By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
CANTON, Ohio (AP) - Chris Palmer was on a road trip and felt like he had never left home.
As the Houston Texans' charter bus weaved through streets near the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Sunday, Palmer's mind filled with images of his two seasons coaching the Cleveland Browns.
His young quarterback, Tim Couch. The never-ending injuries. The crazed, barking Browns fans. The 27 losses -- some of them very ugly. His firing.
And when Palmer, now the offensive coordinator for the expansion Texans, finally walked into Fawcett Stadium, he joked that it was as if he had never left.
"The ushers here know me by first name," he said.
Three years ago, Palmer (pictured as Browns coach, above) was a rookie head coach when he was given the daunting task of leading the Browns' rebirth in the NFL following a three-year break.
After being hired in January 1999, Palmer had little time to assemble a team and coaching staff. He didn't even have a secretary when he started and resorted to leafing through media guides to find out-of-work assistants.
"Six months," he said raising his eyebrows. "At least now we get to sleep."
Palmer, an assistant when Jacksonville entered the league through expansion in 1995, figured it would take at least three years for the Browns to build and win.
He got two.
"I don't think it could have been any more difficult than it was," he said. "The people there did a tremendous job under some very difficult circumstances. It was a lot easier to get ready here in 18 months, I'll tell you that.
"You know what you're doing and you have a chance to get organized."
Looking back, Palmer said the Browns were in trouble from the start. Not only did the condensed time frame make it tough to get quality players, but then the team suffered some key injuries it didn't have the depth to overcome.
"Free agency was the staple for Jacksonville and Carolina," Palmer said. "Really no one knew about free agency at that time. In Houston, we reaped the benefit of the salary cap issues and built to our advantage. In Cleveland, they didn't get any of those situations.
"We were trying to do it for the long run, we tried to build it through the draft. We really never got any advantage."
Of course, the picture is much rosier for Cleveland these days. The Browns improved to 7-9 under Palmer's successor, Butch Davis, and could make the playoffs this season.
Palmer knew it was just a matter of time for the Browns.
"They will have their day," he said.
Palmer admits there are moments when he misses being a head coach, but he's enjoying his return to a familiar role.
Like he did with Couch in Cleveland, Palmer, a former college quarterback, is developing Houston rookie QB David Carr, the Texans' No. 1 draft pick and future.
The two have developed a strong bond in just a few months.
"I've only called him Couch twice," Palmer joked.
The one-time school teacher is doing what he loves best, helping Carr refine his delivery, work on his footwork, focus on the target and understand his thick playbook.
Palmer has no regrets about his time in Cleveland. He keeps in touch with many of the friends he made there. He has no ill feelings toward anyone in the Browns' organization, either. During the league meetings in Houston, Palmer and his wife, Donna, had dinner with Cleveland team president Carmen Policy -- the man who fired him.
"My days in Cleveland were great," Palmer said. "We loved it."
Palmer, too, would love a second chance as an NFL head coach.
"I'll be much more selective the next time, though," he said. "There will be a little more of a level field and not as much of an uphill battle.
"If I'm fortunate enough, I'd love another opportunity."
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)