at least 10 losses.

In order for Crennel to stay, he may have to make sweeping changes to his coaching staff and promise to apply a heavier hand with discipline to some of his players, specifically wide receiver Braylon Edwards.

If his days in Cleveland are indeed over, does Crennel feel he got a fair shot?

"Oh, sure," he said. "Mr. Lerner, he gave me an opportunity, and if I'm not here next year, I feel like in these two years I've done the best that I can do. If I leave it will be because I didn't win enough games."

Since making the AFC playoffs in 2002 under Butch Davis, the Browns have gone 19-45, including a 10-22 mark in two seasons for Crennel, a former defensive coordinator with five Super Bowl rings who had never been a head coach on any level before being hired by Cleveland.

His Browns were gutted this year by costly injuries. In Sunday's 14-6 loss to Houston, Cleveland was missing 13 players who made at least one start this season.

Crennel refused to blame injuries for his team's poor record, but with 15 players on injured reserve, it would have been tough for any coach to get much more out of his team than he did.

Still, much of the outside criticism for Cleveland's season has been directed at Crennel.

"That goes with the territory," he said. "I'm the head coach and the buck stops at my desk. When the team is not doing well, I don't do well. That's the way it goes and I tell the players that all of the time.

"It's not a player versus coach thing. I tell them that I'm in it with them. When they do well, I do well. When they do bad, I do bad. We're all doing bad."

Crennel dodged specific questions about the club's offseason agenda. He said any decisions about his staff -- his contract gives him the authority to hire and fire assistants -- will be made over "the next couple of weeks."

Crennel will sit down with Savage and Lerner this week to discuss the highs and lows of 2006. Atop the list will be Cleveland's woeful offense. The Browns finished either last or next-to-last in virtually every offensive category, a carry-over from the coach's first season.

Despite complaints from players, Crennel didn't replace offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon with line/assistant head coach Jeff Davidson until the seventh week.

Savage may insist that Crennel overhauls the majority of his staff heading into '07.

Another area of focus will be the coach's apparent inability to control Edwards, the enigmatic and talented 23-year-old whose solid season after coming back from knee surgery was overshadowed by an I'm-bigger-than-the-team attitude.

Edwards was late for team meetings, threw a sideline tantrum during one game and called out teammate Brian Russell for his hard hit on Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson. He also had crucial drops and broke off patterns.

Crennel didn't publicly punish Edwards until he benched him for the first 1 1/2 quarters of the Dec. 24 game against Tampa Bay.

Crennel defended his handling of Edwards.

"I'm dealing with a young guy who has a lot of maturing to do," Crennel said. "I think some progress has been made even though some people might not believe that. I don't know what everyone wants him to be, but I think he'll be a good football player and a good citizen."

The Browns have lost 89 games since returning to the NFL in 1999, an eight-year span of ineptitude that has included coaching changes, bad draft picks and countless personnel moves that haven't led to winning seasons.

Crennel, though, believes he is making slow strides and he's confident Lerner feels the same.

"He is realistic that we are trying to build this program and he knows that it takes time to build if you want to do it the right way," he said. "As long as we can show him that we are making progress -- even it it's not in the win/loss record, but progress as a team in bringing in the right kind of guys and getting them to play, I think he'll say, 'You guys are going in the right direction, so I'll let you continue."'

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