Former Browns GM: Organization Trying To Survive, Not Thrive

Another year, another regime change for the Cleveland Browns.

Cleveland fired Mike Pettine and Ray Farmer on Sunday following a disastrous 3-13 season. The Browns have finished with a losing record in 16 of the last 18 seasons, including eight straight.

What has been the Browns’ main problem since, well, returning to Cleveland?

“Oh man, where do you start?” former Browns general manager Phil Savage said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “This has been going on really since 1999, and now it’s extended beyond the ownership that I was under to a new ownership group led by Jimmy Haslam. I think when you look at the AFC North, you’ve got the Steelers, the Ravens and the Bengals that all have a thousand times more stability than the Browns. While those teams worry about winning on a day-to-ay basis, honestly, at the Browns, when one thing goes wrong for a new regime, everybody runs for cover and it starts becoming more about surviving. That was the experience that I had during my four years in Cleveland. It was one of the real frustrations: while your opponents are focused on winning and what they need to do to make their team better, you had people within the organization – because they had been through this a number of times – you have people that basically are trying to survive rather than thrive. There’s just never a way to catch up.

“So they go on this quest again to find a new GM and a new coach,” Savage said. “One of the real issues there, in my opinion, is that when they fire people, they fire both sides of the building, so there’s never any carryover whatsoever in any part of your football operation. I know when I came from the Ravens, we always kept the front office side of the building in place. They basically just changed the coaches, and you look at the Ravens over the last 20 years, their scouting structure is the same that it’s bene virtually for 20 years, whereas it’s just been the coaching side of the place that has changed.”

Savage, who is now a radio analyst for the Alabama football team, served as a Ravens executive from 1996 to 2004 and was the Browns’ general manager from 2005 to 2008. He experienced firsthand just how different the two franchises are and feels the Browns need to take a page from the Ravens – and the rest of the AFC North – when it comes to running a football team.

“They’ve got to find the right people and get them in place and let them do their job,” Savage said. “It’s really a tough call. They’ve kind of painted themselves into a tough spot already with this search. On Sunday night, Jimmy Haslam announced that Sashi Brown, who is more of a capologist/contract man, (is) in charge of the 53-man roster. So to say that they’re going to go out and hire a coach, okay, that’s one thing. But how you’re going to fit a general manager to this equation, what GM candidate out there is going to pigeonhole himself into a spot where he doesn’t really have a final say on the draft or free agency or what have you? I think that there are going to be a number of candidates that say, ‘I’m not going to waste my time on the interview for what is not really a GM job. It’s a glorified personnel position.’ So that’s a bit problematic. We’ll see if this formula can work for them. I’m not sure how much thought was put into it because quite honestly, some of the teams won’t even have to grant permission for their guy to go interview for that spot because it’s not a bonafide GM-titled position.”

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