Crennel facing speculation about future for slumping Browns

BEREA, Ohio -- As speculation about his shaky future mounted and the rumor mill churned up another big-name coach with Cleveland ties, Romeo Crennel pushed ahead.

He has to. It's his job.

For at least three more weeks.

Crennel, who published reports say will likely be fired once the Browns finish this disheartening season, reiterated Monday that he isn't worried about reports that he will be replaced after his fourth season. It's out of his hands. So Crennel, down to playing his third-string quarterback because of injuries, is focusing only on getting his team ready to play its last three games.

"It's tough when you lose. I don't care what the circumstances," Crennel said of the engulfing distractions. "If you're in this profession, you don't like losing. But you have to get up every day and do the best that you can, and if the coach doesn't get up and do the best he can then it's hard for the players to do the best they can."

On Sunday, the Browns (4-9) lost for the fifth time in six games, 28-9 to the Tennessee Titans. The loss guaranteed Cleveland its eighth losing season in 10 years since returning to the NFL as an expansion team. The Browns, who have not scored a touchdown in three weeks, are on the verge of another rebuild.

The hammer could come down soon.

Changes could be coming, with Crennel expected to be the first to go. Owner Randy Lerner said he will not make a decision on his coach or general manager Phil Savage until after the season, but Crennel's 24-37 record without a playoff appearance is likely enough to justify a switch.

Former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher is believed to be Lerner's top choice. However, Cowher, who now works as an analyst for CBS, has not indicated whether he will return to coaching. Cowher enjoys his TV gig and recently said he's leaning toward staying in broadcasting for another year.

If Cowher isn't an option, or is signed elsewhere, former Browns coach Marty Schottenheimer could be, according to reports.

Schottenheimer coached the Browns from 1984-88, one of the franchise's most successful stretches in the past 45 years. Schottenheimer, who was fired in 2006 by San Diego despite leading the Chargers to a 14-2 mark, won three division titles and went to two AFC Championship games with the Browns.

Schottenheimer did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

On his weekly show on Sirius NFL Radio, the 65-year-old Schottenheimer was asked if he was in the mix to coach again in Cleveland.

"I don't see that as being likely at all," he said. "First of all, nobody has presented me with an overture and, secondly, I've kind of aligned myself and my life kind of where it is and if they want to pay me $30 million a year I'll have to talk about it. I don't see it (as being) likely."

Obviously, Schottenheimer was joking about the salary, but Lerner will likely pay whatever's necessary to get his team, which won 10 games last season, turned around quickly. Crennel has three years remaining on a contract extension he signed after last season. That deal is worth close to $4 million per season.

Schottenheimer was driven out in San Diego because of a personality clash with general manager A.J. Smith. By the end of Schottenheimer's tenure, he and Smith weren't talking.

Cleveland's situation hasn't digressed to that point, but Crennel and Savage don't seem to connect, a problem Lerner wants to resolve with his next hire. Schottenheimer said his departure in San Diego would have no bearing on his desire to return to the NFL.

"I'm a football junkie," he said. "There's no doubt about that. I enjoy it. But that doesn't put me necessarily in a situation where I want to stand there and have every moment that I'm there, making decisions and all. The key for me is people. That is the most important thing."

Schottenheimer's experience could make him attractive to Lerner in another role, possibly in Cleveland's front office or on Cowher's staff. Cowher was an assistant to Schottenheimer with the Browns and later in Kansas City, where he was Schottenheimer's defensive coordinator.

Schottenheimer said an executive role was possible but "a long shot." However, he said a reunion with Cowher is at least worth considering.

"That would be very interesting for a couple of reasons," he said. "Bill and I have remained very, very close friends throughout our NFL careers and it goes back to when he was a player and I was an assistant. I would be less than candid if I didn't say that that is, at the very least, intriguing. But there are so many movable parts there it would be like a Rubik's cube."

Crennel was unaware of the report on Schottenheimer, which surfaced moments before the Browns and Titans kicked off.

"I can't be worried about that," he said. "Rumors and stories, they're going to be out there. When you lose, that's what happens. Not only for me but for other people in the league."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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