Johnson didn’t know what he’d return to in the spring, but he had a hunch.
“When I heard the news through the grapevine that we got ‘RAC’ as our head coach, I wasn’t surprised,” Johnson said. “I kind of expected us to keep him as head coach just from my player instincts. That’s just what I felt was going to happen and it turned out that I was right.”
Johnson was one of many players inside Kansas City’s locker room who spoke out in favor of Crennel on getaway day, but the players also knew their support would only go so far.
Crennel’s fate ultimately rested in the hands of Chiefs Chairman and CEO Clark Hunt and General Manager Scott Pioli.
“I think it’s a great decision by the people upstairs,” Johnson said. “I’m sure that all of the players are very excited and we kind of feel like we got what we wanted, so there are definitely no complains. It will be all open-arms.”
Crennel connected with the Chiefs locker room in a time of uncertainty.
Players were initially surprised last month to learn that Todd Haley had been relieved of his duties, but they quickly adapted to Crennel’s leadership. It’s a trait that no doubt played a large role in the team playing well over the final three games of the season and Crennel getting the job on a permanent basis.
“He has a lot more confidence than I knew,” said Johnson. “We always knew him as a confident guy on the defensive side of the ball, but to get up in front of the team and the respect he commanded when he first got up there was tremendous. The offensive guys bought in and if you get both side of the ball buying in to one head coach, that’s great.”
“Players appreciate honesty and players appreciate you telling them like it is,” Crennel said. “They don’t always want to hear it, but that’s what they appreciate and that’s what I try to do to the players. I try to tell them what I believe, what I feel and how I think it should be done.”
A mutual respect between coach and leader quickly developed over the final three weeks of the season.
The Chiefs pulled a shocker by ending Green Bay’s 19-game winning streak just six days after Haley’s dismissal and came within an overtime field goal of defending their 2010 AFC West title Week 17 in Denver.
Crennel knows the players had a lot to do with his hiring. Not by their words, but by their play.
He took the time to thank quarterback
“Kyle did a tremendous job for us and I’m probably not sitting here if Kyle hadn’t done the job that he did and I’m very appreciative of that,” Crennel said. “I’m also appreciative of that fact that he is an unrestricted free agent and we have to go through that process.”
Although Orton’s situation remains a question mark heading into the spring, the veteran quarterback exits Kansas City with an appreciation for Crennel and the opportunity he was given over the season’s final month.
Fullback Le’Ron McClain is also scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency, but spoke out in support of Crennel before packing up his locker last week. Other pending free agents echoed similar words, even though they may not be part of the 2012 Chiefs squad.
Crennel’s footprint inside the locker room was undeniable.
“I can’t quite explain it, but for the whole team to rally around a guy in that short period of time, and with so much stuff that he had going on, it’s just mind-boggling when you really thing about it,” Johnson said.
“I think the three games had a lot to do with where we arrived at this decision,” Pioli added. “I think some of the things we saw was there was a great deal of accountability and consistency. There was also a different energy from the football team, for whatever those reasons are.”
Moving forward, Johnson believes Crennel’s promotion and the team’s strong close will create an exciting atmosphere when players return for offseason work in a few months.
“We definitely have a good taste in our mouths,” Johnson said. “We’ll all be excited to come back to work (with Crennel) knowing that the AFC West is up for grabs.”