BEREA, Ohio (AP) -A knotted rope dangles from the ceiling just inside the glass front doors of Cleveland's team headquarters, a symbolic reminder for the Browns to hang on tightly as they climb together.
Romeo Crennel better grip it with both hands.
And feet.
Just 10-22 in his first two seasons as Cleveland's coach, Crennel, who came to the Browns with a handful of Super Bowl rings he won as a defensive assistant, is embarking on a crucial third year with the Browns. They open the season Sunday at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Long before kickoff, there's already speculation if Crennel gets fired, former Steelers coach Bill Cowher, who retired in January after 15 seasons with the black and gold, could return to the NFL in Cleveland.
``There's talk around here among some of the players,'' Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said Wednesday. ``We joke around, we think that (Cleveland) might be his No. 1 spot.''
Uh-oh, Romeo.
To his credit, the 60-year-old Crennel has maintained an even keel during his tenure. But it's been a turbulent period for the Browns, the only team in the league to finish fourth in its division each of the past four seasons.
Crennel arrived from New England with a reputation as a straight shooter, a no-nonsense coach with a gift for getting the most out of his players. He was touted as friendly, firm and fair.
He hasn't changed.
``I'm the same guy,'' he said. ``I just have more knowledge under my belt. I can anticipate some things a little bit better. When you sit in the head coaching seat there is something that happens every day that you don't anticipate and how you deal with some of those things that come across the head coaching desk. From a coaching standpoint, I am the same coach.''
While announcing his final roster cuts Saturday, Browns general manager Phil Savage tried to extinguish the notion Crennel is on the hot seat. Savage pointed his finger at the media for creating the perception that Crennel is in trouble.
``You're in the business of creating controversy and conflict,'' Savage said. ``We've had our share. Romeo and I are in the business to create cohesion and continuity. That's the way we're going to win.''
Crennel said he didn't hear Savage's comments, and didn't have to after spending 25 years in the pro coaching ranks.
``I am a football coach in the NFL and every football coach in the NFL is on the hot seat,'' he said. ``You have to win games and that is the bottom line, and I am no different than anybody else.''
Crennel's future in Cleveland could be decided early. In Week 2, the Browns will host Cincinnati, then travel to Oakland before playing the Baltimore Ravens. That's three AFC North opponents in four weeks, a rugged stretch for any coach.
What makes it so important for Crennel is his 1-11 record within the division, an unacceptable mark for a team that has improved talent but needs to start showing it in the win column.
``That's the nature of the business,'' Browns defensive tackle Orpheus Roye said. ``You've got to win.''
While he searches for wins, Crennel doesn't appear to have lost an ounce of respect in Cleveland's locker room.
``When he first came here, I couldn't believe how friendly he was,'' tight end Steve Heiden said. ``And he's still that way. But guys in here want to win for him. He has stuck to his guns and what he believes. Nothing has changed. Our schedule is the same, and how he treats us hasn't changed.''
Crennel's record, however, must change. Quickly.
Savage's massive 31-month overhaul of Cleveland's roster - only nine players remain from the 2004 squad - has the Browns better positioned for success. As players have been shuffled in and out, Crennel has had to stay patient.
Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown, an executive advisor with the club, admires the way Crennel has handled a difficult job, as well as his evolution from an assistant coach to the man in charge.
``I've seen Romeo adjust to the demands,'' Brown said. ``He's been a real strong gentleman in his position. He has allowed the organization to make changes and he has kept controversy down. I give him a lot of respect.
``He could have been the guy that could have thrown chaos into the organization, but it's just the opposite. He has been a guy who has allowed us to have a chance to display what we are hoping we can display Sunday on the football field.''
As far as Brown is concerned, the Browns can't afford to waste any more time.
``It's about now,'' he said. ``The Saints last year proved that. We have some good personnel. We have some experience and we have some real strong young people. Cleveland is ready for put up or shut up. The media is ready for put up or shut up. We haven't lost a game yet, but there's no point in talking about ifs, ands or what we're going to do in the future.
``The future is right now.''
And for now, Crennel's got a grip on it.

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