Phil Savage On The Record

Phil Savage considers the former broadcasting team of Keith Jackson and Frank Broyles, ABC's college football team in the 1970s, to be the gold standard for college football announcing -- radio or television. Savage was named the Alabama Football Radio Network's color analyst on June 15. He spoke to A.P. Steadham of 'BAMA Magazine and BamaMag.com about his new role and a variety of topics.



A.P. Steadham – What does the appointment as Alabama Crimson Tide football radio analyst mean to you as an Alabama native?

Phil Savage – "It means an awful lot. It's something that was really not on my radar screen a year ago. In January when I called Coach Moore (Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore) about the possibility of at least being considered I began to get a little excited about it."

"Once the official call came and it became a reality it's something I had not really given a lot of thought to over the past year and now it's happened."

"It's the team and the school that I followed my whole life growing up. I actually started my coaching career there and to come full circle and now do something in broadcasting with Alabama is great."

"I'm hopeful it will be a very rewarding experience. It's a new experience to have a chance to come back to be in my home state and be here full time. To be around the program and with Nick Saban and the rest of the coaching staff and getting to know the players, I'm really looking forward to it."

APS – Would you comment on your dreams of broadcasting Alabama football as a young boy?

PS – "Growing up I always wanted to be a sports broadcaster. I wanted to be an announcer. When you're outside playing back yard whiffle ball, basketball or other things, I used to do a running commentary. My friends would enjoy it. It was a lot of fun."

"Quite frankly I had planned on being some sort of journalism major in college, but I went to Sewanee which is a liberal arts college. I ended up majoring in English because they did not have broadcasting or journalism which led me to a coaching career and scouting career."

"Broadcasting and announcing was something I thought might come a little later in life perhaps, but now that it's here I'm excited about it. What better place to start than Alabama."

APS – What broadcasters, radio or television, did you listen to growing up?

PS – "Back in those times in the seventies of course you had John Forney, Doug Layton and Jerry Duncan was down on the sidelines. The age of cable television was just coming on the scene so you had Harry Carey, Ernie Johnson and Pete Van Wiener for the Braves. The Cubs and the Braves were about the only two teams you could get access to back in that time."

"What I'm hoping to bring to the broadcast is informative. I really want the fans to feel like they're getting an inside look at the program. They are getting an inside look at the opponent and that hopefully I'll be able to offer some tidbits of information about the other school, the other coaches, Alabama and its players. Hopefully we'll have some fun with it."

"I think I'm very fortunate to get an opportunity to work alongside Eli (play-by-play announcer Eli Gold). Everywhere that I've been this spring when friends of mine in the broadcasting arena found out that I was going to be working with Eli, they were extremely complementary of him. They said you're going to be working with a real pro. So I think it's a terrific way to get started."

APS – Do you have a broadcasting coach or someone you will call for advice?

PS – "I have not formally done anything like that. I do have a list of about five or six friends of mine that had experience as color commentators. Of course Mike Gottfried is down here in the Mobile area. I will visit with him at some point over the summer. And David Norrie is a former UCLA quarterback who is a color analyst for ABC/ESPN. He and I have become friends through the years after I spent a year out there (UCLA)."

"There are a number of different people that I'm going to reach out to. In all honesty, I'm hoping I'll have a chance to speak to Kenny (Stabler) at some point over the summer before the season starts. Hopefully he can give me some insight into what made him so successful over the last ten years because he did do a fantastic job. People identified with him. The fans really enjoyed listening to him. My mother told me when all this started coming to light she said, ‘Snake is really good. That would be big shoes to fill.' Even in my own family people have a great admiration for what Snake did as a broadcaster for Alabama."

APS – What is the best broadcasting advice you have received thus far?

PS – "Todd Blackledge was involved in an event my brother was involved in a couple of weekends ago so I had a chance to spend some time with him. His point to me was the play-by-play man's job is to describe how the play occurred. So and so carried the ball gaining six yards setting up second and four. In other words he is setting the scene. Your job as the color man is to explain why it happened. How did he gain the six yards? What might you look for on the second down situation. He said if you'll keep that as a parameter on yourself you should do quite well."

APS – Can you speak about your days as an assistant coach with Nick Saban?

PS – "We all were on the first staff of Bill Belichick in 1991, and I had spent the three previous three years with Homer Smith - two at Alabama and one at UCLA. All of a sudden I was assigned to the defensive side of the ball with Nick Saban."

"All of his diagrams were upside down to me. It was a totally different lingo than what I had been exposed to with the previous staffs under Homer. I was a defensive assistant and Nick was the defensive coordinator. We worked extremely well together over those years particularly on game day. He was a coordinator who liked to be on the field and I was in the press box talking about pass patterns and how our coverage matched up to the routes and those sorts of things.

"A lot of people really don't realize that Nick is a really good athlete. He can play basketball. He can obviously throw a football. He can play golf. He's really somewhat of a natural at most anything he does. I think he was probably a natural coach and then obviously he's been influenced by different people over the years particularly Don James (his head coach at Kent) and then of course Bill (Belichick) and to a degree back in the early ‘90s Jerry Glanville. I think he's really honed what he does over the last couple years since he's been a head coach at Michigan State, LSU and Alabama."

