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Published: Saturday, 12/27/2008

Browns' Crennel faces tough finale

ASSOCIATED PRESS

BEREA, Ohio - Romeo Crennel started the season with two solid quarterbacks, a Pro Bowler and his wildly popular backup. He'll end the year, and probably his tenure as coach of the Cleveland Browns, with a guy who hasn't started in two years and another who has never taken a snap in an NFL game.

"We're down to [Nos.] four and five right now," Crennel said yesterday. "Just about everything has kind of gone wrong this year, and so this kind of fits right in with it."

The Browns (4-11) will conclude their disastrous season tomorrow in Pittsburgh against the Steelers' top-rated defense in what will likely be Crennel's final game.

Crennel is expected to be fired next week by owner Randy Lerner, who a month ago said he would evaluate his coach with a review following the season. All indications are Crennel, who is 24-39 since 2005, will be replaced.

What isn't as clear is if general manager Phil Savage will be relieved of his duties or have his role changed.

Crennel, who signed an extension through 2011 in January, said he plans to meet with Lerner "sometime next week." It's unlikely Lerner will wait long to make a decision since the Browns have little time to waste in rebuilding their team and restoring their fans' faith following one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history.

Former Steelers coach Bill Cowher is believed to be Lerner's top choice to succeed Crennel. However, Cowher, who stepped down in Pittsburgh two years ago, has been respectfully silent about his intentions to return to coaching and is said to be content as a studio analyst for CBS.

Injuries to QBs Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn hurt badly, but the Browns have had other major problems on and off the field this season. And although it's not entirely his fault, Crennel will be the one held most accountable by Lerner.

Crennel is 0-7 against the Steelers and unless quarterback and Pittsburgh native Bruce Gradkowski has the game of his life against the Steelers, Crennel will become the first full-time coach in Browns history never to beat the club's biggest rival. The Steelers have won 10 in a row and 16 of 17 against Cleveland.

"I haven't been able to beat Pittsburgh, and that's discouraging to everybody, myself included," he said. "It seems like we play them close one game and get killed the next game. That's one of my fears going down this time ... we played them a close game this year."

The Steelers won 10-6 in a sloppy Week 2 matchup, one of eight games this season that Cleveland has scored 10 points or fewer.

The Browns' offense hasn't scored a touchdown in five games, a drought likely to worsen against the Steelers.

Crennel has won five Super Bowl rings in his career, and if tomorrow is the end of this chapter of his coaching life, the 61-year-old grandfather said he'll be a free agent.

"I will do just like a player does," he said. "I will sit back and look to see what my options are, what situations might arise and then make a decision."



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