Levine: More on the Off-Season Transition

Over the years, Les Levine has not only provided outspoken commentary on Cleveland sources, but has also cultivated sources which often give him information not available elsewhere. Today, Les talks about TE Aaron Shea, the exit of Ross Verba, and reveals some previously unreported information about this off-season's hiring of Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel...

According to a source high up in the Browns organization, if Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel turned down the offers to become General Manager and Head Coach respectively, there was no Plan B.  That is not to say that the interview process with other candidates was a sham.  In reality, the interviews that did take place served to verify to the Browns that they had the right men in mind from the beginning, and the appointments of Savage and Crennel were validated.

According to the source, one of the regrets of owner Randy Lerner in the hiring of former coach Butch Davis (although ultimately the decision was made by his father, Al, along with Carmen Policy) is that nobody else was interviewed for the position because Davis was the clear choice.  Lerner's feeling is that, even if Davis became the eventual choice, not enough of the right questions were asked and there was no one else to compare Davis and his responses to. Keep in mind that the job for which Davis was hired in Year Three of the return of the franchise was different than what faced the original coach, Chris Palmer. 

According to the source, Davis wanted to start from Square One, undoing whatever took place in the first two years, when in reality, those first two years should have been able to serve as a building block.  Instead, Davis sped up the process of getting rid of Palmer's players (and several front office members) and bringing in his own.

Getting back to the original point about Crennel and Savage being the only real choices, it would be interesting to see how the NFL would have reacted if Crennel was not an African-American.  The NFL makes it mandatory to have franchises interview serious minority candidates, and levied a huge fine to the Detroit Lions when they said that Steve Mariucci was the only serious candidate for their head coaching position.  That is no different than the way the Browns felt about Crennel, so I wonder if they would have faced sanctions from the league office if they felt that way about a white candidate.

The knee surgeries that were performed  Tuesday on tight ends Kellen Winslow, Jr., and Keith Heinrich, will give Steve Heiden and Aaron Shea the opportunity to show how deep the Browns are at that position.  They are so deep there, that I thought Shea might have been the odd man out when Winslow was drafted---in fact he was the odd man out as far as his jersey number was concerned. 

That would have been unfortunate because, when he wasn't injured, Shea might have been the most under-rated player on the roster.  He has made some big plays since arriving in 2000.  He made one of the biggest plays of the year in 2001, when he made a touchdown saving tackle on the five yard line, catching Bengals return man T.J. Houshmandzadeh from behind.  The Browns defense held on four downs and they shut out Cincinnati 18-0, giving the Browns a record of 6-4.  Unfortunately, they lost five of the last six games to fall out of playoff contention, but, arguably, at the time, Shea's play was the biggest one of the season.  It is hard to believe that this will be his sixth year with the team, but if the Browns have a good season, he should be one of the reasons.

One of the things that appears to be impressive about Phil Savage is his timing.  He has known for months that certain players needed to be replaced, but he doesn't seem to do anything impulsive.  For example, there has been no doubt that there was a mutual desire on the parts of the Browns and lineman Ross Verba to have Verba released from his contract.  But, as he has done in a couple of other cases, Savage didn't do it until he felt he had a replacement.  There are legitimate questions as to whether that replacement will be better than Verba, but at least they didn't release Verba, and then have to go out and scramble to fill that position.  The position was filled (in their minds) before they actually let Verba go, and that appears to be the rational way to handle things.

‘More Sports & Les Levine' can be seen in northeastern Ohio M-F from 6-7pm with replays at 11pm on Adelphia Channel 15.  E-mail msandll@aol.com or www.leslevine.com

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