The 11-day break given to the Chiefs by the NFL’s schedule-makers afforded head coach Romeo Crennel some time to think about what he could do to get his team out of its messy predicament.
By the time the Chiefs regrouped Monday to begin preparations for their Nov. 12 game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh, he’d come up with a couple of significant tactics. First, Crennel relinquished his defensive coordinator duties, handing them over to linebackers coach Gary Gibbs.
The Chiefs also released starting cornerback Stanford Routt, who was one of their major offseason free-agent acquisitions. They also signed veteran defensive tackle Shaun Smith, who played for the Chiefs in 2010.
The moves may not have much of an impact on a 1-7 team that has routinely been on the losing side of blowouts this season. But they are startling admissions of a couple key mistakes made by Crennel and the Chiefs.
Crennel did not serve as defensive coordinator during his first term as a head coach with Cleveland. So he had no experience doing both jobs except for the three games he served as interim coach to end last season with the Chiefs. He might have saved himself some trouble by making this move as early as the summer, when the Chiefs wobbled through the preseason.
Routt was signed to replace Brandon Carr, who signed as a free agent with Dallas, but the level of Routt’s play didn’t match that of Carr. The Chiefs paid $6 million this year to Routt, including $4.2 million in bonuses and a $1.8 million salary.
“Coach Romeo has to do what he has to do to save the team,” linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “Is that the spark for us? We don’t know. We’ll know on Monday, ‘Monday Night Football.’”
In relinquishing the defensive coordinator duties, Crennel said he was trying to eliminate the perception that he’s spending too much time on that side of the ball and ignoring the offense.
“I will continue to be in meetings sometimes,” Crennel said. “I will meet with Gary on a regular basis as well as I do with (offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and special teams coach Tom McMahon) to know what the game plan is and what’s going on there. But I’m going to spent more time with the whole team and less time with the defense.
“We have a young team and some guys, the perception may be that I’m a defensive coach, that I’m a defensive coordinator, and I don’t care about other parts of the team, which is not true. But their perception may be that. By my being with them more, I think they will see I’m concerned about the whole team … with my body presence and my physical presence in different meetings. Hopefully, that will help.”
Players questioned in the locker room after Monday’s practice said they were unaware of any such perception.
“I wouldn’t be able to tell you that because it was never brought out, never crossed me, so I couldn’t tell you that,” safety Kendrick Lewis said. “But he’s a head coach and he’s supposed to treat both sides of the ball equally.”
The Chiefs are having considerable problems offensively. They lead the league with 29 turnovers and are third from the bottom in scoring. But Crennel said he didn’t make the decision to help coordinator Brian Daboll.
“The decision has to do with … my spending more time with the team because it is a young team,” he said. “If there is one guy who perceives me as a defensive coach, that’s probably not the best thing for the team. So I’m spending more time with the whole team, with special teams, with offense, with defense.
“By my being involved a little bit more, I might be able to say, I want this play or I want that play. Because I’m spending more time with the defense, I rely on Brian and I’m not afraid to rely on Brian. Brian is a good offensive mind and he’s done a good job in other places he’s been.”
Gibbs is a veteran defensive coach who was head coach at Oklahoma for six seasons and also coordinator for the New Orleans Saints from 2006 through 2008. The defense is unlikely to change much because of the switch.
“Coach Gibbs is an experienced defensive coordinator,” Johnson said. “He knows his stuff. We’ll have the same defense. It’s the same thing.”
When the Chiefs signed Routt, who played seven years with the Raiders, coaches said they would have to integrate him into their way of doing things. That transition was taking longer than the Chiefs hoped and they ran out of patience.
“He was trying to learn the system and he was trying to adapt and making some progress at that but I needed it to be faster,” Crennel said. “I thought it was going to be faster but it wasn’t happening so I made the move.”
Routt missed last week’s game against San Diego because of what the Chiefs called an injured hamstring. Javier Arenas started in his place and Crennel said Arenas would probably start in next Monday’s game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
“You’re never surprised in this league,” Johnson said. “It just didn’t work out here. Stanford is a good guy and he’ll find another home.”
Smith played nine NFL seasons but one of his best came with the Chiefs in 2010. But he left as a free agent after that season for Tennessee, where he played just one year. He was out of football until signing his one-year deal with the Chiefs.
The Chiefs will be short a defensive lineman Monday in Pittsburgh because Glenn Dorsey reinjured his calf last week. He was on crutches Monday, so Smith will be needed against the Steelers.