Romeo Crennel said he is not a "puppet."
"No, that is not the case," Crennel said about the notion he is being jerked by Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner and general manager Phil Savage. Crennel said no to the idea that both forced him to bench quarterback Derek Anderson and start Brady Quinn at home on Thursday night against the Denver Broncos.
"This is an organization that continues growing," Crennel said. "When I came here in 2005, we had a first-time head coach, a first-time owner, a first-time general manager, a first-time president, and a roster missing the draft picks that you usually rely on as the core of your team. We have grown our organization and structure and there have been bumps in the road. We continue to work together to break through.
"I am sometimes a low-key guy. I feel like I am well respected by the players and the organization. I am trying to grow this team and organization. Make it better than when I got here."
Cleveland began this season 0-3. Crennel was asked about the scuttle in the franchise that had his team not beaten Cincinnati and sank to 0-4, he would have been fired and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski would have taken over.
Crennel answered: "I don't know if Rob Chudzinski would have taken over. But let's put it this way -- Rob Chudzinski or myself might not have been here if that had happened. That is the way this business is. If you don't win, you are sent home."
As a team, sent home, no playoffs. As a coach, sent home, no job.
So, what was supposed to be another national TV salutation on how far the Browns have come when they battle Denver (4-4) Thursday night (8 ET, NFL Network) has turned into further scrutiny on why the Browns are meandering. After a 10-6 season a year ago with an offense that finished No. 8 in the league, local expectations for the Browns were grand. National ones were substantial, too.
And Crennel -- 6-10, 4-12, 10-6 and now 3-5 -- is the focus. The maturity of his players, the quality of depth on his roster and the effectiveness of his coaching style is the focus. An offense that has sunk 20 spots from a year ago in league rankings is the focus. Quinn in his NFL debut as a starter is the focus. Star receiver Braylon Edwards and his monumental drops this season in giant situations is the focus.
This is what one of them, requesting anonymity, told me:
"Derek got robbed. Braylon (Edwards) is unprofessional, lazy, has all the ability you want but is an underachiever – and still starts. Guys don't like it. Derek benched, Braylon plays? Double standard. That's bending rules. Derek has been done an injustice."
To which Crennel replied: "Players have a different view of things sometimes than coaches do. Coaches make decisions to try to win games. That's it."
Crennel is 61. He has coached football for 38 years. He has coached as an assistant in six Super Bowls and won five of them. He teaches with enthusiasm. He wants players to enjoy their work, their jobs. Rooted in defensive football, he emphasizes physicality.
He is a coach who trusts his assistant coaches, trusts his players, who leads by example and steadiness more than by fire. This is the time for Crennel to become more vocal and more demonstrative with his team. Even more direct and more clear in his leadership. Not run from the core of whom or what he is. But add to it a decisiveness and firmer hand in how the Browns will salvage this season.
His team has dealt with various injuries throughout the year to Anderson, Edwards, receiver Donte Stallworth and several others that have helped tug at cohesion and consistency. Thus far they have not been mature enough or good enough to overcome it.
"We thought we'd be able to move it forward this year off of last year, and maybe that would have happened already if we had last year's team," Crennel said. "Nothing stays the same in this league. You add players. You take away. And injuries impact game time and practice time. Basically, some things that were in place last year have not been in place for eight games. The confidence is not what it should be as well.
"The fan base here is a special one. They are knowledgeable. They went without football for so long and they forget this was broken down and we are rebuilding it. They want a Super Bowl yesterday. I understand that.
"We have had our challenges, as most NFL teams do, trying to grow and develop. Developing young men who are learning maturity. Dealing with things like motorcycle accidents and medical issues that jump at you from nowhere. There is no quick fix. You have to lay a good foundation, a foundation that can last."
This matchup against Denver is the first of Cleveland's final eight games this season to prove the foundation on which Crennel stands is sturdy enough.
Healthy and motivated, the Browns are capable. One of their victories this season was by 21 points over the defending-champion Giants, the Giants' only loss in their last 12 games. Browns losses this season include by four points to Pittsburgh and by three to Washington. And last Sunday in a game they led by 14 points in the third quarter vs. Baltimore, the signature play of that eventual 37-27 defeat was a late pick of an Anderson pass that was returned for a touchdown.
"It is not all the quarterback's fault," Crennel said. "But the quarterback is the person with the ball in his hands the most, and if you think a change is due, you go ahead and make it and not prolong it. It is due now. We need a new dynamic. Quinn has been here for a year and half. He knows the system. He can make plays with his feet. He is very good going backside to the tight end or to intermediate routes. We are going to see how not only he but our team reacts to this quarterback decision. We're going to see if we can become disciplined enough and good enough to get back on the winning track."
In the closely-grouped AFC, the Browns still have a chance. Growing the team and building a stronger foundation and organization will take more time in Cleveland, whether Quinn is the quarterback or Crennel the head coach.
For Crennel, it is all about what the Browns can achieve in the interim, on the fly, in the journey, particularly over the next eight games.