"I think he's really been able to cut out things that he doesn't really believe in and add things that he does feel are very effective. I think Alabama is getting the very best of Nick Saban right now."

APS – What can you say about your days as a graduate assistant at Alabama?

PS – "First of all it was an unbelievable opportunity, very much in the same vein I'm excited about this coming season. I felt the same way back in 1987. It was a new experience and of course at that time I knew very few people. I gained a tremendous amount from the three years I spent in Tuscaloosa."

"I worked with a tremendous coach in Homer Smith, probably the most influential man in my football career by far in terms of just learning the game and really understanding what it takes to be successful in football."

"There were other great coaches there as well during that time and tremendous players. When you had a chance to see Bobby Humphrey and be on the same field with Derrick Thomas during spring practice. Siran Stacy had a good year when we were there. Kevin Turner, Roger Schultz. Those were all players that gave me a model in terms of once I did transfer over into scouting. Those were players that became somewhat of measuring type sticks for me."

"I had the pleasure of coaching Howard Cross and Lamonde Russell while I was there. Howard was known more for his blocking and Lamonde was more known for his receiving. They complimented each other extremely well in that '88 season. I had a great group to work with. Gene Newberry was part of that group. Charlie Abrams, David Lenoir. Just tremendous guys to work with as a first time coach."

APS – Do you have any broadcasting experience besides the Senior Bowl and A-Day game?

PS – "Not as a game analyst. Obviously in Cleveland over the last four years I did a weekly call-in-show. On Thursday morning down here in Mobile there is a sports station (WNSP). I've done something with them every Thursday morning for the last twelve years now."

"Anytime you're in a position of leadership like being a head coach or a general manager or a player personnel director, you do become more comfortable and more familiar with doing interviews and being able to articulate to the public what your thoughts are on certain topics and subjects involved in the game of football."

"I think probably the biggest thing for me is I'm planning on being extremely prepared but something I'll really focus on is trying to let my personality show a little more. Let people see a different side of Phil Savage other than the analytical football part of it. I think that is something I'll gain a more confidence in as the season goes along. That is something I will be conscious of for sure as we get rolling here in September - maybe a touch of humor."

"Of course on radio you don't have a chance to tell long winded stories either. I'm going to be very aware of the time constraints between plays and I thought that was something that went well during A-Day. I was very cognizant in making sure I was not over talking or getting in the way of Eli's duties as a play-by-play man. I thought we paired off very well for the first time being out there together in April."

"I'm looking forward to just really getting on the same page and just making the broadcast a smooth flowing experience for everybody. I don't want to over talk during the games and I'm not planning on doing that. We've got Eli with the play-by-play and Barry Krauss on the sidelines. I thought that was something that went very well during the A-day game. Barry and I were able to play off of each other in terms of some of the points that were being made about the team."

APS – What are the stipulations of your contract with the Cleveland Browns?

PS – "I had signed an extension last May (2008) for five more seasons."

APS – How do you address the concerns that the radio analyst position is only temporary for you before another opportunity arises in the NFL?

PS – "One thing that I've certainly learned over the years in the NFL especially the last twelve months is you have to take one season at a time. I don't think anybody could have anticipated that I would be doing the radio broadcast for Alabama in the fall of 2009 a year ago."

"I've learned to take it one season at a time even going back to the very beginning years of my football career. It's not worth spending a lot of energy worrying about something that may or may not happen in the future. I'm thankful the decision makers, Jim Carabin and Coach Moore and Nick Saban to an extent felt good enough about me to give me this opportunity. I'm going to do the very best I can. I don't know if this lasts one year or twenty years."

"Pretty much everything that I've done over the years I've always gone into it feeling like that this is something that I really want to do and I'm going to try to do the best job that I can do as long as they'll have me."

APS – What will be the tone and tenor of your broadcasting comments?

PS – "I feel like there will be times that I will look at the game through the eyes of the coaching staff. I think there will be other times when I talk about what is going on through the eyes of a scout. I think they'll be other times when I can talk about it through the eyes of a fan."

"I think my experiences of being a former player obviously at a smaller school but still having had the experience on the field as a coach, as a scout, as a GM and simply as a fan I think I'll be able to provide some different angles."

"I'm hopeful to be able to describe why Alabama is trying to use more than one running back this particular game or how they are utilizing Rolando McClain and Dont'a Hightower. How are they able to make those players present problems to the offense. Different nuggets of information may not be obvious to the casual fan but certainly I don't want to get complicated so that people have no idea what I'm even talking about."

APS – What is your approach to critiquing the game and the team?

PS – "One thing I'm going to be very aware of is I want to stay positive about Alabama, the players and the coaches. I think that is one thing that we know in the game of football everything is not going to go perfectly well. There are going to be mistakes made. There are going to be bad calls at times and different things that happen but at the same time I can put a positive spin on it in terms of this is what they were trying to do but it didn't happen that time. The next time the situation comes up the offense should probably handle this better."

"I want to be very positive towards Alabama and the players. I don't think that means you sugarcoat things because I'm not sure the fans want to hear that either, but I'm not going to sit there and beat up eighteen to twenty-one year olds over a mistake or a dropped pass or blown coverage, etc. That's what the coaches are there to do, and I'm going to try and help to describe that as best I can."

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