"Every great decision creates ripples--like a huge
boulder dropped in a lake. The ripples merge, rebound off the banks in
unforeseeable ways. The heavier the decision, the larger the waves, the more
uncertain the consequences."
- Benjamin Disraeli
When the front office team of Randy Lerner, Phil Savage, and John Collins came together early in 2005, many remarked on their youth. All are in their late 30s or early 40s, an age when many men reach key plateaus in their careers. All had excellent track records in competitive professions and formed what appeared to be a dynamic team of executives with high potential for future growth.
One year later, the pairing of these men seems doomed to failure, with gaps in experience causing ripple effects which have reached the public eye and render the current organization of the Browns unworkable.
From my perspective, all of the men share some element of the blame for the embarrassing turn of events.
But while blame can be spread around, the next steps that Randy Lerner needs to take represents, I feel, a clear and obvious course.
The stakes are high, and failure to take the appropriate course of action may result in long-term effects which will impact Browns fans as significantly as Red Right 88 or "The Drive".
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Losing Phil Savage means more than losing a football executive with a keen eye for talent. It means putting the Cleveland Browns on a collision course with fan apathy, and replacing the Arizona Cardinals as the NFL's benchmark for managerial incompetence.
Phil Savage is probably not the only football executive with the capability to bring the Browns back to competitive status. In addition, he clearly faces a learning curve in some areas.
But, at the same time that Savage shouldn't be considered a certain organizational savior, he does bring with him an excellent record of success in the area in which the Browns have been most deficient: acquiring football talent.
Lerner should also not lose sight of Savage's local background and experience. Of all the high-level executives who have been part of the organization since its rebirth, Savage uniquely brings with him a connection to Cleveland and what appears to be an innate understanding of the passion and attitude of Cleveland Browns fans.
Carmen Policy was fond of saying that winning heals all wounds.
The man in the Cleveland Browns organization who can have the most profound positive effect on the team's ability to win, and help heal those many wounds, is Phil Savage.
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Browns Team President John Collins has not only been the victim of some of his own recent mistakes, he has also been the victim of brutal and perhaps unfair editorializing in the media. Exposure to the half-informed ramblings of talk radio hosts and internet "experts" has been an awful experience, and one hopes that Collins has not been witness the worst of them. I will not join in the parade of media which has attempted to paint Collins as villainous, opportunistic, or manipulative.
Collins has, based on the team's financial performance, been an effective executive. His marketing strengths have been obvious as the team has increased it's off-field revenue, even if some of that marketing strikes fans as excessive or forays into areas of dubious long-term benefit.
At present, however, the preponderance of evidence suggests that Collins intended to relieve Savage in the coming days. Bernie's Insiders, in addition to some of the most respected sportswriters in Cleveland have already written or said, point blank, that they believe this to be the truth of the matter.
With that being the case, Collins faces significant credibility problems due to his statements on the team's flagship station last Friday, as well as comments posted on the team's own website that the rumors of Savage's dismissal are "unfair and very unfortunate". These credibility issues extend outside the organization and media to the fans themselves.
The role of Team President is one where very public and sometimes unpleasant decisions need to be made. The fans and media need to have faith in team leadership, for obvious reasons, or the benefit of the doubt that the team needs as it rebuilds will not be forthcoming.
Many fans have been turned off by the team's poor on-field performance. That will accelerate if there is diminished confidence in the team's direction or executives.
Moreover, one has to be concerned about the decision-making process which led to Savage's appointment without proper understanding of his career development needs, as well as the alleged decision to terminate an executive who brings skills badly needed by the franchise.
It would be a mistake to fire an executive with such vital core abilities in any business, even if he faces skill development areas or allows his decisions to be clouded by matters of ego, unless these problems are so severe that they interfere with the proper conduct of business. There is no indication that this is the case with Savage.
With the Team President lacking in football-side experience, Browns fans also have to be concerned with whether the Collins will be able to accurately determine whether the football side of the organization is succeeding or failing as the rebuilding plan proceeds.
If Lerner truly has to make a decision to retain either Savage or Collins, his choice is obvious: The Browns need to keep Phil Savage.
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It is the strong recommendation of this writer that Randy Lerner find his right-hand man an appropriate role in other areas of his business organization. Collins has strengths which can be employed to help in any number of different businesses, but his situation in Cleveland does not appear to be salvageable in a way which will help the team succeed.
Lerner should aggressively pursue an experienced chief executive whose experience spans both the business and football side of operating an NFL franchise. This executive, however, should be willing to cede control of football decision-making to Savage. His relationship with the team's promising young personnel executive should be mentoring and evaluation, not control over decision-making.
In addition, I recommend strongly to Phil Savage that he accept some level of assistance to help in negotiating contracts as he develops his own skills in that area. Whether that assistance takes the form of a subordinate, consultant, or as part of a mentoring arrangement with the team's new chief executive isn't as important as recognizing and addressing an area for development.
After a careful consideration of all the information exposed to this date, I feel that the next steps that Randy Lerner should take to put this organization on track are obvious. It's now up to Lerner to resolve this matter quickly, and in the best interests of the franchise.