After 50 years of coaching, Romeo Crennel announced he is retiring. I've had the privilege of covering Romeo since he arrived in Houston in 2014, a blip on the radar of his 39 seasons in the NFL. He has worn a number of hats during his time with the Texans, from defensive coordinator (2014-16), assistant head coach (2017019), associate head coach (2020), interim head coach (2020) and senior advisor for football performance (2021), but he's always been the same smiling, wise and affable coach since the day I met him.
Here are some of my favorite Romeo Crennel moments in no particular order:
1. Leading the Texans defense to No. 1
In 2016, Houston's defense finished No. 1 in the NFL, allowing a league-low of 301.3 net yards per game with Crennel calling plays as defensive coordinator. But, Crennel had to do it without three-time All-Pro J.J. Watt, who underwent season-ending back surgery and missed 13 games. Using his creativity and 15 different starting lineup combinations on defense, Crennel started 20 different players that season. Despite all the injuries and substitutions, the defense only got better (and stingier) as the season wore on, allowing just 71.9 net yards rushing per games and allowing just three rushing touchdowns from Weeks 8 through 17, both of which led the league during that span.
2. Any and all stories from the 1980s
Romeo began his NFL career in 1981 with the New York Giants as a special teams/defensive assistant, working with the likes of Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells during his tenure. The best part of all of this waws when Crennel would casually drop nuggets about coaching in the 80s, like when he covered not one, but TWO, NFL strikes.
Crennel on Strike #1:
"I think '82 was the first strike I was involved in. That strike, we were preparing every week like we were getting ready to play and then usually on a Thursday or a Friday, they would tell us that we're not playing this week. You know, so we'd game plan and we'd have everything ready. (Bill) Belichick and I would go play racquetball, you know, in the racquetball court to pass the time away after we got the game plan and stuff together. And then, we didn't play. Then it went through and finally things settled in and we started playing. So that was good."
Crennel on Strike #2:
"In '87, now we got the replacement guys. I think the biggest thing there is, I know for myself, these games are replacement player games, they're not going to count, OK. But they did count. We were coming off a good year. A Super Bowl as a matter of fact and now, all of a sudden, the guys that we had on the replacement team were basically guys that we kind of pulled off the street. From the semi-pro leg and things like that. Who had never played together and all of those kinds of things and we ended up losing those games. When they settled it, they told us those games were counted so we didn't even make the playoffs that year. That was a strange time as well in my experience in the game."
Crennel also told stories of the early days of the NFL Combine that took place outdoors until dusk in parking lots before the league moved the event to Indianapolis in 1987.
3. Opening up about his experience in a racially-segregated era
In 2020, Janice, Cal and Hannah McNair began the series, "Conversations for Change," as part of the club's ongoing social justice initiative to create awareness of systemic racism. In a rare glimpse of his personal life, Crennel opened up about growing up in the era of racial segregation during his compelling interview with the McNair family.
Crennel, who served as the Texans associate head coach at the time, opened up about his humble beginnings on a farm in Lynchburg, Virginia to becoming the first black coach at Western Kentucky in 1970, where he began his career as a graduate assistant coach.
"My thought was, knowing the lay of the land and what black people had to deal with, I felt like that I needed to be an example, that I needed to be on my p's and q's all the time to give other black people who come along an opportunity," Crennel said. "Because this was in '70, I was the only black coach on the staff. I was the first black coach and the only one on the staff."
Crennel also shared an instance where he was pulled over by police while driving and some eye-opening instances of racism that his family endured while living in Mississippi during his coaching stint at Mississippi in 1978-79.
4. Watching Crennel get his first win as Texans interim head coach
After a dismal 0-4 start in 2020, the Texans named Crennel interim head coach. He led the Texans to a much-needed 30-14 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, becoming the first coach in NFL history to win two debuts as an interim head coach.
Crennel danced his way into the locker room to the unbridled joy and amusement of his players, who awarded him the game ball. That day, the 73-year-old Crennel also became the oldest coach in NFL history to win a game or as Watt called him, "the youngest head coach over age 72 to ever win an NFL game, which is pretty incredible."
Pretty incredible stuff, indeed. We hope Romeo Crennel keeps dancing, even in retirement!
Congratulations, Romeo Crennel, on a remarkable career.