Thursday January 20th, 2005

HOUSTON -- On the day after the seventh and final NFL head coaching vacancy of this offseason was filled, New England Patriots coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel both were put in the delicate position of trying not to look back at what might have been. Especially with the Super Bowl looming just five days ahead.

Weis and Crennnel received a combined seven interviews for five of the openings, but in each case saw those clubs choose coaching candidates whose teams were no longer involved in the playoffs. On Tuesday, addressing the issue for the first time at the Super Bowl Media Day at Reliant Stadium, both Weis and Crennel responded to questions about the fairness of the NFL's hiring rules, which undoubtedly worked against their head coaching chances.

The NFL doesn't allow coaches who are still in the postseason to accept jobs with other teams, a situation that punishes assistants on the most successful teams. While both men were said to have turned in strong interviews this month, their names cooled on the lists of teams that were eager to complete their coaching searches.

"There are a lot of jobs that get filled, and whether or not you were good enough to get that job, you'll never really know because by the time our season's over, there aren't any jobs left,'' said Weis, the Patriots offensive coordinator. "But we have our work cut out for us to win this game [the Super Bowl], and I'll have plenty of time to reflect a week from now about my personal feelings on missed opportunities and job aspirations.''

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick hadn't made his assistants available to the media during the entire postseason until Tuesday, so Crennel and Weis were both peppered with questions about their Catch-22 situations: Winning got them mentioned as hot head coaching prospects, but the Patriots earning a Super Bowl berth helped eliminate them from teams' list of finalists.

"I think the system, as it currently is, probably was a slight disadvantage to Charlie and myself,'' said Crennel, New England's defensive coordinator, who was interviewed by every team seeking a head coach except for Oakland and Washington. "Everybody assumed we were going to the Super Bowl, which they were correct, and they didn't want to wait until February to have a chance to talk to us again and maybe make a decision about a coaching job. I would have to say it was a disadvantage.''

While the NFL's competition committee is expected to consider further liberalizing the league's hiring rules this spring, in an effort to lessen the impact of a team waiting to hire an assistant coach whose team makes the Super Bowl, whatever comes of that movement won't help Crennel and Weis this year. Oakland was the last head coaching vacancy this offseason, and the Raiders on Monday hired Dolphins offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

All told, only one of the NFL's seven new head coaches was an assistant whose team made this year's playoffs: Chicago hired ex-Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith, the week after St. Louis was eliminated in the NFC divisional round.

"It's happened to other [Super Bowl coaches] before: John Fox and Marvin Lewis [in 2001],'' Crennel said. "And unless they change the system, it's going to happen to other guys again. Because the rules are the rules and you have to try and live within the system. We are working in it, and trying to do it right, and we just came up short this time.

"In this business, when you're hot, you're hot, and when you're not, you're not. You never know what the next year brings, so you just try to do the best job that you can and hope for the best. If they tweak the system a little bit more, hopefully they will make it an even playing field for everybody.''

Where the issue of timing really worked against Crennel and Weis is that each of the seven teams shopping for a new head coach was subject to the pressure of offering someone their job in order to get about the business of assembling an assistant coaching staff. With the Senior Bowl already completed, the NFL Scouting Combine just three weeks away and draft preparation already starting in most front offices, waiting for the Super Bowl to be played in order to hire a head coach is a luxury no one was willing to indulge in again this year.

"Everyone wants to get started and get moving forward for the next year,'' Crennel said. "The more time it takes, the more they feel like they're getting behind. Particularly when other teams make choices by hiring coaches and they don't want to be the last guy standing.''

Crennel and Weis are among the last coaches standing this season, with the Super Bowl as their reward, just as they would have hoped for when training camp opened in July. But that success also played a role in making sure they had no where to sit once the music stopped and the game of head coaching musical chairs ended for another year.

"Would Romeo and I like to be head coaches?'' Weis said. "Sure. Sure we'd like to be head coaches. But you know, those jobs have come and gone.''

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