| The Detroit News
Since Matt Patricia arrived in the NFL as a fresh-faced assistant in 2004, Romeo Crennel has been something of a father figure for the Detroit Lions head coach.
In New England, where coach Bill Belichick will put you through the meat grinder to see if you have what it takes, Patricia got the standard experience for a young assistant — a heavy workload, long hours and what amounted to a closet for a work space.
In fact, Patricia shared that closet with another first-year, low-level assistant coach. That guy was Cory Undlin, who now serves as his defensive coordinator in Detroit.
Working on the bottom of the totem pole can be thankless, but Crennel, who had an office directly across the hall from Patricia and Undlin’s space, made things a little easier by taking the two under his wing.
“He’s got great wisdom,” Patricia said. “He’s got a mannerism about him. He’s an extremely caring, kind person and just one of those guys you meet that you’re instantly are drawn to. For me, I’ve always stayed in contact with him. I’ve always tried to just ask him advice.
“I’ve just kept in touch with for a long, long time and have just grown that relationship over those years,” Patricia continued. “He’s a tremendous person. He’s a great coach and an even better person. One of those guys you want to sit down and talk to a lot. He’s got a lot of incredible wisdom about him.”
Crennel and Patricia will be on the opposite sidelines Thursday, not for the first time, but for the first time where they’re both in head-coaching roles.
Crennel, now 73, is leading the Houston Texans as the franchise’s interim coach, taking over after Bill O’Brien was fired earlier this season. It’s Crennel’s third stint as a head coach, a role he last held in Kansas City in 2012, before he was replaced by Andy Reid.
Taking over an 0-4 team this go-round, Crennel certainly has the Texans playing better. They’ve split their past six games, including a 27-20 win over Belichick and the Patriots last Sunday.
Regardless, at his age, he’s probably not a realistic candidate to keep the job beyond the season. That said, neither is Patricia with the Lions entering the Thanksgiving matchup with a 4-6 record and trending decidedly short of ownership’s mandate to be competing for a playoff spot in December.
And just like when the two were back in New England, and Patricia was just getting his feet wet, the mentor has sage advice for his mentee.
“We could get together and cry in the same bucket, you know, because this is a tough business we’re in,” Crennel said. “We know that it’s tough when we get into it. So you put your best foot forward and try to do the very best you can. Then, whatever happens happens and we just have to deal with it.
“I have a lot of respect for Matt and how hard he works and what he did to become a professional coach,” Crennel said. “He has an engineering degree, you know? He just decided coaching might be a better challenge for him. So I applaud him for the decision he made, but there are two kinds of coaches, right? There are those who have been fired and those that are going to get fired. So we both fall into that category.”