CLEVELAND (AP) — Willie McGinest always believed Romeo Crennel would turn the Cleveland Browns into winners. For a long time, though, it seemed like the veteran linebacker was about the only who did.
"There was a lot of prejudgment about Romeo," said McGinest, who played for Crennel in New England. "And it was really unfair. It takes time. It takes players, and it takes a coach to do that."
Crennel did it.
The 60-year-old former defensive assistant, whose future in Cleveland was shaky after two forgettable seasons, signed a two-year contract extension on Tuesday with the Browns, who won 10 games in Crennel's third season and finally appear repaired.
Crennel had two years remaining on the five-year deal he signed in February of 2005. The extension, believed to be worth about $4 million per season, takes Crennel through the 2011 season.
The Browns were one of the NFL's surprise teams in 2007. One season after going 4-12, they went 10-6, won a franchise-record seven home games and only missed the AFC playoffs because of a tiebreaker.
"From where we came from last year and where we are now is impressive," McGinest said. "But it's only a small indication of what's to come. Romeo has always been a winning coach from a winning organization, and that's what he's doing here."
Crennel's extension was not a surprise. General manager Phil Savage was pleased with Crennel's performance and immediately following the season said the club would reward the coach's efforts.
Savage and agent Joe Linta have been in on-going talks the past two weeks, but neither side felt any urgency to finalize the deal.
However, recent two-year extensions given to offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker — he replaced Todd Grantham, fired on Jan. 11 — sped up the Browns' timetable to get something completed with Crennel.
"We're pleased to get this two-year extension done with Romeo," Savage said in a statement. "Romeo has proven that he can be a winning NFL head coach, and he has the respect of the players and of the entire organization."
Crennel was an assistant coach for 25 years before he was hired by the Browns on Feb. 8, 2005, just after winning his third Super Bowl title as the Patriots' defensive coordinator. He was Cleveland's defensive coordinator in 2000 before joining New England.
But without the same talent to work with in Cleveland, Crennel's first two seasons with the Browns were rough. They went 10-22, including 1-11 against AFC North opponents, and Crennel started 2007 on the proverbial hot seat.
His days appeared to be numbered after Cleveland was thumped 34-7 by the Pittsburgh Steelers in its home opener.
However, the Browns bounced back. Behind a high-scoring offense and despite having one of the league's worst defenses, they won their most games since 1999, finished 3-3 in their division and were still in the playoff picture until Tennessee beat Indianapolis in the regular-season finale to secure the conference's final postseason berth.
McGinest always had faith the Browns would win. Having played for Crennel, he knew the man better than anyone.
"We played well. We were always well prepared and we were well coached," McGinest said. "That's just part of what Romeo did. Guys really started buying in this year. But more than anything, we started to become a family. Guys are pulling for each other, working hard and it's made a huge difference."