Rich's Rant: What Was Savage Thinking?

The Savage/Crennel era, which began with such hope just a few years ago, has tumbled in 2008. Rich Passan comments on the Cleveland Browns GM's email snafu, which threatens to bring the era to a close...

If Phil Savage is back as the Browns' general manager next season, it will tell you all you need to know about the ownership of this team.

If Randy Lerner does not either fire or demote Savage by the end of this season, then the inmates clearly have taken over the asylum.

When Savage sent the now infamous profane e-mail to a pestering fan mere moments after the Browns' victory Monday night in Buffalo, he most likely had no idea it would become a national story.

When he hit the send button on that e-mail, little did he know it would send shock waves that have reverberated throughout the world of pro football. And damage a reputation he worked very hard to gain.

In doing so, he brought shame and embarrassment to himself, his team and a large majority of the fans who follow the Browns around the globe. The club, enough of a joke without Savage's help, didn't need this.

No public relations spin will wash this one away. It ranks right up there with Bottlegate and Helmetgate. Right up there with Tim Couch weeping and the William Green stabbing. Right up there with Butch Davis and the Savage-John Collins imbroglio.

Not even Davis would have been so dumb and careless with his feelings regarding the fans.

Why Savage even responded at all – let alone in this manner – to the obviously angry and frustrated fan boggles the mind. The guy is just a fan. A fan, for crying out loud.

The more prudent move would have been to spout the party line. Something like: "Thank you for writing. Thank you for your concern. Please know that we are attempting to put the best product on the field and make that our goal on a daily basis. Your continued interest is important to us."

Of course, it's nothing more than PR pabulum. But it's far better than: "Go root for Buffalo – f#@* you."

Reportedly, Savage and the fan have apologized to one another. Too late. Damage done.

What in the world was Savage thinking? He has a high-profile job with a high-profile organization that belongs to the most high-profile league in American sports.

The National Football League said no action will be taken against Savage. It wouldn't be surprising, however, if the league told Lerner to reign in his GM. Pronto.

Lerner, according to the club late Thursday, considers the case closed. Nothing more specific than that.

But if the owner cares for the team as much as he says, he should take steps to make certain that someone more responsible than Savage holds the title of GM as early as next season.

Romeo Crennel tried to explain Savage's actions. The coach mentioned something about Savage being frustrated and trying to be professional and how unfortunate the e-mail slipped out.

Why, in first place, is Crennel speaking on Savage's behalf? Why didn't Savage confront the media and deal with the issue?

Sides, naturally, have been taken on the matter. Some say Savage should be fired on the spot. Others support what he did in a way-to-go manner.

Savage, who has become a member of the Browns' loose-cannon club with his latest blunder, should have known better. This one will follow him wherever he goes from here. His scarlet letters will be F and U.

Coming so soon on the heels of the mishandling of the Kellen Winslow Jr. staph episode clearly diminishes Savage's star on the NFL horizon and his ability to manage a club.

There's no doubt he's a terrific judge of football talent. But there's also no doubt he's in way over his head when it comes to dealing with issues other than scouting.

When he arrived in Cleveland early in 2005, he decried the "woe-is-me" attitude of Browns fans and vowed to turn the franchise in a direction that would erase that attitude. This isn't going to help.

I'm certain other club executives around the NFL have strong feelings regarding fans who disagree with the manner in which they run their teams. But it has never spilled over into something as embarrassing as this.

Savage's plan to turn around the Browns' fortunes began to work last season when the club verged the playoffs, but the team fell apart like a house of cards this season.

The fans' frustration mounted as the 2008 season unfolded and games that could have and should have been won were not.

With rumors now swirling that the Browns have made overtures to Bill Cowher, Savage, even though he has a contract through the 2012 season, has done nothing to strengthen his base with his latest faux pas. Think Lerner might want a do-over on that move?

It is believed Cowher would come out of retirement only if he had total control of player personnel. That would mean the departure of Savage, who would not accept any role less than that of GM. The two could not coexist.

As it turns out, Trent Dilfer of ESPN was correct when he recently labeled the Browns' organization dysfunctional. The latest organizational gaffe more than proves it.

What a painful lesson to learn.

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