Shadows of a Leader: Crennel influenced by leaders in journey to NFL

The Houston Texans defensive coordinator and WKU alumnus, Romeo Crennel, speaks to students about race and adversity in honor of Black History Month at Downing Student Union on Thursday, Feb. 13. Crennel has been an NFL coach for six different teams throughout his career, including three Super Bowl championship teams with the New England Patriots. (Ian Maule/HERALD)

Jonah Phillips

There are certain figures in history that serve as a light to people, forging on progressively into future generations. These leaders cast a shadow through their behaviors and actions and are able to influence the world. The shadows of Muhammed Ali, Nelson Mandela, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are all influences on WKU alumnus Romeo Crennel.

Crennel, the current defensive coordinator for the NFL’s Houston Texans, spoke at the Downing Student Union Thursday in honor of Black History Month.

In introducing Crennel, President Gary Ransdell urged those in attendance not to focus on his career escalades, but rather his reflection of character and leadership as a human being.

“I’ve known Romeo and his family for years now, and I consider them family friends,” Ransdell said. “He is a man who knows the value of honesty, a hard days work.  He leads by example.”

As the first African-American coach in WKU history, Crennel had lots to bring to the table in regards to African-American history.

“As the first black coach at Western, if I would have screwed that up, there probably wouldn’t have been many black coaches any time soon,” Crennel said.

“As I go through this—life and my experiences, I always remember there are people who made sacrifices for me to be able to stand here today,” Crennel said. 

“Many I don’t know—in fact most I don’t know, but they made a sacrifice to allow me to be here. Some sacrificed their lives to make this world better, so I’ve always felt an obligation to represent those people that make sacrifices for me, even though I didn’t know them.”

Crennel is in likeness of his role models in that they too set milestones for African-Americans in their respective fields, which is why lecture committee chair Lyndsey Pender said it was good for Crennel to share his story with students at WKU.

“We want our speakers to tell a story, to educate, to send a message, and to encourage, which is something that Romeo was able to do in being an NFL football coach and the first African-American coach in WKU history,” Pender said.

Crennel knew very early on that the first step to representing the likes of Ali, Mandela and King was to get a college education.

“I knew if I could get a scholarship, it would help my parents out, and take the load off their shoulders,” Crennel said.

Yet, Crennel said after trying “white schools, black schools and even junior colleges” he wasn’t having any luck.

One of Crennel’s high school friends convinced him to try to walk on at WKU, and said that he thought Crennel could make it.  So after graduating from Fort Knox High School, Crennel packed up and moved to Bowling Green.

“Where I came from is not privileged at all,” Crennel said, “But I have been able to work my way up the ladder, and get to a point where I have some success in a profession I chose.”

He moved his way through the ranks as a student-athlete on the hill in the late 1960’s, going from just a partial scholarship to a full ride his sophomore year and by his senior season had reached the status of team captain.

After serving as a graduate assistant for the football team after his 1969 senior season, Crennel was on the job hunt.

“I was looking for jobs—I had interviewed at Owensboro High School, and it looked like I was going to be a high school football coach,” Crennel said.  “Then, I don’t know if you call it fate or luck, but there was a defensive coach on the staff that had decided to leave coaching and go into private business.”

Crennel earned the defensive line coaching job at WKU for four years under Jimmy Feix.

From 1975-80, Crennel worked for other college football teams before a friend and colleague he had met at Texas Tech named Bill Parcells would help get him an interview with the New York Giants.

Since then, he has coached in the league since and his accolades include but are not limited to four Super Bowl appearances, three Super Bowl wins with the New England Patriots, and a 2003 Pro-Football Writers assistant coach of the year award.

Something very important to Crennel is not to only represent those who came before him, but to represent future generations as well.

“I also made a commitment to represent those young people that are coming behind me,” Crennel said. “In the world I grew up in, black people were almost looked at as second class citizens, we weren’t supposed to know much and we weren’t supposed to be able to do much.

“So, when you were given a chance, the way that you did your job made a difference to the next guy who might get that job.”