By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
Going home again: The NFL is tough on fired general managers, says former Browns GM Phil Savage.
“There’s only one recycled GM in the NFL – Bruce Allen,” Savage said.
Allen was fired as Tampa Bay general manager after the 2008 season and hired by Washington a year later. The fact that Allen’s late father, George Allen, was a Hall of Fame coach for the Redskins made him a unique fit in Washington.
Of the 31 other GMs, the only one who held the position with another team is Tom Heckert, who left the Eagles to join the Browns after the 2009 season.
Savage has longed to return to the GM ranks since he was fired by owner Randy Lerner the day before the final game of 2008. For two years, he worked as a personnel consultant for the Eagles, ostensibly scouting the Southeastern Conference for the club. But last week he decided to severe his connection to the Eagles and accept an offer to be executive director of the Senior Bowl.
“It’s a natural fit,” said Savage, who originally declined the offer.
The Senior Bowl is held in Savage’s hometown of Mobile, Ala. He has been attending the game since the age of 7. One of the traditions of the week-long event has been “Big Sav’s Boil,” a tailgate party hosted by Savage’s father, Phil Sr.
As executive director of the Senior Bowl, Savage will set the rosters, consult with the NFL on inviting the coaching staffs, develop the brand of the game and expand community and corporate involvement.
Roll on, Tide: For three years, Savage has moonlighted as radio color commentator on University of Alabama football games. (He’ll continue in that role.) As a pro talent evaluator who has seen every Alabama game for three years, his opinion of Browns No. 1 draft pick Trent Richardson is credible.
“I was as impressed with him as any player I’ve been around,” Savage said. “It was obvious the moment Trent got to Tuscaloosa (Ala.), he was a program-changer.
“He is a complete football player. He has the proper size for a running back, big-time speed, catches the ball well. He has great demeanor, the right frame of mind. He never complained about playing behind Mark Ingram.”
Ingram won the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore in 2009 when he rushed for 1,658 yards. Ingram and Richardson split time the following year. After Ingram declared for the NFL draft, and was taken 28th by New Orleans, Richardson stepped in and broke Ingram’s school record with 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns.
“He could have done what he did (in 2011) the previous two years,” Savage said. “The kid’s fumbled one time in over 600 touches. He dishes more punishment than he takes. There is no doubt in my mind he is the best running back to come to the NFL since Adrian Peterson. He probably doesn’t have quite the instant acceleration, but he’s got some juice. And as far as the things (the Browns) will ask of him in the West Coast passing game – screens, swings and checkdowns – those won’t be an issue at all.
“When I was with Baltimore, we drafted Jamal Lewis fifth overall (in 2000). I was and always will be a Jamal fan. Trent is more well-rounded than Jamal. I would have high hopes for him. Obviously, there’s been a big movement to the spread (offense) in the NFL. Running backs don’t have a long shelf life. But it’s a win-now league. I thought Trent was as deserving (of a top-five pick) as any non-quarterback in a quarterback-driven league.”
Savage’s legacy: Savage won’t talk about his four years as Browns GM. He is still being paid through 2012 – minus the salary he’s making with the Senior Bowl.
His Browns’ epitaph perhaps was the unfortunate email response to a disgruntled Browns fan. “Go root for Buffalo - f#@* you,” Savage wrote while sitting on the team bus in the Ralph Wilson Stadium parking lot after a Monday night Browns win.
But if you examine the Browns’ roster four years later, four of its best returning players were scouted and signed by Savage – Josh Cribbs, D’Qwell Jackson, Joe Thomas and Ahtyba Rubin.
Most GMs are allowed one coaching hire, sometimes two. Savage never got to make one on his own. He was in concert with the hire of Romeo Crennel, but Crennel was “recommended” to the Browns by the NFL office in 2005.
When Crennel’s time was coming to a close in 2008, Savage was told to make a list of candidates to replace him. On top of the list was Rex Ryan. But the list was never submitted. Savage was fired two days before Crennel.
Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to email@example.com
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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