ESPNEWS has twenty-four hours a day that need to be filled.
If you asked non-sports fans, perhaps Family Feud-style, what they could expect to find on an all-day sports network, what would they guess?
Game highlights? Scores? News about the players?
All good guesses, and certainly you would indeed find media of each example on ESPNEWS.
But to us sports fans, especially the die hards among us, we know that ESPNEWS can often be littered with tabloid-style coverage of the “superstar” athletes, as well as a litany of supposed experts providing analysis. There’s also TMZ-level coverage of any and all controversies, from wars of words to criminal acts.
It’s this juiciness-on-demand that has turned ESPN from a respectable sports entity into an occasional cesspool of fluff and muck that serves to hit the sensibilities of the attention-deficient.
The players of the game (athletes, coaches, administrators, et al) know this viral world all too well, and will generally say anything to the cameras or press in order to wade their way into the spotlight. Generally what they’ll provide is a rabble-rousing speech or soundbite, and it’ll receive plenty of airplay.
It’s this structure of thought that has diminished the idea of controversy, because it’s cliché. Everyone uses the medium of press now to stir up controversy, because the media are largely sheep that will post anything controversial to (again) serve the sensibilities of the attention-deficient.
It’s actually more shocking when someone gives a humble or selfless soundbite.
Today, I’m going to share a story of a man who did.
In December of 2008, the Cleveland Browns relieved head coach Romeo Crennel of his duties as head coach after four seasons. After leading the Browns to a 10-6 record the previous year, and thus earning a two year contract extension, the Browns fell to 4-12 during the 2008 stanza, and Crennel was axed the following day.
Crennel certainly had reasonable evidence to argue with, and he most certainly could have stood before the cameras and condemned the organization that did a serious about-face on his status from a year before.
Instead, he gave one of the most unbelievable speeches that a sports public figure can give in the modern stir-up-attention era:
He asked if he could stay with the Browns in a smaller capacity.
Romeo Crennel’s resume before coming to the Browns is a storied one. Crennel has five Super Bowl rings; two of them came as an assistant on the New York Giants, and three came more famously as the defensive coordinator for Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots. That last Super Bowl title was his last game in Foxboro, as the Browns came calling immediately after.
A man who was the Kissinger to Belichick’s Nixon, the Carville to his Clinton, the Rove to Belichick’s Bush, had no reason to come out publicly and tell the world “I’m happy being marginalized”.
But why did he do it? Why come out so humble and so giving?
It’s probably because Romeo Crennel IS humble and giving.
He wanted to stay and help the new coach, because he wasn’t willing to let the Browns fail. Some coaches can dust off a 4-12 year with the knowledge that money, power, and respect can lie with another team.
Yet, Romeo’s first instinct was to willingly hand over his power in exchange for less power, fueled by his desire to win with his team and for his team.
It’s amazing that ESPN didn’t make a bigger deal out of his selflessness.
Well, not really.
Romeo Crennel sat out the 2009 season after not being offered a position to remain in Cleveland, and to also recover fully from off-season hip surgery.
However, in 2010, he would be rewarded for both his defensive knowledge, as well as his humility.
Kansas City came calling, namely their general manager Scott Pioli, who knew Crennel from their time together in New England. The Chiefs were struggling to find an identity, as first year head coach Todd Haley often looked frustrated and latently enraged during games.
Haley’s first year at Arrowhead ended with the team going 4-12, ranked 25th in offense, and an even worse 30th in defense.
Time for a change.
An overhaul of assistants led to Bill Belichick’s greatest second bananas coming to Kansas City: Charlie Weis was back in the NFL to run the offense (after a humbling stint running Notre Dame), and Crennel was back after a one year vacation, this time to handle the defense for young Todd.
It’s been only three games into the season, but what have we seen so far?
The Chiefs have thus far (though still early), held opponents to less than thirteen points a game. If not for allowing a nothing touchdown to the Niners, the average would be barely over ten points a game.
As of now, the Chiefs have the 13th best defense in football on yards-per-game. They’re tied in tenth in yards allowed per play, with a beautiful 4.9 yards allowed. Opponents are only 12 for 45 on third down, good for a scant 26.7 percent.
It’s the same starting defense from last year that’s pulling this off, except for rookie sensation Eric Berry, so how are they pulling this off?
Romeo Crennel’s brain, that’s how.
While the offense still tries to find some continuity other than their tangible running attack, the defense is getting it done with largely the same players that didn’t get it done last year.
Again, I realize that it’s only been three games into this season, and the Chiefs can certainly lose their next thirteen, but here’s a point to ponder.
If you see a team that was written off as a failure by the majority before the year even begins, and then you watch as that same team stifles opponents that you’d expect to run all over them, then who do you give the credit to?
Todd Haley and Charlie Weis are by no means defensive gurus, so who IS the defensive guru?
Scott Pioli knew exactly what he was getting in Crennel: a man who runs an efficient defense that isn’t high on turnovers, but can contain great offenses through anticipation of the play, and getting each player, no matter his ability, to do the job he’s required to do.
Just like the Patriots did when Crennel was there.
If I’m a Browns fan, I’d get Marty McFly and Doc Brown, and I’d go back to the day Romeo requested a lower job within the Cleveland organization, and I give him Jake Delhomme’s current salary to be defensive coordinator.
After all, using a time machine to change a personnel move might just make ESPNEWS.
Join ESPN Insider today for the best sports analysis online, plus ESPN The Magazine!