When A Rumor Stops Being a Rumor

Les Levine reveals the Browns continuing bunker mentality toward the media...

Browns fans who are happy with the outcome of the power struggle in Berea have ESPN's Chris Mortensen to thank. By the time he broke the Phil Savage alleged firing on Friday afternoon, the Browns front office was the laughingstock around the NFL. For a week prior to that, word started to circulate around other front offices that the Browns were looking to replace Savage.

Unlike most other teams where decision makers have a stable of contacts to go to when in search of key personnel, Randy Lerner and John Collins are not in that position. As a result, they must rely on other people in similar positions around the league. This is the main reason Lerner relied so heavily on New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft when Romeo Crennel was a candidate for the head coaching job in Cleveland.

We are used to the `bunker mentality' that seems to take place in Berea. It happened when Bill Belichick ran the show, and continued on through the Butch Davis fall from grace. Numerous Browns employees breathed a sigh of relief when Davis left because the atmosphere around the complex was not very desirable.

So what happened when the new regime came upon its first major crisis? The bunker mentality showed up again. When confronted with ESPN's report, according to a highly respected member of the media, a key member of the organization said, `So what, ESPN once reported that we (the Browns) signed Peter Boulware?'

Unlike trade talks, or agent-speak, when everyone around the league knows that the Collins/Savage feud was going to come to a boil, and ESPN reports it, it is more than a rumor, and it has to be dealt with. Trade talks can be let to slide, but not something of this magnitude.

Here's the problem with today's NFL, as well as the other major sports. The teams no longer allow information-gathering by the media that can be relayed to the fans. They only manage the news---and in this case, they feed it to the flagship station that pays plenty of money for that opportunity. The team controls when the interview will be held, and what can be discussed. The fans only get what the team wants them to get, and in the local case, nobody with any interviewing skills ever gets to be part of it.

And then the Browns want to know why the media is negative. In a very candid conversation, one key Browns executive called one member of the media `the worst #%&*@ guy in the world'. The same executive relayed a message to another respected member of the media telling him to perform a physically-impossible act upon himself.

With that type of attitude abounding, how is it possible to have trust between the two sides, which ultimately gets to the fans. John Collins never endeared himself to the community (nor did he apparently want to) and Randy Lerner won't appear before cameras or microphones. That is part of the reason that the public almost unanimously came to Savage's defense last week. Nobody is asking Lerner to do an Art Modell-like Broadway comedy, but Lerner has to do better than that. If he comes across poorly, so be it. In private, he has already come across poorly to other people around the league. In fact, that might explain why he came so close to losing Phil Savage, who would have been out of work for at least ten minutes.

Browns fans couldn't care less about who handles the marketing of the team (a no-brainer job if ever there was one) or who picks out the color scheme in the offices or the loge. But they do care about who picks players for them. Since the Browns came back in 1999, we were sold a bill of goods with Dwight Clark and Pete Garcia. That is why Ron Wolf seemed to be a good idea, and Phil Savage an even better one. A year ago we were asked to trust Savage and Crennel, and it looks like we do. We never warmed up to John Collins, and the jury is still out on Randy Lerner.

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Privately you would think that Romeo Crennel was happy with a two-game improvement over last year. And hopefully he doesn't think of his team as better than a 6-10 team because of some outcomes that were on play away from changing. Because if he does that, he has to also understand that he was a play away from losing some games that he won. Only the Green Bay and Miami games were put out of reach by the Browns.

You are what you are. A 6-10 team is a 6-10 team. And since this year was going to be a learning experience anyway, I think everyone should be somewhat satisfied.

We know what the purpose of this season was. Now the Browns have to realistically decide what next year is all about. If they decide that they want to contend, then don't be surprised if Charlie Frye is not the opening game QB. That doesn't mean it automatically will be Trent Dilfer, either. Savage and Crennel may decide that neither is the answer, and they may go looking elsewhere.

One thing is for sure. Whoever quarterbacks the Browns next year will have some weapons at his disposal. They found a running game with Reuben Droughns, and the expected returns of Kellen Winslow, Jr., and Braylon Edwards should add plenty of offensive options. One of the biggest decisions in the off-season is whether or not Maurice Carthon will be the one to figure out how to use them. Hopefully, for Carthon, he will find a head coaching job among the many vacancies. If that is the case, I hope Savage has Norv Turner's phone number handy.

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`More Sports & Les Levine' can be seen M-F from 6-7pm and 11pm-midnight on Adelphia Channel 15 in northeast Ohio. E-mail msandll@aol.com or www.leslevine.com

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