With apologies to Romeo Crennel, yesterday's news was a great relief to Patriots fans everywhere.
San Francisco general manager Terry Donahue informed Crennel Tuesday morning that he would not be among a select group returning for second interviews for the 49ers vacant head coach position. That means Crennel will be back working his magic with the Patriots defense, something he's done rather well in his two seasons as defensive coordinator.
Obviously, Crennel's performance – especially in 2001 – made him a worthy candidate. As a veteran of 22 NFL seasons, he's more than earned his shot at the big time and many veterans in the Patriots locker room (most notably Anthony Pleasant and Terrell Buckley) have lobbied his case for getting a head coaching job in the past. He no doubt would excel in that role with his professionalism and vast experience.
But losing him would have been a big blow to the Patriots staff. Before Crennel arrived, Bill Belichick served as his own defensive coordinator in 2000, his first season as head coach in New England. One of the knocks on Belichick during his five-year tenure in Cleveland was that he didn't delegate enough authority among his coaches. Instead, he controlled virtually the entire football operation and the results weren't good: a 37-45 record (including playoffs) and just one postseason appearance (1994).
In 2000, the 5-11 Patriots had many problems, most of which dealt with a severe lack of talent. Belichick served as his own defensive coordinator that season, and while that surely had little effect on the overall picture, it's tough to ignore the amazing turnaround in 2001 after Crennel came aboard.
If Crennel had more success in his pursuit of the 49ers job, the Patriots and Belichick could be in a similar situation. New England's defensive coaches all have limited NFL experience. Defensive backs coach Eric Mangini, 32, has the most NFL seasons under his belt with eight. Inside linebackers coach Pepper Johnson just finished his third season while outside linebackers coach Rob Ryan his fifth.
Even if Belichick opted to promote one (most likely Mangini), he surely would have been forced to spend a lot of time working with the defense and formulating game plans, tasks he left in Crennel's capable hands the last two seasons.
There was even speculation that the signing of quarterbacks coach John Hufnagel was an indication that Crennel was leaving. The theory behind that being that Belichick would no longer be free to work with the quarterbacks as he has done with Charlie Weis since Dick Rehbein died during training camp in 2001.
Thankfully (for the Patriots), none of these scenarios came to fruition. Crennel isn't going anywhere and Belichick won't be forced to focus on any particular area. And Hufnagel's arrival means that the head coach will have even less specific responsibilities in 2003.
Ironically, the Patriots could actually make out on this whole situation further if Ted Cottrell, one of the remaining candidates, gets the Niners job. Cottrell is the Jets defensive coordinator and is well regarded in that capacity. So not only do the Patriots get to keep their man, but the defending division champs could still lose theirs.
Crennel will certainly warrant more head coach consideration in the future if the Patriots can muster up a successful season. But speaking out of pure selfishness, it's good to have him back for at least one more year.