June 29, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Reasons vary for firings


Staff Writer

BEREA — Coach Romeo Crennel didn’t win enough games but handled himself with class.

General manager Phil Savage succeeded in improving the talent level, but had leadership deficiencies and cracked when the pressure built.

Those are the reasons the Browns are facing their third organization overhaul since 2001, as owner Randy Lerner felt compelled to fire both after they went 24-40 in four years as a tandem.

Savage was officially fired Sunday night, but was informed Saturday afternoon. Crennel was fired Monday morning, and it says something that it went down in that order.

“I get along very, very well with Romeo,” Lerner said Monday. “It’s a very, very important relationship for me and he knows that. Explicitly.

“Romeo was gracious to a fault. I asked him specifically if there were circumstances under which he’d be interested in coaching at the Browns and he said there were.”

It would be unusual for a coach to assume a lesser position on the staff, such as defensive coordinator, but quarterback Brady Quinn didn’t think it would be a weird dynamic for the players.

“We’re accustomed to being around Romeo as a coach,” he said. “Maybe it would be weird for him not having the type of role he’s had.

“I know all the players liked him, they love having him around, I think they would be at peace with that.”

Crennel and Savage declined to meet with reporters but issued statements through the team.

“Some progress was made in my four years here, but not enough to go forward in this position,” said Crennel, who is owed about $12 million for the final three years of his contract. “Though this past year has been tough, my experience in Cleveland has been a good one.

“I did not win enough games so I must move on. Thank you for the opportunity.”

The relationship between Savage and Lerner had deteriorated in the last six months, much like the one between Savage and Crennel. After two weeks of serious discussions and with Lerner ready to make major changes, he determined Savage wasn’t going to be part of the next coach’s hiring.

“It became very clear that our management styles really were not adequately compatible to move into another phase,” Lerner said. “Within management style, I would put how this place is run from a leadership perspective, identity, communication.”

Savage publicly blamed Crennel for the struggles that led to a 4-12 season after a 10-6 finish in 2007. He went into a rant on the radio in which he listed his various duties. He feuded with Kellen Winslow Jr. after the tight end developed a staph infection. And he sent an e-mail to a fan that contained an implied expletive.

Lerner wouldn’t answer when asked if Savage breached his contract because of the e-mail or if he’d try to recoup some of the $10.8 million still owed on a contract that runs through 2012. Lerner denied that was the reason for the dismissal and complimented Savage’s talent acquisition.

“When I look back (at the hiring of Savage), the priority of the Browns was to get players and he had a very, very impressive background that met that need,” Lerner said. “Four years later, we have a significantly improved roster.”

Savage agrees and took a parting shot at the coaching in a statement released by the team. Savage hasn’t returned messages seeking comment.

“Things did not go as well as we had expected, particularly in 2008, however, I do anticipate this team bouncing back and having success in the future,” he said in the statement.

Crennel struggled in game management and with discipline of some of the younger players. The team was beset with injuries this year, especially at quarterback, and finished the season without scoring an offensive touchdown in six straight losses. The 24-quarter drought is a modern NFL record, surpassing the Bears’ streak of 22 in 1974.

In the 31-0 loss Sunday, the Browns passed for 26 yards and Jerome Harrison was the leading receiver with two catches for minus-1 yard.

“I don’t really know what happened this year,” left tackle Joe Thomas said. “But I know we didn’t win enough games. In the NFL, it’s a business. It doesn’t matter who’s nice, it matters who wins.”

Lerner said the assistant coaches remain under contract and said emphatically that some could return. (Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski signed an extension through 2011 after last season and is due about $8 million.) The decision will be left up to the next coach, as Lerner said he regretted giving Savage authority over Crennel’s staff.

Lerner said he’s learned a lot since he hired Savage and Crennel early in 2005.

“The organizational structure, the rules systems that govern everything from conduct and discipline-related issues to the compatibility of GM and head coach style-wise, background-wise,” he said. “I am responsible for the fact that we are interviewing for these jobs again. There’s no question about that.”

Petrak may be reached at spetrak@chroniclet.com or 440-329-7136.