KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Romeo Crennel is eagerly jumping back into the NFL with renewed energy and diminished pain.
He'll be the defensive coordinator in Kansas City, taking over a unit that's been miserable under its last three coordinators. But he may not be here for long if another team comes calling with an offer to be head coach.
"I think that's why many of us coaches are in this business, to get to the highest level possible," Crennel said Thursday. "And I think being the head coach is the highest level. And if that opportunity came along again, I would definitely be interested in that. But at the present time, the opportunity is to be the defensive coordinator for the Chiefs. That's what I'm putting all the energy into."
The Chiefs made the hiring official on Thursday and Todd Haley confirmed that one of the first things he did after becoming head coach last year was to offer Crennel the job.
But Crennel, who had been fired as head coach at Cleveland in 2008, decided to spend 2009 recuperating from hip replacement surgery. Doctors told him he would not be able to resume coaching until several months after his surgery last February.
"I was able to take a breath last year," said Crennel. "Todd was willing to wait however long I needed. I thought it would be a disservice to him and this program for him to have to wait until basically June. I told him I wasn't available and this year, after sitting out for a year, I'm available. That breath has filled my lungs. Enthusiasm is up. Energy is up. My hip, there's no pain in it."
Crennel will replace Clancy Pendergast, who could become a position coach.
Crennel's challenge is a big one. With personnel needs on both sides of the ball, the Chiefs were 4-12 last year. They have won only 10 games in three seasons. Defensively, they've been awful for several years under coordinators Greg Robinson, Gunther Cunningham and Pendergast.
In 2009, they finished 30th in total defense and 31st in rushing defense. But everyone was encouraged by a lopsided victory at Denver in the regular-season finale.
"I was impressed with the way they played the last game," Crennel said. "I think there's a good young nucleus. We have to improve and add some players and we're doing that. But I think this is a great opportunity to try to grow and develop a team."
Before accepting Haley's offer, Crennel talked with the New York Giants. He indicated other clubs also expressed interest in the man who was defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots' three Super Bowl champions.
"There were a few lines in the water," he said.
Crennel and Haley did not address the media face to face. They were upstairs in the Chiefs' administration building, talking via speakerphone to reporters who were downstairs in the media room.
Crennel did not deny that one thing attracting him to the Chiefs was the people he'll be working with. Charlie Weis, hired last week as offensive coordinator, was offensive coordinator in New England the same time that Crennel was in charge of the Patriots' defense. In addition, Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli was personnel director for the Patriots.
Crennel also worked with Haley when both were members of the New York Jets staff in the late 1990s.
"It's good to be back around those guys," Crennel said. "All of that was important in my decision to come here and try to build a program."
Being away from the high-pressure world of coaching for a year was "somewhat refreshing," he said.
"I'm in a good mental frame of mind," he said. "Physically, I'm in decent physical shape. I could still stand to lose a couple of pounds, but so could many of the other coaches here. We're all going to get to work and get that done."