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MICHAEL HOLLEY

Crennel jobbed in this market

HOUSTON -- Romeo Crennel, the best defensive coordinator in the NFL, enjoys reading James Patterson's mystery novels. Unfortunately for the Patriots assistant, he now can offer the author material for a new whodunit:

Six bad teams -- teams that will be saying, "Pass the salsa," on Super Bowl Sunday -- all passed up the chance to hire the top man in their business. Patterson wrote a book called "Four Blind Mice." If he adds two more mice, he'll have the title for a sequel.

There were seven head-coaching vacancies at the end of this regular season, and just one team made a selection that cannot be questioned. Washington brought back Joe Gibbs, a man who is as familiar as Pennsylvania Avenue to D.C. Gibbs is an elite NASCAR owner and a Hall of Fame coach. When he's available, you try to get him. At almost any price.

The same can't be said for the other six. The Group of Six has two proven head coaches, a guy who looks like a career coordinator (Norv Turner), and three upside types who haven't achieved as much in their careers as Crennel has in the past three seasons.

How did this happen?

Anyone who has talked with Crennel knows how smart and competent he is. During the window when job candidates from playoff teams were permitted to speak with potential employers, Crennel spoke with five teams for 3-4 hours at a time. No matter what questions they asked -- personal or professional -- they should have learned a lot.

The oldest of Joseph and Mary Crennel's five children is a natural leader. He can thank his parents for that because he has both of their strongest qualities. Joseph is an Army man with a love of discipline and literature. The literature can be found in his oldest son's name: Joseph was stationed overseas in the late 1940s, saw the romantic city of Paris, and soon fathered a son named Romeo.

The discipline always could be found in the family house. Romeo learned that his chores weren't complete until Joseph gave them military inspections. Joseph had a vision for what he wanted and how he wanted it done.

Mary, who died two years ago, was known for her patience. Her children -- two girls and three boys -- knew their mother was a good listener with a gift for remaining calm. Romeo adopted those qualities, mixed in the perfectionist traits of his father, and grew into one of the most discussed coaches in pro football.

But this is where we talk about mysteries again. There are people who compliment Crennel all the time without knowing it. It's the equivalent of raving about a building's architecture and not realizing that the architect is sitting next to you.

Whenever someone talks about the versatility of the Patriots' defensive schemes, they are talking about Crennel. Whenever someone says that the defensive calls are clever and you never know where a blitz is going to come from, they are talking about Crennel.

He is not a figurehead or a puppet. He formulates game plans and makes the calls. Bill Belichick, whom Crennel has known his entire pro coaching life (23 years), tells his coordinator what he would like to see from week to week. It is Crennel's job to make sure that happens.

This is not unusual. Belichick also tells Charlie Weis (offense) and Brad Seely (special teams) what he wants to see in a game and expects them to use their best judgment to make it happen.

If you study backgrounds and interests, it's not at all surprising that Belichick has entrusted Crennel with his defense. Belichick's father is a military man, too. Jeanette Belichick chose to be a work-at-home mother, just like Mary Crennel. And while Belichick shocks people with his appreciation for wit and rock music, Crennel stuns with a lens.

The Patriots defensive coordinator is an amateur photographer in the offseason.

He takes pictures when he is traveling with his wife, Rosemary. He takes pictures when he sees a blossoming flower, an interesting pattern, an impressive design, or a passionate conversation.

He is also a big reader. In addition to Patterson's murder mysteries, he likes to dig into biographies. He recently finished a book on the late Sammy Davis Jr.

Today, the biggest media day of Super Bowl Week, Crennel will talk with reporters from all over the world. They will find out that he wanted to follow his father into the Army but was told that his feet were too flat and he was overweight.

They will learn that he still was able to be like his father while coaching football. Really, football is a game of discipline. A coach has a vision for what he wants done, he gives those instructions to his players, and the team that is best able to make plays while mastering details usually wins.

They will see the influences of Joseph, Mary, Belichick, and Bill Parcells.

What they will not be able to explain is why this man has to wait at least another year for a head coaching job.

All Crennel can do now is pick up another ring. At least six other teams will be picking up the wings and cheese dip, watching the best defensive coordinator in football go to work.

Michael Holley is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is holley@globe.com.

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