Rich's Rant: Swift Savage Scythe Surprising

The end game wasn't a shock, but the swiftness was as Rich Passan opines on the firing of Phil Savage and what the future may hold for the organization he's leaving.

It is obvious Randy Lerner had seen enough throughout this most difficult season for his Cleveland Browns.

But the owner's dismissal of General Manager Phil Savage Sunday was as shocking in its timing as it was surprising in its efficiency because no one saw it coming.

Most pundits and fans figured Savage was camped on a slippery slope because of several in-season managerial blunders and the team's poor record, but didn't realize exactly how slick that incline was.

There was still the matter of how to handle the future of coach Romeo Crennel. Savage could be dealt with later. Or so most everyone thought.

Very few believed Lerner would act in such a strong and decisive manner so quickly given his past history of handling front-office matters. He was hands off, preferring to allow the men in charge to either prove themselves or hang themselves.

In cashiering Savage and on the verge of firing Crennel, Lerner has set his sights on changing the culture of the club. This move proves he was weary of the losing and appropriately embarrassed at what has unfurled this season.

Was it the right move? On the surface, yes, because Savage had become a loose cannon, someone who would spin out of control on occasion when it came to matters off the field.

Lerner, showing a side we haven't seen since he took over ownership of the team six years ago, never hinted that Savage was in trouble even though the team tumbled to its disastrous finish in the final six weeks and finished with a whimper Sunday in Pittsburgh.

Most likely, Lerner had no choice but to fire his GM. Savage demanded total control of the 53-man roster and manage the salary cap, insisting on numerous occasions that was the reason he took the job with the Browns. Lerner probably was about to strip him of those duties and Savage balked.

The only conclusion one can arrive at is that Lerner gave Savage an option. Accept a lesser role or leave because changes for next season were going to change his job description. Savage, it would appear, chose the latter.

He wasn't about to take a secondary role that required him to relinquish control of the roster and devote his time to scouting, where he gained his stellar reputation.

Whether he was fired or resigned is a matter of interpretation. He still had three years left on his contract that was extended following last season's stunning 10-6 record. If he resigned, Lerner owes him no money.

Lerner probably is clearing the decks for a run at Bill Cowher to return to Cleveland to run the show. With Savage now out of the way and Crennel soon to follow, he can now take aim at some of the higher profile candidates should Cowher reject his overtures.

Scott Pioli, the V.P. of player personnel in New England and Bill Belichick's right-hand man, is rumored to be high on Lerner's hit list for the top spot if Cowher decides to stay put at CBS-TV. And now that his Patriots have been eliminated from the playoffs, Pioli has time to talk.

Lerner might want to at least begin thinking seriously about Pioli because the Kansas City Chiefs are looking for someone to take over for the departed Carl Peterson.

In making his move now, Lerner no doubt had seen enough in Savage's four seasons and decided a complete front-office overhaul was in order. A 24-40 record provided enough evidence to warrant a change. Something had to be done.

The roster improved decidedly under the Savage watch, as evidenced by last season's performance. The club definitely has a far stronger core of players now than as recently as two years ago.

But being a general manager is a lot more than just cobbling together a roster and managing a salary cap. And that's where Savage made his biggest mistakes that ultimately cost him his job.

This season, he botched the handling of Kellen Winslow Jr.'s staph infection midway through the season, embarrassed the team and National Football League with a profane e-mail to a fan following the club's victory in Buffalo and basically absolved himself of all blame for the poor season, farming it out to his coach.

Savage was brought to the Browns to clean up the mess left by coach Butch Davis and Pete Garcia, his personnel guy. And now, he's leaving the team in a lot better shape than he found it. Too bad he couldn't have learned to be more diplomatic in his administrative duties.

Three years ago at this time, Savage won a power struggle with club President John Collins. This time, he wasn't so fortunate.

Savage and Crennel. They arrived together in 2005. And they depart together in 2008.

How fitting.

So now, Browns fans have a new regime to look forward to; a new hope on which to hitch their loyalties.

And it's up to Lerner to make solid moves designed to take his club to the level he envisioned when Savage and Crennel were brought on board.

This time, he had better get it right.

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