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Published: Sunday, 7/31/2005

Crennel is realistic about Browns' chances

BEREA, Ohio - Romeo Crennel has been very candid.

He isn't promising any miracles on the shores of Lake Erie in his first season as coach of the Cleveland Browns.

Although Crennel has been to six Super Bowls as an assistant coach, and won five rings, he knows the sad-sack Browns aren't even close to being cut from championship timber.

Cleveland hasn't won a championship of any kind since 1964.

That's 41 years and counting since Hall of Famers Jim Brown and Paul Warfield were terrorizing opposing defenses.

"I just want to do things right, and try to make this organization better, all the way around," said Crennel, who kicked off his first training camp two days ago with a full-squad practice. "And I want the players to play hard every play, and I want them to play to win."

Crennel is the fourth coach since 1999 who will attempt to reverse Cleveland's losing ways.

Chris Palmer was clueless and failed miserably. So did brash Butch Davis. Interim coach Terry Robiskie was overmatched too.

Rebuilding the once-proud Cleveland franchise is a daunting task.

Crennel might have an easier time bringing back former disgraced owner Art Modell for a flogging in Public Square.

Keep in mind, the Browns only won a combined nine games during the last two years of the dismal Davis regime.

And, since coming back as an expansion team, they are 30-66 in six seasons, with just one playoff appearance.

To no one's surprise, the Browns have undergone a major facelift since the end of last season.

Not only is Crennel the new chief - he received a five-year, $11 million contract after being hired on Feb. 8 - general manager Phil Savage also is a new kid on the block.

In addition, the Browns have a new quarterback - journeyman Trent Dilfer has replaced the departed Jeff Garcia - and a new defensive set.

Twenty players who started at least one game for Cleveland a year ago either have been traded, released, or not re-signed.

Slowly, but surely, Crennel is putting his fingerprints on the Browns franchise, but there are still enough questions surrounding the team to fill two notebooks.

"I like coach Crennel a lot," said former Toledo star and free-agent rookie receiver Lance Moore, one of the many new faces on Cleveland's training camp roster. "He's definitely a down-to-earth kind of guy. He's not expecting us to win the Super Bowl this year, but he's definitely saying we're going to win some games.

"I think he's starting to turn this whole place around, from top to bottom. Everybody is positive about the season."

Although Crennel has a Super Bowl ring for each finger on one hand - he won three as the defensive coordinator with the New England Patriots and two more as an assistant with the New York Giants - he is not promising instant success.

At least not publicly.

"He's done a good job of telling us what he expects from the team and what he expects from us as individuals," said Josh Harris, the former Bowling Green quarterback. "You don't find that very often in this business.

"He's also told us he's going to hold us accountable for our actions.

You can't ask for much more than that."

Crennel interviewed for head coaching jobs with the Buffalo Bills, Oakland Raiders, and Chicago Bears last season, but he got passed over each time.

Two years ago, he was snubbed by the San Francisco 49ers.

But now, after serving 24 years as an NFL assistant and 11 as a college assistant, Crennel is relishing his role as boss of the Browns.

"I don't know how long the excitement is going to last, but I think the players are happy with the changes that we've made so far and they are pleased with the way the organization is headed," he said.

Crennel's two major projects in training camp involve Dilfer, who is trying to revive his career as a starter after three years of mostly mop-up duty, and rebuilding the Browns defense from scratch.

Crennel prefers a base 3-4 alignment over Cleveland's traditional 4-3, which he used when he served as Browns defensive coordinator under Palmer during a difficult season in 2000.

Cleveland didn't improve much on the field or in the standings after Crennel left.

Now that he's back, though, Browns fans are hoping some of Crennel's New England magic rubs off on the Cleveland franchise.

In their minds, that would be just super.

It would finally give the fanatics in the Dawg Pound something positive to bark about.



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